Friday, October 25, 2013

There's No Such Thing as "Regular Maintenance" in Venice

I walked past a renovation site yesterday on the ground floor of a large rather non-descript apartment building beside Palazzo Morosini Brandolin on the Grand Canal (near the Rialto Pescheria) and was reminded of Lidia Panzeri's observation in The Venice Report (Cambridge Univ Press, 2009) that "It is inappropriate to speak of 'regular' maintenance, as in Venice any maintenance is exceptional in character." And the same can certainly be said of renovations like the one pictured above as well.

The long oak piles (at least 3 meters long) upon which Venetian buildings were famously constructed were, as Deborah Howard writes in her Architectural History of Venice, so expensive that they were only used when absolutely necessary, and usually only beneath those structural walls of a building that had to carry the greatest load. In contrast, "interior walls," she notes, "had less substantial foundations, a fact that has led to subsidence in many cases." Looking through a window in a narrow calle at the work going on above I wondered if subsidence of the interior walls was an issue here, but not knowing when the building was even put up in the first place it was hard to guess exactly what was going on. At some point the base of the interior walls looked to have been reinforced with concrete, but how recently I don't know.

Venice was a city born of the most extraordinary engineering, and so the work goes on, out of sight, anonymously, but no less extraordinarily.

The covered exterior of the building under renovation, with Palazzo Morosini Brandolin at right


  1. The effort and craftsmanship involved in preserving this city really boggles the mind.

    Did I read somewhere that the Palazzo Dario is in rehab? What a delicate job that must be. (Am picturing dental tools and a camel's hair brush!)

    Reading your blog is such a pleasure. Thanks again.

    1. The Palazzo Dario has been under wraps, as it were, for quite a number of years, Brooks, but a few months back they changed from the usual opaque shroud to a transparent one, so at least now you can see its beautiful facade, with its crutched windows and scaffolding. I keep hoping it means they'll be done soon.

      Ca' Da Mosto is now being renovated; also it will be turned into apartments. I was kind of hoping they'd restore all of the Byzantine details that were lost over the centuries--like the arcade on the ground floor--but they're not. I imagine the cost was prohibitive.

      It is amazing to see what goes into keeping everything standing.

      Thank you for you kind comments!

    2. Hi, I visited Venice last week and Palazzo Dario was still under restoration (I can't seem to find any information on how long the project will take). I hope it's completed soon as I'd love to see its façade in its full glory.

    3. I'm afraid I haven't come across any information on the expected completion of the Ca' Dario restoration. The facade used to be completely concealed, but a number of months ago they removed the opaque material stretched over the scaffolding and left it as you saw it. I thought back then that the removal of the covering meant they were actually done and it would all be cleared away, but that's not what happened. But compared to how covered up it was before, and how long other facades have been completely covered, I was pretty thankful that it was in the state you saw it in. At least we can see it fairly well now, though I understand & share your hopes.

  2. Deborah Howard's work is a classic, but recently I've discovered the book I like even more - Venice: The City and Its Architecture by Richard Goy.

    I've read some books where each building has a separate charter and described expertly, but after turning the last page not too much remains in the memory. Yes, reading such works has a cumulative effect, and the sheer quantity of the stuff you read will take you to the new level, eventually, but Richard Goy's Venice not only provides the data, it supplies a reader with a grid where every piece of input has it's own clearly defined slot.

    Well, it may sound a bit too mechanical but I'm sure you'll appreciate that quality of the book when and if you read it. And it's not simplistic, no.

    1. That sounds great, Sasha, thanks for telling me about it. I'll definitely check it out.

  3. Hi
    Nice one! I like the outfit of the characters. Wish i could do the same thing too but im not that techie.i like the outfit of “from farmer to warden”.. really interesting.