The Lido through the centuries, from the first line of defense of the city to an elegant leisure destination

12 August 2022

Venice, July 4th, 2022 - A thin strip of land about 12 km long, bordered by the ports of San Nicolò to the north and Malamocco to the south, standing between the lagoon and the Adriatic Sea. In the past, this island used to play a key role for Venice, being the first line of defense against the incursions of enemies and the fury of waves of the sea. In the present days, however, it is the beach of the Venetians, with a more peaceful and elegant atmosphere, typical of the Art Nouveau architecture that embellish its avenues. These are just some of the characteristics of the Lido di Venezia, one of the largest islands of the lagoon. Today, at the beginning of the summer season, we start a long journey to discover the countless traces of its rich and millenary past.

Several are the historical sources that prove how this place was populated, albeit sparsely, since ancient times. Around the year one thousand, there were in fact the first settlements in the northern part of the island with the construction of the Benedictine abbey and the Church of San Nicolò, dedicated to the patron saint of sailors. Although the present building dates back to the seventeenth-century, inside it can still be possible to admire eleventh century’s elements, such as: a portion of the mosaic floor and a part of the right aisle. As being the first point of access to the sea, for fishermen, trades and soldiers it used to be very common to set sail from the Lido, and for this reason the bell tower of the crunch has long been a symbol of departure to distant lands and return home. This happened for example in 1202 on the eve of the Fourth Crusade, the one that then led Venice to the Adriatic and the Aegean. At that time here, there were 30,000 crusaders camped and waiting to embark on the great adventure.

Not far from the church of San Nicolò stands another important religious site: as you can read on the marble plaque at its entrance, it is the Ancient Jewish Cemetery, a small piece of land that the Serenissima assigned to the Jewish venetian community in 1389. Considered as one of the earliest testimonies of a rooted Jewish presence in the lagoon city, the burial place has changed over the centuries, reaching its maximum expansion in 1641. After great damage and losses caused by the construction of new defensive fortifications, in 1774 the Venetian government granted a new space for the burial of members of the community, known as the “New Cemetery”.

Although the Lido has long been a swampy and unhealthy area where few people lived, over time it has become an essential part of the defensive system of the Venetian Republic, thanks to construction of several military structures. The first among all the others in the lagoon is Forte San Nicolò, located on the north. Already existing in the twelfth century, then renovated at the beginning of the sixteenth century by the famous military architect Michele Sanmicheli, here used to be located the barracks of the Fanti da Mar, one of the oldest marine infantry corps in history, established by the Serenissima to be employed in naval combat and landing operations. Many are then the defensive structures (forti) later built that have helped to strengthen the image of the Lido as a fortress defending the Republic from invasions from the sea. Santa Maria Elisabetta and Quattro Fontane, which unfortunately were destroyed, in addition to Cà Bianca, Terre Perse, Malamocco, San Leonardo and Alberoni, which remained active until 1945.

The Venetian Island was also strategic to preserve the city against the severe weather conditions and storms. For this purpose, great works of hydraulic engineering were carried out such as the Murazzi, the imposing work in Istrian stone that extends for 5 kilometers, from Ca’Bianca to the Alberoni. Before the construction of this defensive structure, every year the Serenissima used to provide a certain amount of funds to protect the island. Where the risk of damage was greater, they tried to provide reinforced structures and stones, although it proved not to be efficient in the long run. In the eighteenth century it was decided to entrust the construction of a new and more stable method of defense, basically a wall of blocks of Istrian stone, to Bernardino Zendrini. The enterprise began in 1744 and was completed in 1782. Later, the Murazzi were damaged by storms in 1825 later collapsing on 4 November 1966 and causing exceptional high water that flooded Venice.

An essential turning point in the history of Lido di Venezia was finally reached between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. His military role began to take a back seat, although fortification activities continued. It was increasingly appreciated by artists and writers as a destination for recreation and residence, especially for his romantic atmosphere.



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