Friday, December 20, 2019

Good News from Venice: The Royal Gardens have Re-Opened!

The Royal Gardens in Venice Pergola Photo by Cat Bauer Venice Blog
Strolling under the pergola - Opening of the Giardini Royali in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) After surviving wars, occupations, revolutions and neglect, the Royal Gardens in Venice, the Giardini Reali, re-opened on Tuesday, December 17, 2019. Thanks to five years of effort under the wise, loving and passionate guidance of Adele Re Rebaudengo, president of the Venice Gardens Foundation, the public once again has a place in Venice to pause and reflect, surrounded by greenery, flowers, birds and bees.

After Napoleon had conquered Venice, he thought that the perfect complement to his new Royal Palace in the Procuratie Nuove in Piazza San Marco would be a Royal Garden. So he had the 14th century public granaries knocked down, where the Venetian Republic had stocked their wheat.

That was the beginning of the Royal Gardens, which are on an island surrounded by canals and the Basin of St. Mark. 

From 1797, Venice was tossed back and forth under French domination, then Austrian, then French, then Austrian again as the garden was being developed. When the dust settled, a drawbridge had been built in 1815 over a small internal canal to provide access to the gardens from the Royal Palace, which also allowed gondolas to glide by.

The architect Lorenzo Santi had been put in charge of building the Royal Palace, recommended by the great artist Antonio Canova himself, and it was Santi who put the final touches on the gardens, complete with a wooded grove, flowering plants, greenhouse, potted citrus trees and a tree-lined avenue along the Basin of St. Mark. At the end of the avenue, Santi placed the Cafehaus, a neoclassical pavilion. All this was off limits to the public and reserved for the court.

The Generali Group is the main partner in today's restoration project thanks to incentives from Art Bonus, which gives tax credits to those who support culture with charitable donations. The Generali Group was founded in Trieste in 1831. The next year, they opened an office in Venice in Piazza San Marco in the Procuratie Vecchie building, which is where they are still located today. Generali is a major player in the global insurance market. .

Venice was not thrilled to be under the rule of Austria, and revolted in 1848 under the revolutionary leader Daniele Manin, a jurist and passionate statesman. Generali was sympathetic to the cause, and took the winged Lion of San Marco as their symbol rather than the Hapsburg eagle. They did this right under the nose of the Austrians who were located next door in the Royal Palace aka the Procuratie Nuove in Piazza San Marco.

In 2017 I wrote a post which gives the layout of the land:

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

The Venetians briefly drove out the Austrians and elected Daniele Manin as president of the re-created Republic of Venice. But the Austrians came roaring back and re-took Venice in 1849.

Needless to say, the Venetians were enraged. To calm everybody down, in 1857 Emperor Franz Joseph allowed the public to walk along the avenue flanking the Basin of St. Mark, but they could not go inside the gardens, which were used exclusively by the court. So iron bars were built to separate the path from the gardens. (Can you imagine such a thing? The Venetian public were given permission to walk along their own lagoon while the Austrians partied inside the barred-off garden.)

View from Sissi's window in Museo Correr on Dec 4, 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
But now that the public could walk along the avenue, where was the court supposed to stroll? To solve that problem, an iron and cast iron pergola that ran the length of the gardens was constructed to provide a shaded private walk, adapted from a temporary one that had been built to welcome Emperor Franz Joseph and Empress Sissi when they had first arrived on the scene in November 1856. But when Sissi lived by herself in the Royal Palace in Venice from October 1861 to May 1862, she revoked the permission. (If you visit the Correr Museum, which is what the wing of the Royal Palace morphed into, you can look out Sissi's windows and pretend you are an empress trapped in her rooms.)

In 1866, Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy, and the Savoy monarchs let the public walk along the edge of the water again. In fact, an iron bridge was built so it could be accessed from Piazzetta di San Marco. The drawbridge connecting the gardens to the palace was rebuilt in 1893.

After World War I, on December 23, 1920, the Crown ceded the Royal Gardens to the State Property Office, which entrusted them to the City of Venice, who threw the gates wide open. They also opened the drawbridge in the former Royal Palace, so you could stroll right from Piazza San Marco into the gardens.

