Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Did you know there are Royal Gardens in Venice? You will soon!

Cynthia Pre݁fointaine, Vista aerea dell'Area Marciana, Venezia, 2015
(Venice, Italy) The Royal Gardens of Venice are hidden in plain sight. If you start at Harry's Bar and walk along the water of the Bacino di San Marco to Piazza San Marco, the gardens are on the left. But many people pass them by because they are in such a state of disrepair -- there is not much greenery beckoning you to come inside and enjoy a bit of nature. All of that is about to change.

I was privileged to be invited to the press conference for the Restoration Project of the Giardini Reali on April 7, which was attended by many prominent local individuals, including the mayor, Luigi Brugnaro, as well as the heads of various organizations. Thanks to a partnership between the Venice Gardens Foundation, a new non-profit organization headed by the dynamic art curator, Adele Re Rebaudengo, and Assicurazioni Generali, the venerable Italian insurance company whose symbol is the Lion of San Marco, the gardens will be brought back to life.

Anna Regge, acquerello 2017, Veduta dei Giardini Reali dalle finestre del Museo Correr
Adele Re Rebaudengo said:

"When restored, the Royal Gardens will be formal and precise, in keeping with its historic nineteenth-century design, but at the same time filled with the unexpected. It will be a garden where visitors will walk in the shade of its long, centuries-old wisteria covered pergola, and, hidden from view by dense screens of evergreens, will discover the vast, intimate, timeless path that crosses the rebuilt drawbridge and leads to the Correr Museum, in a renewed dialogue with Piazza San Marco and the Marciana area. It will be a meeting place open to the profound qualities of the arts, where nature and artistic languages unite to safeguard the garden and all its living elements. ...A place for thought; silent entry into a world in which there is space for harmony, contemplation and productivity."

Piazza San Marco (from the Campanile)
Let's get our bearings. That is Piazza San Marco. On the right side, the Caffè Quadri side, is the Procuratie Vecchie, or "Old Procurators,"originally built in 12th century, then rebuilt in the 16th century after a fire. On the left side, the Caffè Florian side, is the Procuratie Nuove, which means "New Procurators," which were completed in 1640. In the center wing there used to be a church, which Napoleon demolished in about 1810, and built the Napoleonic Wing of the Procuraties.

What is the office of the Procurator of San Marco? During the Venetian Republic, the procurators were nine powerful legal officers whose duties were so complex it would take a book, not a blog post, to examine. Their lifetime appointment was the most prestigious office after the Doge. A fascinating tidbit is that even after the fall of the Venetian Republic the office of the Procurator of San Marco was not abolished, and still exists today.

Royal Gardens seen through Empress Sissi's window in Museo Correr - Photo: Cat Bauer
After Napoleon invaded Venice, he decided that the Procuratie Nuove was going to be the site of the Royal Palace, and began construction in 1808. When Venice came under Austrian rule, that is where Empress Sissi stayed, a woman who has fascinated the world for centuries.

These days the Correr Museum inhabits the Procuratie Nuove, which is entered through the Napoleonic Wing. The Royal Gardens are overlooked by the Correr Museum, the imperial chambers of the Royal Palace, the Archaeological Museum and the Marciana Library

The Generali Group was founded in Trieste in 1832. The next year, they opened an office in Venice across the Piazza in the Procuratie Vecchie building, which is where they are still located today. Generali is a major player in the global insurance market. According to the press notes: "In 1848, leading individuals in the company embraced the cause of the Republic of Daniele Manin, a hero of Italian unification. In the midst of the struggle for unification, the company chose to use the lion of Saint Mark as its symbol, rather than the Hapsburg eagle." Generali has decided to rediscover their roots and revitalize their presence in Venice. By restoring the Royal Gardens, Generali is beginning a journey to honor the past of Piazza San Marco and safeguard its future.

Paolo Pejrone - Photo: Cat Bauer
The architect of the garden is the internationally renowned Paolo Pejrone. When I heard this, an idea popped into my mind.

I have recently become obsessed with Rosa Moceniga, an ancient rose that the writer, Andrea di Robilant, had discovered growing wild on his ancestor's property, Alvisopoli, a little town created during the Venetian Republic by his great-great-great-great grandfather, Alvise Mocenigo. Andrea had found a silvery pink rose with a strong, sweet fragrance growing in the wilderness while researching his book, Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon. He was determined to find out how the rose had gotten there, and traced it back to the time that his great-great-great-great grandmother, Lucia, had spent with Empress Josephine Bonaparte in France, which had inspired another book, Chasing the Rose, which I found to be surprisingly compelling.

I thought: The perfect circle for Rosa Moceniga would be for the rose to be part of the Royal Gardens. I sent Andrea a text message: "I am at a press conference. Generali is restoring Giardini Reali. Wouldn't it be PERFECT to include Rosa Moceniga?" Andrea responded: "Yes, it would! Ask them!"

During lunch, I found Paolo Pejrone sitting in the corner. I said, "Do you know Andrea di Robilant?" He smiled. "Yes." "Do you know Rosa Moceniga?" "Yes..." "Don't you think it would be PERFECT if Rosa Moceniga was in the Giardini Reali?" Pejrone burst out laughing. "Yes! Yes!"

Now, you are going to have to read Chasing the Rose to find out why it is so perfect, but once you do, I am sure that you will agree. Rosa Moceniga is such a strong and powerful rose that she has survived for centuries unattended, growing in the wilderness all on her own. But Rosa Moceniga's real home is in the Royal Gardens. In fact, I recommend reading the book to better appreciate how important the reawakening of the Royal Gardens in Venice is -- to have a magical, formal garden in the heart of Venice will bring nature, grace and elegance back to the soul of the city.

Francesco Neri, La Coffee House - Il Padiglione del Caffe݀ dei Giardini Reali, Venezia, 2016
The Coffee House of the Royal Gardens, where the press conference was held, and where we had lunch, will also be restored. What is astonishing is that after living here for all this time, I never knew it had ever been a coffee house!

I also had the pleasure of finally meeting Erla Zwingle, a writer and blogger who has lived in Venice even longer than I have, and whose clever blog, I am not making this up, I highly recommend. Read what she has to say about Regrowing a Garden.

The restored Royal Gardens are set to open towards the end of 2018.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. The Royal Gardens of Venice are hidden in plain sight. If you start at Harry's Bar and walk along the water of the Bacino di San Marco to Piazza San Marco, the gardens are on the left. But many people pass them by because they are in such a state of disrepair -- there is not much greenery beckoning you to come inside and enjoy a bit of nature. All of that is about to change.