Venice Streetnames

Finding an address in Venice is a lot like trying to find an address in Manhattan... the mailing address alone isn't going to tell you a heck of a lot. In Venice, the city's divided into six "quarters" (it makes more sense in Italian, "sestieri" instead of "quartieri"), and--thanks to the Austrians about a hundred years ago--each has consecutive street numbers reaching about five or six thousand. But, like in Manhattan, to actually FIND the place, you need to know not only the number, but the name of the street (and likely also the specific sestiere).

Why? Because Venice is essentially a medieval city, where practically nobody ever formally named the streets... Instead, they acquired their names from the way people referred to them, as in, "You know, the street in Santa Croce where the blacksmith is..." and, over time, that street would simply become known, in this example, as the street "del Fabbro." And, needless to say, there wasn't just one blacksmith in Venice, or one baker, or one shoemaker, for that matter. So, there are dozens of alleyways with the same name here in town. Hence, the two address systems. But, also as a result, streetnames in Venice tell you an awful lot about the rich history of the place.

Streetnames here are stenciled on painted white panels throughout the city. The locals call them "ninzioletti" (in Venetian, the "l" is silent), or "little bed sheets." (Oddly enough, there's apparently also another translation in old Venetian which is slightly less attractive...) Anyway, there are plenty of resources which give you histories of these names, some reliable, others more or less anecdotal. I, for one, have always wanted to make a collection of the stranger ninzioletti, so here you go...

"Rio Tera' degli Assassini" (in sestiere San Marco):
Anywhere in the city you see "Rio Tera'" it means "rio interrato" in Venetian, or a canal that was subsequently filled in to make a walkway. "Degli Assassini" is what it looks like... "of the assassins." It just goes to show that there were a lot of unsavory corners of the city in centuries past (while there are very few of them now). Maybe at the time they should have gone and left it a canal. (FYI... nowadays, there's a marvelous half-price bookstore there!)

More ninzioletti to come...


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