- the virtual citizenship of Venice
Giudecca, the island that was not there
Ex-orchard of the “Serenissima” and later an internment for the convicted. But the other Venice continues to re-invent itself as a metaphysical “Soho of the lagoon”

A thin bit of land in the waters of the lagoon appearing in the south, facing Venice with its long foundations, always in the shade. In ancient times named the “Spina longa [1], because of its prolonged fish-bone shaped character. Subsequently it was named Giudecca, which is also the Istrian place name for a place where the skill of tanning was practised. The ethymolology, however, derives from the verdict “giudicato”, which imposed expulsion of the unwanted that were sent in internment by the Serenissima [2].
Giudecca, however, does not seem like a ghetto. It has always been called, “Island of seals” because of the gusts of Northern wind that shakes it, and because it is so much colder than the other side of the canal. Thus an internment of origins, but also a space of hospitality: the pilgrims heading for the Holy Land, the forerunners of the “foresti” [3], were welcomed here. During the last years the island is undergoing an accelerated metamorphosis, almost a mutation.

From a being a degraded “sestiere” [4] of ill repute, a kind of “Venetian Bronx”, it is now assuming the form of a “Lagoon Soho”: it continues to create chic housing for the avant-garde. In the wake of the popular-metaphysical houses of Gardella, a co-operation of the trendiest architects has been made for a re-launching of the abandoned areas, quenching the thirst for sleeping places around the lagoon. Red grills, square spirals, houses planned in “H’s” and “U’s”...the keys have been assigned for the 50 new inhabitants that where signed up on the Commune’s lists for housing in the compound residential complex of Aymonino-Rossi.
In the wide fields of the Campo Marto there are expectations for the third plot, which is, credited the Portuguese architect Alvaro Siza Vieira and the opening of the fourth and last construction site based on a project made by the Spanish Raphael Moneo is imminent. The Giudecca of day is truly and open construction site. In disserted zones of industrial architecture they obtain hyper functional lofts. Art galleries of international standards, cultural associations, spaces for theatre and old granaries that turn into containers of temporary art exhibitions.

And in respect of settling down, the rents at the Giudecca are certainly lower than the exaggerated ones on the other bank. The pop star Elton John has recently acquired a small place with gothic windows and high tech interior in front of the “Vaporetto” stop (the water bus) after the Zitelle, for a price of 200.000 euro. Michelangelo seems to have shared a similar point of view when he in 1529, tired of the tedious vacuum of fashion, found a refuge in the luxuriant peace of the island, in order to finish the project of the bridge of Rialto. Three centuries later, the writer Alfred de Musset went as far as to declare, that he would have wanted to live and die on the island. A cosmopolitan tribe that participates naturally in the everyday life. “It took me a long time to make it to the peace of this place”; the German architect Andreas Brandt has chosen the refuge of the Giudecca coming back from long travels of exploring in Tibet and Nepal. In the devout silence of his loft which is flooded with light, he is now undisturbed, documenting his travels in form of drawings, sketches and notes. The Swedish photographer Marita Jonasson and her architect husband, Jon, were overwhelmed right away by the simple essentiality of the everyday life on the island and by the heartfulness of its people. They have restored a small house, a small Palladian [5] theatre, in the Fondamenta delle Covertitie. Certainly, many people do consider Giudecca a strategic position of peace and refuge from the worries of the city. “An island within the island, segregated and secret; to me the Giudecca, above all, is a mental space ”claims Fabrizio Plessi who excavated his loft studio in a piece of industrial archaeology. In the storage rooms of an old liqueur factory we find a number of artists ateliers. Carolina Antich and Augusto Maurandi were among the first to occupy these spaces: “We came to Italy from Argentina and we fell in love with this space without connotations; green and making you feel out of your element: a micro cosmos”. Today they shift between long periods of staying at the island and periods of going back to their homeland. In the atelier next door, Nora Ferruzzi, a designer of clothes, every day watches the canal of the Giudecca in order to retire and do her drawings. The painter Paolo Smali moved in just a short time ago: “I work and I live in the island of the Giudecca, happily. I feel like a guest. I remember the strong impression I felt watching two “Giudeccini” on the Zattere dalla Palanca (a small ferry that connects the island with the other bank) asking themselves wherever to go to Venice or not”. Objet Trouvé, “a palliate of materials” and layers of family memories stuck up on a triptych of the bed wear of the grandmother; the atelier of the Ligurian artist Elenora Siffredi is a magic cave which enters deeply in the heart of the island. It is also the story of the loss of many things: “I came hear accidentally 27 years ago. There is much more sky and water here than in any other place. Once you could find everything here for decorating the house. But also the Giudecca has went ahead and changed; the fish mongers are gone, the small outdoor bars with the sun blinds...” The painter Serena Nono is a true native of the Giudecca. The daughter of the composer Luigi Nono was born and raised on the island and she has never left since, apart from during her studies in London. She is painting in her bow window studio that used to belong to her father, facing the southern part of the lagoon. “I could not imagine living in any other place in Venice. At the Giudecca you still live in a village-like human dimension. There everybody knows everybody, people are involved in the lives of the others. I’ve had the chance of growing up looking beyond the island while still keeping my feet on it, knowing it like the inside of my pocket”. In the middle of the 50’s the Serena’s mother, Nuria Schönberg, daughter of the famous Austrian composer and inventor of the dodecaphonia, also found herself on the island, coming in from Los Angeles. Today she tirelessly dedicates herself to the Nono archives that were founded ten years ago in a gothic palace by the Canale della Giudecca. The pioneer of the landing on the Giudecca in the dawn of the 20’Th century was the painter Mabel Holland from London, whose legendary house, Casa del Leone, was a true crossroad for international artists. Speaking of mythic residences, you cannot miss the Casa Dei Tre Oci. It is a marvellous composition of fin-du-siècle eclecticism planned by he who the poet D’Annunzio defined as the “divine moody painter”, namely the enigmatic Mario De Maria.

But long before the Riviera del Brenta came into fashion, the Giudecca was also the place for light-hearted aristocratic picnics.
In 1882 an enlightened entrepreneur of Swiss origins, one Giovanni Stucky, put up an enormous machine for corn production on the island: the bulk Stucky Mill, an archetype of the early industrial architecture. It was a providential event for the population as the ships filled with wheat coming in from Danubio by the course of the Black Sea brought work to many people. The German Herion family opened a knitwear factory on the Giudecca and the legendary patio of the family became the place for refined mythological banquets that animated the freshness of the Garden of Eden. After a gloomy period the garden was handed over to Aspasia di Grecia who brought it back to the pomp of its past years with “Great Gatsby-like” parties. The last extravagant owner of the garden was the architect mystic Hundredwassers. Being a theorist of “letting nature have its way”, he used the garden for his experiments. This piece of Venice, without connotations or evident ties to the historical weight that lies upon it, seems to be the ideal place for starting a new life.

[1Spina Longa, dialect form of the Italian “Spina Lunga”, literately “the Long Spine”

[2La serenissima, an attribute of the ancient Republic of Venice

[3Foresti, dialect for ”foreigners”

[4Sestiere, from the Latin “sextarium”, refers to the organisation of the city of Venice dividing it into six quarters

[5Palladian, a typical architechtonic style of Venice. Andrea di Pietro della Gondola, known as Palladio, was the official architect of the ”Serenissima” in 1570.

[ Publication date: 28 July 2004 ]

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