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

Transforming the Pozzi

Last week, I showed you several of the water wells that can be found around the city of Venice. Though these wells, or pozzo (singular) and pozzi (plural), are not used today, they have a certain historical significance for the Venetians.

The last pozzo is the most challenging...there is no way to remove these elements — right?

The photos you saw last week were a far cry from what I stared with out of the camera. So, this week, I give you a look behind the curtain to see what transpired to get the photos more presentable for you. After all, you may remember that my goal is to present to you a Venice of bye gone eras. This means that I have to meet the challenge through manipulation. So, here goes...

Pozzo #1

In this first snapshot, you can see that the pozzo is not the center of attention. It has to compete with a doorway, doorbells, and conduits of various sorts. Want to see a larger view of a photo, just click on its image.

1 - Yucky original snapshot.

Below, the distracting elements have now been removed.

2 - Distractions removed

Finally, a richer texture was added and the pozzo was isolated by blurring the newly-created background a bit.

3 - Final photo

Pozzo #2

This beautiful floral-themed pozzo is found in a nice, quiet courtyard. The original snapshot was off-kilter a bit, and it had a distracting background.

1 - Unlevel cluttered snapshot

Below, I've worked on the background to simplify it so that more focus is given to the pozzo.

2 - Background simplified

Finally, the background has been darkened and placed out of focus, and the pozzo has been given a richer texture.

3 - The final, cleaned up pozzo

Pozzo #3

Here is another pozzo that is found in a campo with distracting elements -- in this case, iron-barred windows -- I'll show you more on these windows in the future.

1 - Distraction abounds beyond this pozzo

Below, you can see that the windows have been removed, as if by magic.

2 - No more windows!

Finally, as before, the pozzo is given focus through isolation and texture.

3 - The completed pozzo photo

Pozzo #4

This last pozzo is the most challenging...just look at all of that stuff in the background of this busy campo. We have plants (palm trees, no less), windows, urns, lions, and even my reflection in the door of the Venice Best Western hotel. For sure, there is no way to remove these elements -- right?

1 - A busy courtyard with busy, distracting elements

As if by magic, I was able to reproduce enough of the wall stonework to fill in the background...but I have to admit that I had the help of Harry Potter as I worked this magic.

2 - Now, no distracting elemnents

After a considerable amount of time and effort, I present to you the final photo, below. I doubt that you noticed, but there is a bit more water issuing forth from the spigot than the trickle of the original snapshot. 

3 - The final photo with its rich texture and color -- along with a more generous stream of water

Well, that's it for this weeks transformation. Though the Venetians no longer have to rely on these pozzi, rest assured that they treasure them. And, I'm proud to present them to you in a more positive light.

Photo Tip: When photographing an object like these pozzi, get low before you snap the photo. The subjects will be much more interesting than if photographed looking down at them. And this works especially well when photographing children!


Ciao for now,


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,