This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Venetian Pozzi

What is a pozzo or pozzi, you ask? Well, I'll tell you. Read on.

Venice is a city that sits in a saltwater lagoon. It is an island...well, several about 117 islands. The point is that fresh water is very difficult to find when you are on an island surrounded by saltwater. That's where the marvelous invention of the pozzi come in.

This is perhaps the most gorgeous of the pozzi, and it is well preserved. The 'F' of the stonework probably stands for Franchetti, as this pozzo is found at the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, next to the Accadamia bridge.

A pozzo is a well, where pozzi is its plural. A typical well is created by digging or drilling down until one finds fresh, potable water. This has been done for centuries. But in Venice, if one digs down to water, it will be that same old saltwater that surrounds and permeates the city of Venice. So, how is a Venetian well different that those of the millennia?

A simple pozzo with a nice leaf design.

The Venetian engineers who designed and constructed the pozzi knew at what level the lagoon's non-potable water sat under the buildings and open spaces (campi) of Venice. The foundational 'ground' elevation of Venice  was created by driving millions and millions of tree trunks into the mud of the lagoon. The church of Santa Maria della Salute that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago had over one-million trees just for its own foundation. These pilings and the soil packed around and on them were used to raise the ground level upon which the city was built to a consistent level.

This pozzo has a lifting pulley for lifting water buckets, as well as a spigot with basin, for which the plumbing is a mystery to me.

These engineers knew that they could dig out the area under the campi to a certain level to create huge stone-lined cisterns for storage of rain water. After excavation of a campo, stonework was laid down on the bottom. Stonework was also laid down to form the walls of these large cisterns, as well as a loose stone cylinder which would make up the pit of the well . Then, the stone-lined excavation was filled with sand and covered with loose-fitting paving stones. Finally, a stone well (you know, like a wishing well) was set up in the middle of the campo right above the stone cylinder. Got it? If not, here is a nice cross-sectional drawing of a typical pozzo.

Cross-section of a typical pozzo of Venice. Illustration from Wikipedia by Marrabbio2

So, all that was needed now was for the rains to fall upon the city of Venice. That rain water seeped through the loose-fitting paving stones of the compo and collected within the sands of the cistern. Viola' -- water for the citizens of Venice. 

This pozzo is well protected in a courtyard. The lion motif is emblematic of Venice, as it is the symbol of Saint Mark.

I love the amphora of this pozzo. It also has an iron covering mechanism. 

Very simple...very functional...and the water will taste as sweet.

This pozzo has a leaf patter similar to the second of the pozzi shown above. The cross and shield embellishment seems to reflect Venice's relationship to the Crusades.

Another well-decorated pozzo, this one in a botanic motif. 

Though very old, this pozzo has another of the spigots with basin. I suspect that today, it is connected to the Venetian system of fountains which dispense excellent water from the Italian alps. 

I hope that you have enjoyed finding out a bit about how the Venetians kept hydrated over the centuries. Today, excellent, fresh water is brought down from the Italian alps, which one can actually see from the campanile of Venice on a clear day. 

Each of the photos you see above took a good while for me to get it to the point of being presentable to you. Again, my goal is to give to you an ancient Venice -- a Venice of another time. In next week's article, I'll show you a number of before-and-after transformation which lead to these pozzi images.


Ciao for now,