Then Mussolini came along and suspended the drawbridge. And then the Nazis came to town.

During World War II, a concrete bunker was constructed right in the central area of the gardens. 

After the war, as the decades progressed, the gardens were neglected until the pergola was in ruins, the drawbridge unusable -- frozen in a raised position -- the gate rusted and crumbling, the trees diseased, and the greenery and flowers wild and chaotic. Hordes of tourists invaded the gardens, munching on sandwiches and drinking Coke. The Cafehaus had transformed from coffeehouse to headquarters of the Bucintoro Rowing Club, to air terminal(!), to an info point for the tourist office until it was closed and abandoned. The whole place was a wreck.

On December 23, 2014, the State Property Office entrusted the management of the Royal Gardens to the Venice Garden Foundation, who began its recovery, and is now responsible for its care and conservation.

Inauguration of Venice Royal Gardens - Photo: Cat Bauer
On December 19, 2019, the Royal Gardens re-opened to the public. Paolo Pejrone, the renowned landscape architect in charge of the garden project said, "It takes a lot of courage to create a garden like this, and even more courage to open it in the middle of December. Creating a garden in a lagoon is not easy."

Why didn't the gardens flood during the Acqua Granda of November 12, especially because they are located between Piazza San Marco, Venice's lowest point, and the mouth of the Grand Canal? Pejrone said it was because Napoleon, foresighted emperor that he was, ordered them built high to protect them from flooding. Pejrone is also looking to the future, and populated the gardens with sustainable plants, shrubs and trees that require little water and provide plenty of shade.

Luigi Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice, was at the inauguration and said that the project had the full support of the current administration. Dario Franceschini, the Italian Minister of Culture, was also on hand and said, "It is a beautiful story of love and generosity."

The Coffee House at Royal Gardens - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Cafehaus is once again a coffeehouse and eatery, thanks to the support of the Italian family-owned company, illycaffè. Andrea Illy, the chairman of the premium coffee company and grandson of the founder, was at the inauguration. (If you haven't heard of illycaffè before, you could soon, as they are considering expanding into the United States.) The elegant pavilion of Istrian stone was restored to its former glory under the direction of the Venetian architect, Alberto Torsello.

Royal Gardens in Venice, drawbridge, photo by Cat Bauer Venice Insider Blog
Standing on the drawbridge - Photo: Cat Bauer
The first thing I did after the press conference was head over to the newly restored drawbridge and take a photo. It was a thrill to walk from the gardens right into Piazza San Marco. 

The Royal Gardens are located in one of Mediterranean Europe's most important bird areas, which will be a small oasis where resident birds can build their nests and where birds migrating to East-Central Europe can rest before continuing on their journeys. There are two beehives that will make it possible to witness the behavior of those fascinating creatures up close and personal.

The concrete bunker was demolished. The pergola was rebuilt. The greenery and flowers restored with:

New plantings:
22 trees;
804 shrubs;
6,560 flowering plants;
3,150 bulbs;
68 climbing plants.
Trees being treated: 7
Diseased or dead trees replaced: 19

Philippe Bonnet & Adele Re Rebaudengo - Photo: Cat Bauer
Philippe Bonnet, the CEO of Generali Group, was also at the inauguration, and said their work was only partially complete. Generali wants to cure the planet, and is restoring the Procutarie Vecchie, with a design by David Chipperfield, which will house its ambitious "Human Safety Net" project. The Human Safety Net supports families, children and vulnerable communities, and is a movement of people helping people, "inspired by the idea of ‘chain aid’, where those who benefit may one day give back to someone else, creating a ‘ripple’ of positive change that extends worldwide with limitless potential."

The Procutarie will be open to the public for the first time in 500 years, and will include exhibition spaces, offices, workshops and an auditorium. The restoration will use original Venetian materials and craftsmanship from local tradespeople. 

When the entire project is complete, Piazza San Marco will be utterly transformed, all the way to the edge of the lagoon, welcoming the public with open arms. Let's hope the public responds with respect and appreciation, and treats Venice with the dignity she deserves.


