The Beauty of Venice: Healing Gardenscapes

Venice is so quiet, and the water is turquoise and crystal clear. Several times last week on social media, surprising images were shared, such as the ones showing millions of fish born in the Venetian canals during the past week! These images give hope and joy, and we can only marvel at the surprising strength of nature bouncing back so soon!

The Venice of March 2020 recalls other times, which none of us expected to encounter in our lifetime. Even during WW2, the city was livelier, as Lina notes. At least on some days during WW2, or during a certain time of day, the city looked almost normal: Groceries were open, and people were out chatting with neighbors. My grandfather used to go fishing, sometimes as far as the Torcello archipelago in the northern Lagoon with his friends.

In March 2020, Venetians cannot leave their neighborhoods, and shops with the exception of groceries, supermarkets, bakeries and pharmacies are closed. Some supermarkets offer food deliveries to the homes of elderly people for free, neighbors help each other and in front of the supermarkets, queues are forming. Is it really happening in 2020?

mimosa albizia

Yet, spring doesn’t take note of the health emergency we are going through. Fruit trees are blossoming, and the lawns are filled with sprouts of new herbs. Edible herbs, such as purple and white violets, sorrel, chives, wild garlic, camomilla selvatica, erba maresina, lemon and orange thyme, ravensara aromatica, salvia botanica (wild sage), and many more.

The mild weather made the herbs sprout earlier this year, not just in the public gardens and parks, such as La Pineta, the pine grove located in the eastern part of our city. In the past, these and many more species of endemic and exotic herbs were present everywhere in Venice: Every campo had a few areas and corners where fragrant edible blossoms and medical herbs were growing, waiting to be harvested by whoever needed them. And in their private corti – the private courtyards, which are the specific topic of this blog series, explaining the true soul and strengths of Venice during the darkest times our city has witnessed since 1630. Because in 1630, the bubonic plague broke out in Venice.

In the first and second episode of this blog series, we stopped at Corte Rota, located just behind Rio de l’Osmarin. Below, I’m sharing a map, as many of you asked for it. So from today, each blog post will come with a map! Corte Rota is strictly private, you cannot explore it in person, but I’m mentioning it here as example of a healing neighborhood in Venice.

The Venetians divided their medical plants into dark and light, and into six flavors. Each season and disease required specific mixtures, of light and dark, ying and yang so to say, to balance out the body, soul and spirit. This is forgotten Venetian medicine, based on ancient Greek, Roman, Persian, Jewish, Syrian, Egyptian, Indian, Caucasian, and Chinese wisdom. Fusion medicine, created by the doctors of Venice, so to say, for which the Republic of Venice was leading in Europe between 800 AD and 1797.

Some of the ancient books on health and medicine, written in Latin, Venessian and Greek, were collected during Austrian rule in 1815 and moved to the newly founded Archivio di Stato at the Frari complex, where the know-how collected and practiced by the Venetian doctors, pharmacists and spice masters was relegated to book shelves. (Since 2001, Lina and I have been working on it, trying to find a red thread, but we realize that we’ re still at the beginning! So much know-how was lost after the fall of the Republic of Venice in 1797).

In 1630, when the city was in quarantaine during the outbreak of the plague, the people living in healing courtyards, such as Corte Rota, had a fair chance to survive. In the courtyard and the terraced gardenscapes surrounding it, pines, sage, thyme and rosemary were burnt, and their healing smoke enveloped the city. The Venetians of the past used aromatherapy to disinfect during times when modern pharmacies and antibiotics weren’t available. The Venetian doctors meticulously documented the outbreak of the plague in 1630, what worked and what did not. Their remedy for the black death was a mixture of ravensara, thyme, sage and chamomile essences, and the most potent spice mixture ever created in the world, called teriaca venessiana.

The Venetians, living in small corti surrounded and filled sprawling healing gardenscapes, were able to harvest herbs, vegetables and fruit, which helped them live through the crisis.

To be continued – we’re continuing our walk in the next episode and will show you the a palace garden, located just round the corner.

#breakingthroughthenoise #venezianità #thetruestoryofvenice

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