In the Venetian sestiere of Cannaregio there is a calle, or alley, named after the noble family that lived there: the Calergi family. It is bounded on each side by a palazzo that stretches from the canal at one end to the canal at the other end, about 200 metres long. Once, and it is in the nature of this blog that my historical facts are hazy, once, a long time ago I’m told, two noble families lived on either side of the calle. And so it happened that a young woman from one family fell in love with the young man next door, or opposite. It could have turned out badly as it did for a better known pair of lovers in nearby Verona, but fortunately in this case the union was approved by all. To celebrate the bond the palazzi were united by high arch at each end and a balcony/walkway in the middle, which remain to this day, like many of the descendants of the original families who still live in the flats here.
Which all goes to illustrate how the Venetians went about building and altering their city: add a bit here, raise a ground floor there ( incidentally this still happens today: every time a renovation happens the ground floor level must be raised a foot or so if possible to counteract the rising tide levels), or chop a hole through the ground floor of a building to create a short cut – the so called sotoportego. I went to a marvellous exhibition during last’s year’s Biennale which was held in the Scuola Grande della Misericordia, not far from the Calle Calergi as it happens. A Swiss artist, Pierre Case, had spent several years making work about each of the 240 Venetian sotoporteghi: a monumental task which resulted in some wonderful work. It’s well worth following the link I provide here to a blog about his work, not only to read more about Pierre Case, but also because the blogger has written extensively about Venice.