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The gardens of San Zaccaria

My grandmother's garden must be a very special place on earth.

Located in the ancient heart of Venice, in an area so much older than Piazza San Marco. In fact, it was here that the first monastery in Venice was built, on an island group called Ombriola. There was one main island and eight minor ones. On the main island, a monastery was built in the year 468 by Bishop Magno.

It became the home of the daughters of noble families who had to become nuns because only the eldest son could bear the title of noble family. That's why from the beginning, this monastery held a special status.

Led by wise business women, the monastery also received money from the noble families and from the beginning was the richest monastery in the Lagoon. In its library, which is now part of my grandmother's house, we found a number of ancient documents and maps showing the numerous possessions of the monastery in the Lagoon and estuary.

These nuns were so rich they didn't have to work, and could afford the best administrators and gardeners! And right from the beginning, the Ombriola island was surrounded by vineyards, olive groves, herb gardens and orchards.

The hanging gardens

While the monastery was becoming an economic hub and powerhouse, thea area between it and Piazza San Marco was settled by Levantine merchants, in particular from Greece and Constantinople. Soon, the nuns had a wall built so they could close themselves in during the night. And they had a tiny guesthouse built and a church which was open to the merchants of this thriving business quarter. The church was dedicted to Saint Proculus - soon called San Provolo in Venice.

The monastery was an essential part of life in Venice, and there are many stories connected to it. San Zaccaria in May 1797, when Napoleon's troops occupied Venice bringing the Serenissima Republic to an end, entered the most difficult phase in its existence. The guesthouse was closed by the Napoleonic troups, the church of San Provolo next to it desacrated. Over night, all business activities came to a complete standstill.

During the next few decades, private homes were carved out of the ancient monastery building. Yet, its gardens somehow survived, as some of the nuns had never left the premises.

The Spice Atelier

In the past, every monastery in Venice had a spezieria - spice atelier and apothecary. A place where herbs, blossoms and spices were grown and mixed. San Zaccaria was no exception, making use of the herbs growing on its possessions in the garden, the Lagoon islands and on the mainland.

We called the garden una spezeria, the spice atelier. Such a lush gardenscape, with a large nursery to grow herbs and vegetables, which you will see as doors open: A fragrant oasis of kumquat, oranges, lemons, tangerines, damascene roses, uva fragola grapes, red currants, and so much more.

These are the ingredients Lina uses in her kitchen, for baking cakes and making syrups, mustards and preserves. So wonderful to taste naturally flavored food, forgotten in our times of artificially processed dishes.

And these go into the recipes we offer to you, based on the herbs, fruit and edible blossoms growing in the garden, and on recipe books Lina discovered in the ancient library of the monastery. Our source of rediscovering the ancient, famous spice dishes of Venice.

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Zoom PRE-ORDER: The Yellow Rose of San Zaccaria
Zoom PRE-ORDER: The Yellow Rose of San Zaccaria

PRE-ORDER: The Yellow Rose of San Zaccaria

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Our first Venice novel will soon be available. The story of Venice told by rose, growing above the Brolo, the oldest and largest monastery garden of Venice.

Only a courtyard orchard, vegetable plots and a hanging garden remain of the former monastery garden of San Zaccaria. 

This ebook will be available on 15 August 2020 and will tell the story of Venice in 12 chapters. A very green and flowery story, mixed with Levantine tales of spices and fragrant recipes, it will span the story of Venice between 1000 BC and 2020. 

PREORDER the book now and buy it at a 20 per cent discount at EUR 15.40. From 15 August, the price will be EUR 18.

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