Venice has always been one of the cities that presents itself to the eyes of the visitor as one of the most fascinating and romantic in the world, where you can lose yourself and let yourself be seduced by its streets and canals while experiencing the thrill of the past. Today we will retrace its silent and less known soul, walking among the old shops to discover those arts and crafts that have made it famous in its thousand-year history and that still make it unique...
The lagoon city is loved and appreciated by millions of visitors who every year flock to St Mark's Square and Rialto to savour its atmosphere, history and culture. These two stops are undoubtedly a must, especially for those exploring it for the first time. But in Venice there is nothing more beautiful than getting lost in the intriguing labyrinth of calli, discovering in this way a city that is more authentic and different from the usual traditional itineraries. Walking around Venice without a predefined destination always fills the heart and frees the mind from our daily thoughts, so let the stones and the waters draw your attention in some direction: getting lost is impossible and at worst you end up in a dead end, from which you just have to retrace your steps to get out. Getting to know the city on a one-day walk is not easy, as it takes time to enjoy and understand it. On the contrary, after one day it is normal to be dazed by its beauty and by the comparison with those who come here as tourists, as opposed to the life of its inhabitants who every day challenge the ups and downs of the bridges or the hordes of visitors, yet its inhabitants, with great pride, will always call it "the most beautiful city in the world". So let's start exploring the Venetian labyrinth by looking up at the "nizioleti", the little sheets, the white rectangles of limestone - which remind us of a sheet - outlined and written in black, hand-painted directly on the walls bearing the names of the places where we are. Every bridge, campo or campiello, calle or branch, corte or fondamenta, bears a name that recalls an event that happened in the past, a commodity for sale or a trade. This helps us understand why the lagoon city was for about a thousand years the centre of a powerful maritime community, with commercial interests that reached as far as the East. It was in the late Middle Ages that the first Schools were born, that is to say the most organized places for the teaching of Arts and Crafts. They were guilds that gathered together the best masters of a high artistic and cultural level dedicated to teaching the apprentices, the modern apprentices. In this way, innumerable workshops flourished in the city: from Murano glass to Burano lace, from precious Damascus fabrics to multicoloured papier-mâché masks, from finely decorated wooden objects to gold forging. And now we would like to immerse ourselves in one of these wonderful realities. We are in the sestiere of Cannaregio in calle dei Vedei, where one of the most spectacular and best-kept secrets is hidden, that is the Orsoni furnace, the oldest in the world specialized in the production of the very precious mosaic in gold leaf glass and enamels. This furnace has provided its mosaics for the most spectacular monuments and princely residences in the world: from Westminster in London to the golden Buddhas of Bangkok, from the royal palaces of Saudi Arabia to the Teatro de l'Opéra in Paris, not forgetting the Basilica of San Marco. The history of the Fornace began thanks to Angelo Orsoni's passion for the art of glassmaking. Born in the second half of the nineteenth century, Angelo spent his youth like many workers of the time in a glass furnace. He soon became passionate about his work, specialising in the production of crystal and coloured glass. The famous mosaicist Giandomenico Facchina noticed his talent, so much so that he passed on to Angelo all the secrets of mosaic work. Not only that, when Facchina decided to move to France in 1888, he donated his workshop to him. The following year was decisive for Orsoni's career; in fact, he decided to go to the legendary International Exhibition in Paris and, to show off his art, he brought with him a multicoloured panel, a sample of enamels and mosaic golds, made up of more than 3000 mosaic tesserae, today jealously preserved in the Fornace showroom. What strikes the visitor inside the kiln is the spectacle of the transformation, at over 1300 degrees, of sand, soda, opacifiers and metal oxides into a coloured glass paste that is subjected to the action of a roller to obtain glass breads that are then cooled and cut strictly by hand. But another aspect able to fascinate those who visit this place is the kaleidoscope of colours in the incredible "colour library" adjacent to the furnace, a room where an infinite number of shades and tones are preserved. From the Sestiere of Cannaregio we now enter the Sestiere of Santa Croce to discover another ancient Venetian art, that of weaving. Velvet, in fact, was born in the East in the thirteenth century and then developed in Italy in the fourteenth century, finding its excellence not only in Venice, but also in Lucca, Florence and Genoa. It is amazing to find a fabric company in the city that was founded back in 1499 and still makes fabrics and velvets using the same techniques as in the past, with original 18th century looms. Today, entering this workshop means entering ancient Venice, immediately savouring that soothing pleasure of things past, of real things, where modern technology has remained outside a vain expectation. You are enveloped by velvets, damasks, brocades weaved also in gold and silver by the skilful hands of the ladies, feeling the pungent smell of silk. And Venice, surrounded by water, still manages to enclose and protect those arts that the world envies, appreciates and seeks.