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Vera da pozzo

Corte ZorziA vera da pozzo is a well or well-head, and there are so many of these things all over Venice that it’s easy to stop noticing them after a while. They aren’t true wells, they're cisterns that were used for collecting and filtering rainwater and until the mid-1800’s, they were the only source of fresh water in the city. During times of drought, the Republic would haul water in by barge and fill these up. After Venice was connected to an aqueduct on the mainland, many of these were removed and the remaining ones covered over, but there are still a bunch of them around and many of them are very beautiful.

In “Strolling through Venice,” John Freely writes that there used to be 6,782 of these wells and that today, there are 256 still to be seen in public places. He identifies and dates many of them in the walking tours in his book. Some of them are decorated with carvings and reliefs, and I try to remember to look at the ones close to churches because they usually have some art connected to the church’s name saint.

According to Freely, this one used to be a baptismal font in a church.

former baptismal font

This very worn but sweet relief shows Tobias and the Angel (Archangel Raphael) and is on a well by the church of Angelo Raffaele in Dorsoduro.

Raphael and Tobias


This relief of Archangel Gabriel carrying the annunciation lily is on the vera da pozzo in Campo Sant’ Angelo in sestiere San Marco.

Annunciation (Gabriel with lily)

This relief shows Saint George and the Dragon; it’s on the well next to the church of San Giorgio dei Greci in Castello.

vera da pozzo

A 19th century photo by Carlo Naya showing folks getting water from one of the bronze wells in the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale.

Pozzo_di_palazzo_Ducale.jpg

Update: here's a link to Anne's wonderful post about "The Lady of the Well" that we were discussing in the comments below.

Comments (16)

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, wow I have been dying to know what these were. In nearly all the photos I took of the Campos that I visited last year, I kept seeing these well like objects. I have been wanting to research to find out exactly what they were.

I'm so happy to read this post and finally learn that these are called vera da pozzo and how they were used (historically). I have to look at my photos closely to see if I see any artwork on them like the examples you posted about.

Thanks for sharing the information and for posting these great photos!

Have a great evening.

Very interesting post, Annie. I remember seeing these in Venice and I went looking at my pictures and found two. One is in front of the S. Barnaba Church and the other in the campo of another church of which I don't know the name. Both are very similar in shape and size.

The picture is priceless! I've never been to the Palazzo Ducale and wonder if the well is still standing in the courtyard. The women all look very tired.

Kathy, they are all over the place in my photos too! Let me know what you find when you look through yours.

Maria, that old photo cracks me up too. Just think...after they got the water, they probably had to climb 3 or 4 flights of stairs to haul it home! Yes, that well-head is still there along with at least one other. And I'd love to look at your "mystery church" photo and see if it's one I know.

sandrac:

This is so interesting, Annie! I'm afraid that I also became so used to seeing the well heads in so many campos, that I didn't give them a second look. Yet you've found some really beautiful examples! (You could do a wonderful well head walking tour for the big 2010 GTG in Venice!)

And I love the photo from the Palazzo Ducale. Can you imagine living in Venice in times when you had to draw and haul your own water? I wonder if you'd even notice the incredible art and beauty around you, or if you'd be so ground down by the all of the manual labour that you wouldn't even be aware of your surroundings?

Anne:

I'd vote for Annie as tour guide at the 2010 GTG in Venice!!! Wait, there's a 2010 GTG planned for Venice?? Clearly I haven't been spending enough time on the ST board...I had no idea - I better start saving! (Just as soon as I get back from Florence...)

I love these well heads. Mom and I went on a ghost walk one night in Venice, and one story had to do with a dry well and a miracle of the Virgin Mary...I must go check my journal for details. If I wrote the story down, I'll post it on my blog one of these days.

Sandra, I think that drudgery would be drudgery, beauty or not. :) Whenever I catch myself getting romantic over "simpler times," I think about indoor plumbing and hot showers.

And I'm definitely up for some tour guiding as long as no one expects me not to get lost!

Anne! Sandra is the one who clued me into this October 2010 GTG plan - check the GTG message board for a long thread about it. I really hope it happens even though it seems so far away right now. And if you could come too....awesome!

And I would love to know more about your ghost walk and the Miracle-working Madonna story connected to a dry well! I'm always on the look-out for more miracle stories and that's one I haven't read/heard.

Yvonne:

Dear Anne

Wow, I do love your blog about the pozzi, and the stories related to some of them. Next time I get to Venice, I'll definitely concentrate on those wonderful pozzi.

Thank you!

sandrac:

Yes, Anne, you should check out the ST GTG thread! Several of us are turning 50 in 2010 and it seems a good way to mark the occasion!

I'm also intrigued by your ghost walk-miraculous well story. I did an interesting ghost walk in Venice a couple of years ago, it was great fun (what a wonderful city for a ghost walk) but I don't remember a Madonna story. There was a lot said about a woman who apparently died of love for Marco Polo.....

Very cool post Annie! I have also always wondered what they were. I remember seeing them everywhere, but after checking my photos, only found two.

The first one I have a photo of is in Piazza San Marco on the clock tower side by the side entrance to Basilica. The second one I think is a vera da pozzo. It is a different shape however and is located in the Campo Santa Margherita.

Yvonne, thank you for stopping by! I really enjoyed reading your trip report. I've alway had good intentions to take the train over to Padua and then I get to Venice and don't want to leave. But your trip report is good motivation to go.

Sandra, so you did a ghost walk too? Maybe I need to look into that. I can understand someone dying of love for old Marco - wasn't he gone from Venice for about 30 years or so?!

Girasoli, I'd have to check my photos but I'm pretty sure there are several of them in Campo Santa Margherita, different shapes and sizes.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, FYI . . . I went back through my photos last night out of curiosity. I counted about 6 or 7 of them but unfortunately they were all wide angle shots and I can't see the artwork on them. I thought a saw something on one but it was too far to tell. Maybe I can blow it up. The only real close-up I have is the one at the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale, so it was fun to see that old photo.

P.S. I think you would make an awesome tour guide at that GTG! Have a great weekend!

Thanks Kathy! Like I said, sometimes I forget to look at them closely, but I did get a few close-up photos when I remembered. There is one somewhere that's carved to look like a basket - I want to find that one next trip.

And you should think about coming to the 2010 GTG too! Not sure if you will be ready to return to Italy by then, but if you are, think about it!

Anne:

Annie, you should definitely look into the Ghost Walks. As Sandra says, Venice is such an amazing city for ghost stories - strolling around in the quiet misty hush of Venice (esp in off season) is the perfect atmosphere for ghosts. I found the stories in my journal...now I just have to get a post written up!

I am SO interested in the 2010 GTG, although we may need another GTG in March 2014 (my 50th) I believe legend has it Venice was founded on March 25, which happens also to be my birthday. So I really don't see how I can spend my 50th anywhere other than Venice!

I was just reading Nan's blog and she mentioned a vera da pozzo on the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo.

http://livingveniceblog.com/

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, I am always ready to visit Italy! I read about the 2010 GTG and it would be so cool especially because you all are going and it will be in Venice! I would go in a hot second for those two equal reasons. October is not the best time for me to leave work and that would be my only obstacle. But 2010 is a long way off and depending on the date, I could come! That would be such a cool trip!

Anne, okay! I've got October 2010 and March 2014 penciled in on my calendar!

Maria, thanks for that link. Interesting post!

Kathy, October isn't the best for me either in terms of taking time off from work. But I'm hoping that I can at least swing the Venice part even if I can't stay for the Florence part.

I saw today that someone has proposed some "official" dates on the thread on the ST message board so everyone, check it out.

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