Burchiello on the Brenta

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Burchiello storico - Naviglio di Brenta

Historical re-enactment of this magnificent vessel, making its way up the Naviglio di Brenta, Venezia. With thanks to Consorzio Ville Venete and ‘Il Burchiello’ Navigation Company, who operate the modern Burchiello on the Brenta today.

Burchiello - modern vessel outside Villa Malcontenta (Foscari)
Burchiello – modern vessel outside Villa Malcontenta (Foscari)

Burchiello storico - Naviglio di Brenta

Burchiello tradizionale - etching of original Burchiello vessel
Burchiello tradizionale – etching of original Burchiello vessel
Burchiello route along the Brenta is blocked by various bridges - this one in Oriago, Veneto
Burchiello route along the Brenta is blocked by various bridges – this one in Oriago, Veneto

The Burchiello was a pleasure boat that cruised from Venice along the Brenta waterway towards Padova. The aristocracy of Venice loved the boat. It was the opportunity to have a day away from the formality of the city. Voyagers could play cards, gamble, eat and drink and best of all, flirt with ladies and gentlemen they might otherwise never meet.

THE BRENTA & BURCHIELLO – In the 17th century a magnificent, mirrored and gilded vessel cruised the waters of the lagoon from Venice to Padova. It was known as the ‘Burchiello’. Venetian aristocracy loved the boat and the freedom it offered. It was a  comfortable means of getting from the city to the countryside. Ideal for conversation, gossip and the occasional game of cards. It was also a perfect escape, physically and mentally from the rigours of the city.  As soon as the ‘Burchiello’ moved from the open waters of the lagoon to the sheltered banks of the Brenta the Venetian ‘milordi’ would breath a sigh of relief. Especially when they spied the magnificient  Villa Foscari or as it is better known Villa Malcontenta, peering guilelessly from behind it’s willow fringe. Villa Foscari is known as ‘Malcontenta’ meaning unhappy or sad because it was built by the Foscari brothers, an eminent Venetian family. It is alleged that one of the brother’s wives was locked up here, in isolation, as a punishment for her infidelity. The story goes that the sad and forlorn lady was kept here in her luxurious, gilded cage, alone and miserable. However for lovers of Palladio this villa is one of his finest. Symmetrical, elegant, classical it is a purist’s dream.  There are many references to classical architecture in the building. There is a square pediment, which acts as the villa’s foundation plinth and imposing stairs that lead up to the main entrance. On the garden side of the villa there are a series of semi-circular lunette windows that are reminiscent of the style of Roman bath houses or thermae. The elegance of the house and the exotic story of the inhabitants was enough to charm any visitor.

ARISTOCRATS AT PLAY – I love imagining the Venetian elite on the ‘Burchiello’ as it sailed up the Brenta towards Padova. A leisurely cruise away from the lagoon was the perfect distance from Venice’s palaces and courtyards for a little bit of intrigue and perhaps a spot of romance. Casanova loved a day out on the Burchiello. It gave him the opportunity to meet new young ladies, in a relaxed atmosphere, as the boat progressed sedately along the water way. On board the Burchiello was lavishly appointed with huge mirrors, paintings and rich, brocade curtains. Smartly uniformed servants delivered food and wine to small groups of guests. There were card tables, an outdoor viewing area and even the possibility of a small wager. It is said that Galileo travelled on the Burchiello, so too did the poet Byron. The Burchiello was painted by Tiepolo and Canaletto, written about by Goethe and Goldoni. Thomas Coryat, one of Britain’s earliest travellers to Europe (for leisure purposes) wrote about the Burchiello glowingly. The Burchiello welcomed French and Russian kings too.  Even Napoleon journeyed on the Burchiello from Venice to Villa Pisani at Stra, the largest of the magnificent country houses on the Brenta. He was so impressed by Villa Pisani that he seized it for his son-in-law!

Burchiello tradizionale - a fine pleasure boat sailing the Brenta Naviglio - 18th century
Burchiello tradizionale – a fine pleasure boat sailing the Brenta Naviglio – 18th century
Historic Map of the 'Fiume Brenta' from Venezia to Padova
Historic Map of the ‘Fiume Brenta’ from Venezia to Padova

More on the ‘Burchiello’ to follow very soon.

For a short break on the Brenta (20 minutes from Venice) check out www.grand-tourist.com or contact me: janet@grand-tourist.com for a tailor-made trip based at the fabulous Villa Margherita Hotel. My absolute favourite property.

28-08-2019

04-09-2019

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