El Brolo - The Heritage of a Special Garden

Lifting the veil. This is the story of the oldest garden in Venice and my inspiration to start La Venessiana in the first place. It was never my intention to add yet another blog and website on a city on whom guide books are overrepresented in book stores.

Yet, we are missing something, many stories told in books sold 100 years ago. We should know, for there are many old books on Venice on the shelves in the library Grandmother Lina found when she bought the former guesthouse of the monastery San Zaccaria in 1968.

In short, there's an ancient map worth discovering. In our Spice Atelier, we'd love to tell you all the stories of our sestiere (meaning district in Venessian, the Venetian language). And we concentrate on more secret gardens on Ombriola and Le Gemine, the two largest islands making up Castello. It's an ancient map you need to have at the back of your mind to really understand the allure of Venice.

palm tree in the garden

El Brolo is one of those gardens that disappeared from today's maps in Venice. Brolo means orchard / vegetable garden, and that's what it was until the year 568 AD, when the nuns of San Zaccaria donated the garden to the fledgling Republic. Piazza San Marco was laid out on the former garden, and a rio (canal) dividing the Piazza into two parts, recalled its verdant origin for a long time.

To the east, the nuns kept a portion of the garden, which after the fall of the Republic was cobbled. Houses were built on the premises, yet, a small portion, or rather, courtyard remained to the west, belonging to the guesthouse of the nuns. 

In the 19th century, the building was acquired by a Mr. Fontana, and then the German nuns from Augsburg moved in and creating a guesthouse for German travelers. It was open until 1968 when the nuns decided to return to Germany, and sold the house to Grandmother Lina's family. 

This is how Lina was confronted with a special heritage, and she and her husband did make use of all the creativity and know-how they had in growing plants on salty ground. Lina's heritage also consisted in a library, written in various languages, which she has been proud of ever since, In her sparetime, she loves going through the books. For La Venessiana, she has given me access to the library and quite a few stories we tell here, and many recipes, are partly contained in the ancient books whose age is difficult to determine. Most go back to the 18th century, and some are titled with 1541 and 1613, which doesn't come as a surprise to us, for Venice was a prime center for publishing books in Europe during the Middle Ages. 

Stay tuned as our garden stories develop, told for you in the Virtual Venice Retreats that you can book here !

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