Open from Tuesday to Sunday:
from April 15 to October 15, 8.30 a.m. - 7.30 p.m. (last entry at 7.15 p.m.)
from October 16 to April 14, 9.00 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. (last entry at 4.45 p.m.)
The Gardens are closed: Mondays, December 25 and 31, January 1, the last Saturday and last Sunday of Carnival, Easter Sunday, Saturday during the Feast of the Redeemer (3rd Saturday in July).

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Day Before the Venice Flood: Joe Tacopina & The Venice Football Club at Palazzo Ducale

High water boots under the table - Joe Tacopina, Paolo Romor, Mariacristina Gribaudi, Matthew Senno - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) On the afternoon of November 12, 2019, an intimate press conference was held in Palazzo Ducale to announce the Agreement between the Venice Civic Museums Foundation (MUVE) and Venezia FC, the Venice Football Club. The conference had been postponed an hour due to seasonal flooding in Piazza San Marco, and we all arrived wearing our acqua alta boots. 

Little did we know that later that same evening Venice would be hit by the worse flood in over 50 years, from which the city is slowly recovering.

But that afternoon, the mood was festive. The Agreement was to promote the historical and artistic heritage of Venice internationally, and to increase awareness among the children of the youth sector of Venezia Football Club, who come to Venice from all over the world.

To those who live and work in Venice, it was business as usual for a November afternoon. To Joe Tacopina, the dynamic attorney from New York and owner of Venezia FC, it was a novelty. He jumped up on his chair and exclaimed, "What other city in the world can you wear high water boots to sign an Agreement?"

High water boots in Venice are a great equalizer. If you want to move around the city during acqua alta, everybody must wear them -- doctors, lawyers, shop owners, fishmongers, counts and countesses. There is a certain charm about businessmen in suits and ties wearing knee-high boots to a meeting. Although it may seem peculiar to the rest of the world, in Venice, it is part of life.

Pierluigi Penzo Stadium in Venice - Photo:Pierluigi Penzo Stadium La Nuovo di Venezia e Mestre
What is Venezia FC?

Venezia FC is Venice's soccer team, founded on December 14, 1907. For much of their existence, they have played in Serie A and Serie B, the two top divisions in Italy; they currently play in Serie B. Their home stadium, the Pierluigi Penzo, which was built in 1913, is the second oldest in Italy. The stadium takes its name from a World War I Venetian aviator, and is down on Sant' Elena, the island at the eastern tip of Venice. Part of the vision for the team is to build a new world-class stadium on the mainland.

Who is Joe Tacopina?

Joe Tacopina is a high-powered, high-profile celebrity defense attorney, representing clients like  Meek Mill, Jay-Z, Maroon 5 and former New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez. Tacopina is based in Manhattan and grew up in Brooklyn, the son of Italian immigrants. He is the father of five, has a passion for soccer, and bought Venezia Football Club in October, 2015. He is a present, hands-on owner. I found his New York style and American energy refreshing. Have a look at this very effective YouTube clip to learn more about the man and the Venice Football Club:

I know next to nothing about soccer, except to appreciate how gorgeous the players are, and was puzzled as to what it had to do with art, culture and Venice's civic museums. So I asked Tacopina.

"I want to strengthen the rapport with the city. I fell in love with Venice five years ago. Wherever you look you find beauty. Just look where we're sitting right now! I have to pinch myself. I want the players to understand the importance of the jersey they are wearing, and gain an understanding of the rich history and culture of Venice over the centuries. I want them to have a sense of pride."

As well as the professional soccer team, Venezia FC is developing its Venezia Football Academy, which has programs for young people on a local and international level. In addition to kids from the surrounding area, students participate from all over the world -- China, the U.S., Canada, Australia, South Korea, Vietnam, Mongolia, Finland and Oman. The international clubs come to Venice for a couple of weeks, and in addition to polishing their soccer skills, have the opportunity to visit Venice's museums.

Think about it -- if you were a 14-year-old aspiring athlete from the U.S. who traveled all the way to Venice to improve his or her soccer skills, and were brought to the awesome Palazzo Ducale so you could understand centuries of Venetian history -- how mind-blowing would that be?

