Venice was founded in the fifth century by people from the mainland who fled the Hun invasion from the north to take refuge in the lagoon’s marshy islands. The center of the original community, “Venetia” , moved from island to island , but by the ninth century was firmly established in its present location.
Originally, each island was semi-autonomous. Houses were built around the edge so that each house had direct access to the water for commerce and trasportation. The open space in the center, the campo, was used for community needs such as the graveyard, for grazing cattle, for the water cistern and well, and for the public events such as markets and festivals. Shops and businesses opened onto the campo. All movement from island to island was conducted by boat; bridges linking the island communities were built centuries later. The city’s island structure created a strong sense of neighborhood identity and rivalry.
Originally, as their name implies, the campi were unpaved fields. In the eighteenth century , to protect ladies’ ankle-length gowns and elegant shoes, especially during the evening passeggiata , wide stone paths called listone were constructed across some campi. Tassini describes the passeggiata that took place on winter evenings along the paved listone on Campo Santo Stefano. Today, Campo San Pietro in Castello district is the only campo that is still grass crossed with stone paths.
Nowadays in the Campo, those living in the neighborhood shop, go for coffee and newspapers, while Venetians living elsewhere pass through on their way to work. In this setting, persons encounter each other many times a day and brief conversations ensue. Here, even casual acquaintances become familiar figures. Public life is visible and audible to all. No part of the campo is fenced off or inaccessible, and of course, there are no cars to impede social interaction!
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