Ancient Venetian crafts: the “Serenissima” has allowed the development of many craft activities over the centuries. The development of the various handicrafts has been favored by the particular geographical position of Venice itself. Just think of the direct contacts with the East through the “Silk Road”, crossed by caravans and merchants.
Until the closure of the Artisan Schools and Brotherhoods by Napoleon, Arts and Craft Corporations were for centuries the backbone of the economic and social life of Venice. Regulated by detailed Capitulars in constant updating, called “mariegole” which also constituted a sort of professional register, the Arts organized the working life of Venetians and foreigners living in the city.
Unfortunately, only a few activities survived, forming an artistic heritage to protect and preserve. Nowadays it is possible to find handicrafts in the islands surrounding Venice, such as glass and pearl working in Murano (we recommend a visit to the Guarnieri artistic glass factory) and lace art in Burano. Something also remained in the center of the city.
For example, going towards Zattere you can admire the art of “squeraroli” in the squero of San Trovaso, famous for the production and repair of gondolas. The activity of the “terasseri” (floor painters) continues with the company Asin in Cannaregio, creators of the inimitable “Venetian terrazzo flooring”, while that of the “tajapiera” (restorers) with the Giusto family in San Polo, working marble and Istrian stone. In the Berta Battiloro workshop in Cannaregio, the only company in Europe that produces gold leaf on an artisan level, the art of the “batioro“, the master gold beaters, is relived.
In Venice the “favri” (blacksmiths) were very important figures in the city, fundamental for the economy itself, as most of the other artisans used tools produced by the blacksmiths and were well known for their wrought iron works. The last remaining foundry in the historical center is the Valese foundry and you can visit it in Cannaregio.
Today only the local toponymy remains of the glorious splendor of Venice’s craftsmanship: the “Spadaria”, the “Frezzaria” and “Calle dei Fabbri”, dedicated to gunsmiths, manufacturers of arrows and crossbows and other iron craftsmen; the “Mercerie”, dedicated to merchants and numerous craftsmen. There were “telarioli” (canvas sellers), “bareteri” (woolen cap sellers), “capeleri” (hat sellers), “latoneri” (brass), “pirieri” (funnels), “vasineri” (sheaths and cases), “bolzeri” (suitcases and trunks), “corteleri” and “spaderi” (knives and swords), “peteneri” (combs), “gucciadori” (socks and shirts), “centureri” (belts), “muschieri” (perfumes and cosmetics), “rologeri” (watches), “occialeri” (glasses), “specieri” (mirrors), “mascareri” (mask makers).
The Rialto market was a meeting and selling place for “erbarioli” and “frutaroli” (fruit and vegetable sellers) in “Erbaria” and “Naranzeria”, of “becheri” (butchers) in “Becaria”, of “casaroli” (cheese sales) in “Casaria”, of “pescaori” (fishermen) in “Pescaria”, of “oresi” and “zogielieri” (precious and jewels) in “Ruga dei Oresi”, but above all of “spezieri” (sellers of the most precious spices from the East and Africa) in “Ruga dei Spezieri”. The two banks along the Grand Canal near the bridge were instead intended for the market of metals (Riva del Ferro), coal (Riva del Carbon) and wine (Riva del Vin).
It is also possible to find traces of the ancient crafts at the ancient Schools, where the Brotherhoods worked, such as the “batioro” in San Stae, the “caegheri” (shoemakers) and the “zavateri” (cobblers) in San Tomà, the “luganegheri” (charcuterie makers) in San Salvador, the “laneri” (wool makers) in San Pantalon, the “varoteri” (furriers) in Campo Santa Margherita, the “bocaleri” and “pignateri” (ceramists, manufacturers of mugs, pots and dishes) in Frari, the “boteri” (manufacturers of barrels, bottles and vats) by the Jesuits, the “saoneri” (soap makers) in San Polo, the “samiteri” (weavers of silk, damasks, brocades and satin), the “veluderi” (weavers of velvet), the “tentori” (fabric dyers) in an area between the Santi Apostoli, San Canzian and San Giovanni Grisostomo.
At the Arsenale the professions were “marangoni” (carpenters), “calafai” (caulkers), “segadori” (sawyers), “remeri” (oar builders), “alboranti” (ship mast builders), “velere” (sailmakers) and of course “marineri” (sailors).
Certain professions, which for centuries have been the backbone of the Venetian economy, continue to exist today thanks to a few irreducible craftsmen. However, they too are at the mercy of the logic of mass tourism. This has caused a flattening of the quality of the products and still today we see the proliferation of numerous stores that sell goods only apparently “made in Italy”. Despite this, there are those who courageously continue to carry on their craft according to traditions, using quality materials, combining them with a real art, unique of its kind.
For this reason, it is essential to give visibility, voice and importance to those who stubbornly fight against everything that is mass. It is important that a category like that of artisans does not disappear, because with them a piece of Venice itself would certainly disappear.
Location: Guarnieri Artistic Glass Factory, Murano