Mariacristina Gribaudi gets a Venezia FC jersey - Photo: Cat Bauer
At the end of the conference, Mariacristina Gribaudi, the President of MUVE and a powerhouse herself, was presented with a jersey with her name on it. She whipped off her jacket and slipped it over her head (she's got a tattoo!).

Gribaudi is the mother of six -- she and her second husband are a modern-day Brady Bunch, combining their kids from previous marriages into a solid family unit. She is also the Administrator of the family business, Keyline, founded in 1770 and based in the Veneto, which produces door and car keys, as well as key cutting machines on a global scale. 

In addition to running MUVE and Keyline, Gribaudi's passions are young people and women -- one of the first things she did as MUVE President was install Baby Pit Stops at the museums where you can pop in and tune-up your baby: breastfeed and change a diaper. If you can understand Italian, here's a YouTube video:

Mixing sports and culture? I think it is a terrific idea, especially with these two passionate individuals at the helm. The Venice Civic Museums has a rich educational section, offering programs and adventures for adults, kids, schools and families on a local and international level -- not just for soccer players -- so if you're in Venice with the family, discover what programs MUVE has to offer. Developing the educational program and encouraging kids to enrich their knowledge of Venetian heritage is a powerful tool to creating a strong foundation for future generations.  

Go to Educational Services of the Venice Civic Museums for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Life & Death on December 8: The Madonna of the Sun, John Lennon & the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in Venice

Harley, Like a Person
(Venice, Italy) When I created the teenage protagonist, Harley Columba, I wanted her to have a deep connection to John Lennon, so in my first novel,  Harley, Like a Person, I made her birthday on December 8th, the same day that John Lennon was assassinated. Even though Harley was raised Catholic -- drawing from my own background -- at the time I wrote the novel back in the 1990s, I had no idea what the significance of that day was in terms of Christian history, nor in the history of many other religions.

I've never felt particularly close to the concept of the Virgin Mary, which was far away from the reality of my experience of what being female entailed. To me, it was a product of the patriarchy, designed to suppress the sacred feminine energy. I did a lot of research, including journeying to Turkey to study the concept of the female throughout the millennium, arriving all the way back to the 8th millennium BC. 

I wrote a long post about my wanderings way back on March 19, 2008:

Oh, Madonna!

Harley's Ninth - illustrated by Philippe Lardy
So, in my second novel, Harley's Ninth, Harley, who is an artist, has an idea for a goddess of her own creation, and decides to capture her idea in a sketch for an oil painting. She calls her goddess, The Madonna of the Sun -- "...a sexy Madonna, a modern Isis, a new Amaterasu, the Japanese sun goddess..." 

Meeting at the Golden Gate by Giotto (section) - 1305
Only after moving to Venice did I learn that December 8th is a national holiday here in Italy: the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, a holiday that seems to have been utterly forgotten in the United States. It is one of the most important Marian feast days in the Roman Catholic Church, and is celebrated world-wide. It honors the day that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was immaculately conceived

This was a revelation to me, as I had confused the Immaculate Conception with the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.  

But it was not until I saw the MAGISTER GIOTTO exhibition at the Scuola Grande della Misercordia in 2017 that the idea of the Immaculate Conception hit me on an emotional level. Some scholars think that the great artist Giotto di Bondone captured the moment of the Immaculate Conception in his Meeting at the Golden Gate, when Mary's parents; Joachim and Anne, who were long-married but childless, first met each other after receiving the news -- separately -- from an angel that they would have a child who would grow up to be the mother of God. You can read more about the moment in a post I wrote about Giotto: 

The Most Powerful Kiss in Art: Do you know what MAGISTER GIOTTO in Venice is?

The Beauty of Venice, December 2019 Photo by Cat Bauer Venice Blog
The Beauty of Venice, December 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Venice itself is a female city, which is another thing that makes it distinct. The Venetians who constructed this city created churches and images, institutions and organizations to honor the Madonna, and appreciated the sacred female energy in their own quirky patriarchal way. As Venice once again lifts up her skirts and gets back to business after the destructive November 12 flood, it would be greatly appreciated if her honor and strong resilience was respected by all. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog