We arrive at the Squero to rendezvous with a research group from Archaeometry and Restoration of the DAIS – Department of Environmental Sciences, Informatics and Statistics, Ca’ Foscari, and from Stanford, York and Reading universities. Meeting together in person we were seeking to develop earlier email discussions concerning our shared interest in aspects of the ecology of the ancient Venetian lagoon, animal husbandry and parchment production. It seems the islands of Torcello and Venice provide a useful case study in evaluating the nature of the interaction between humans, animals and documentary culture.
The tiny boatyard known as the Squero di San Trovaso was established in the 17th century. It sits beside the Church of San Trovaso and close to the Accademia bridge. The small wooden structures in the yard are Tyrolean in style since workers came originally from an area around Cadore, in the Dolomites, an Italian section of the Alps. The boatyard is not open to the public so we were very lucky to have our own guided tour.
Cristina della Toffola took us in a Bragozzo (traditional wooden boat) to Torcello where the archaeology team are investigating the origins of settlement in the Venetian lagoon and the relation of their finds to the mythology that Torcello was one of the first lagoon islands to be populated by the Veneti when fleeing the terra ferma (mainland) to take shelter from the recurring barbarian invasions after the downfall of the Roman Empire, the scourges of Attila the Hun and the destruction of the city of Altinum in 452.
Diego Calaon, head of the research team, explained that the results of the study of the archaeozoological remains (animal bones) excavated between 2012-13 shed interesting light on the ways animals were deployed and consumed in antiquity and the Middle Ages. The breeding of animals for food and their use in the manufacture of tools and craft items were particularly revealing. The excavation revealed a number of items produced from bone such as combs, beaters for weaving, and plates suggesting such work took place in situ including the working of pegs and horns which were detached and carefully cut from the skulls of animals slaughtered in the island.
Following a tour of the rest of the island we returned to the boat for a delicious lunch made by our guides and pilots Cristina and Paolo and further discussion about the expansion of the Venetian lagoon and its multiple settlements.
After lunch we headed back towards Venice and stopped at the Lazaretto nuovo, an island of about nine hectares at the beginning of the canal of St. Erasmus. Owned in the Middle Ages by the Benedictines of San Giorgio Maggiore, in 1468 a senate decree established the island as a place of quarantine with the aim of preventing infection from imported goods coming into the region from far and wide. During the epidemic of 1576 it was also used for holding plague suspects prior to their transfer to the hospital of the Lazaretto vecchio. It was then used as a fortress under Napoleonic and Austrian rule and was finally abandoned by the Italian army in 1975. Now under the auspices of the Ministry of Heritage and Culture, it is one of the few deserted islands of the Venetian Lagoon to have a defined action plan for recovery and restoration.
Looking at the warehouses and the merchants’ ownership marks painted on the walls we pondered the idea that imported skins may well have been stored here and the parallels between the identification, cataloguing and regulation of goods and books.
As the sun set we headed back to Venice discussing future plans.