Saturday, 15 March 2014

The Austrians in Venice

So, I'm going to Austria next month. By the way, did you know that Venice was occupied by Austria in the 19th century? But what did the Austrians do in Venice? I guess that they didn't just sit and stare at the beauty of the town.

In 1797 Venice was invaded by Napoleon, after more than 1000 years of independence. Napoleon gave it away in the peace treaty with Austria. The Austrians were never really accepted in Venice and in 1848 the city organized a rebellion against the Habsburg Austrian empire that resulted in the formation of the republic of San Marco, which lasted a year. Venice and its territories remained Austrian until 1866, when the former independent Republic was annexed to the newly unified Italian kingdom.

  • The spritz.

The origins of spritz are unknown, as it is the case with many of Venetian dishes, included tiramisu, but it is believed that the Austrian soldiers stationed in Venice created this drink, by watering down Venetian wines with sparkling water because they found them too strong. Later, other "corrections" were added, and nowadays spritz is mostly made with either aperol, select, or bitter, all aperitif drinks. There are endless variations to the spritz, also changing from city to city. The spritz is now popular all over northern Italy, and it's spreading to other parts of the country, as well as to other cities. I've seen it in London, for example!

Holding a spritz

  • I Nizioleti

"Nizioleti" are the beautiful squared frescoes that indicate the names of calli, bridges and campi in Venice. Sometimes they have funny names, like Ponte delle Tette ("bridge of the boobs"), or Sotoporgego del Casin dei Nobili ("close of the noblemen's casino"). The former indicates an area that was supposedly inhabited by prostitutes, who showed their "merchandise" from the windows. The latter also reveals the libertine past of the city, as it recalls a casino frequented only by noblemen. The nizioleti were adopted during the Austrian domination. Before that, only the number on a street door could indicate that you were at the right address, and people knew the name of the streets by heart. As a matter of fact, in Venice houses are numbered within districts, not streets, so that your address could be simply San Marco 3567. Even today, when you give a Venetian address, you give the name of one of the six sestieri, the neighbourhoods, and the door number, but never the name of the street. 

    Me pointing at a 'nizioleto' displaying the name of the town where I come from, Treviso

  • The railway bridge.

The Austrian emperor, Ferdinand I, decided he wanted a railway connection from Milan to Venice, the two biggest cities of the Lombardo-Veneto. In 1842 the first part was inaugurated: it was the third railway ever constructed in Italy. At the beginning the railway connection arrived until Mestre,  in the mainland, and from there people had to take a boat to reach Venice. In 1846 the railway bridge that connects Venice to the mainland was inaugurated. You still cross that railway bridge if you arrive to Venice by train or by car. It is very scenic because you can see all the lagoon in its beauty.

Verso il Ponte della Libertà.
What you can expect to see from Ponte della Libertà (photo by Marco Trevisan)

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