What’s in a Name?

In reading through Seductive Venice to prepare it for publication, I was struck again by the street and place names. There’s the ever-so-much-fun Ponte de le Tette in the previous photo, named for the street and bridge (and there were not one but two such locations in the city!) where the courtesans bared their wares to drum up business.

You see quite a few names repeat. Certain neighborhoods seem to have certain professions. Near SS Apostoli,  you’ll find Calle del Forno for the baker’s oven, Spezier for the grocers, and Frutariol for the fruit vendor, which is still true today. Magazzeno, though, does not mean magazines were sold there; it denotes a wine shop.

Many other names denote what was sold there. Near Fondamente Nove, where you catch the boat to Murano the glass making island, is the street of Specchieri or mirrors. Calle de le Rasse, near the Bridge of Sighs, was where they sold rasse, the cloth used to cover the felze on the older gondolas. Fondamenta dei Penini was named for the boiled lamb’s feet sold there. Or Ponte dei Pugni was a bridge used for fist fights, (but I’ll blog more on that later).

Other names point out obvious features. Calle della Gorna (torn up and later rebuilt and renamed) meant gutter, since it had one running down its middle. Calle de le Muneghe is the older word for Monache or nun, meaning a convent was nearby. Then there’s Do Pozzi for the two pozzi or cisterns in the campo.

Some names sound more exciting than they turn out to be. I saw the street of Passion a couple times, but it refers to Christ’s passion, not something more romantic.

For the really curious, there’s a wonderful book called Curiosita Veneziane, or Venetian Curiosities, which tells the meaning and story behind nearly every street in the city. The only hitch is that it’s written in a form of Italian that is not so easy for a non-native speaker like me. I was thinking that my Italian was just more deficient than I had guessed, but then my friend Marco confirmed that even he had trouble reading it; it’s not like the Italian he grew up speaking with his family. But if you want a particular street name explained, write to me and I’ll figure it out. Some names are more disappointing when you read about them, but lots are quite interesting.

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
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5 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. Julian says:

    Ha! Now I want to get a bunch of beads and and offer them to well endowed ladies crossing the bridge during Carnival.

    • I wonder if folks in New Orleans for Mardi Gras got their inspiration from the Venetians…. 🙂

      • peter maher says:

        Calle de le Rasse, close to the San Zaccaria stop at Riva degli Schiavoni. In Tuscan (standard) Italian the form is rascie [raše]. These were heavy woolen panels once used to shelter gondola passengers from the weather, imported in the 1700s from Rascia ~ Raška (Novi Pazar) in Serbia. The term now also designates mortuary bunting. It’s spelt rassie in Piccio’s Venetian Dictionary 1928, which you can find on-line.

  2. Julian says:

    Sorry, my mind has taken up residence in Calle della Gorna.

  3. John Peter Maher says:

    The USA has the Grands Tetons ,’Big Teats’…

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