“Your expanded and excavated Grand Canal will become, fatally, a great merchant port. Trains and trams shooting through the grand streets built on the finally filled in canals will bring you stacks of merchandise from a wise, rich, and bustling crowd of industrialists and merchants!”
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “Manifesto against Past-Loving Venice”, 1910
For centuries, Venice has been a crossroads of goods and people thanks to its waterways. Strangely, with the arrival of modernity, the city started to seem isolated and, therefore, in need of new connections, specifically land connections.
Today we laugh at the visitors who think you can get to St. Mark’s Square by car or by bus, but this was not such a strange idea for the engineers of the late 19th century. On the contrary, they presented many different proposals aimed at making the lagoon city “modern”, i.e. suitable for vehicles.
Before the construction of the railway bridge in 1846 and the subsequent construction of the train station in the area formerly occupied by the convent of St. Lucy, other proposals for connecting the city to the mainland had been presented.
In 1830, for example, Picotti had imagined a road for coaches stretching from Campalto to St. Alvise, and then on to the Misericordia, filling in the Rio de la Sensa. As you can see, when Marinetti dreamed of transforming the canals into paved streets in 1910, he was saying nothing new!
About fifty years later, Baffo proposed a similar project: a tram line headed by a station in Campo Santi Apostoli that would connect Murano, San Michele, and Fondamenta Nuove.
Even after the arrival of the railway, the idea that the tracks should end at Santa Lucia station was not considered definitive. With the intention of making it easier to get to the city center, the second half of the 19th century saw many plans presented that would have extended the railway across the Giudecca Canal or along the Zattere, and then built train stations on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore or by the Salute Church.
The owners of the factories on the Giudecca Island at the end of the 19th century had another concern: how to make it easier for their workers to commute from the rest of Venice and back. Giovanni Stucky, founder of the Stucky Mill, proposed that all the entrepreneurs paid a tax to finance a new connection between Giudecca and the rest of Venice.
The most fascinating solution would have been to build a tunnel under the water to allow workers to walk across the canal. This idea was not accepted by the city council however, and a far less creative solution was finally settled on: an increase in the number of vaporettos running between the two places!
In the 19tj century, carriages were not just used for practical needs: they were also a high society pastime. This, of course, meant Venice could not do without them.
In 1872, a street for horses and carriages was designed which would have run along the waterfront from the Doge’s Palace to the public gardens in Castello. At the end of this scenic street there would have been a beach and an aquatic amphitheater for mock naval battles and fireworks. This arena would have been built in the area between the public gardens and the church of Sant’Elena, which, at the time, was still marshland.
To avoid impeding the water traffic in the canals, this carriage road would have been elevated, so that it would have also been much cooler than the streets at ground level, and therefore more pleasant. The plan was for it to be a tollway, with a different price depending on which side you took: of course, the lagoon side would have been the more expensive one!
At about the same time, a certain Somers J. Summers published “If London were like Venice” in the British Harmsworth Magazine. This was an ironic description of London with canals and gondolas: “past-loving” Venice in this case had become an inspiration for the future of another city!
Projects similar to those we have described for Venice in the 19th century have also been proposed in recent years, and the future of the city and its lagoon is the subject of frequent discussions.
What will Venice look like in 100 years?