The Fondamenta de la Tana, and the Rio de la Tana are in the sestiere Castello, close to the Arsenale. Today it seems like an inconspicuous little corner of a residential part of Venice. And so it is, more or less. This is one of the corners of Venice where there’s still a majority of residents.
The name, however, reveals an interesting past, now mostly forgotten, even by the locals.
La Tana – the emporium
La Tana was a workshop and emporium of hemp for rope, especially large diameter rope for large ships, both commercial and military. This emporium, most probably a wood building, existed in in 1303/4, and was rebuilt in 1579.
The craftsmen in the Tana had a monopoly on the supply of large diameter hemp rope to the Venetian navy. In fact the location of the emporium is just outside the Arsenale, the main Venetian naval base since the early 12th century.
The name, and the supply of hemp, came from a city far away.
Tana – the city
Tanais, or just Tana, was originally an ancient Greek colony. It was located in the Sea of Azov, which is in the NE corner of the Black Sea, at the mouth of the river Don. It was founded in 3rd century BCE, and abandoned in the 5th century.
Later on, the Venetians, always on the lookout for trading opportunities, started importing hemp from the area, and in the 14th century the Venetians refounded the city again as a trading post.
Tanais didn’t remain under Venetian control for long, before passing to Genova. Later the city went to the Mongols, the Ottoman turks and the Russians, but the Venetian trade in hemp probably continued anyway.
The distance from Venice to Tanais is over 3000km by sea. In extremely favourable conditions the journey would take at least two weeks one way for an ancient Venetian galleon. In practice, however, depending on the winds, currents and practical needs of resupplying food and water along the way, it would likely have taken a good deal longer. A round trip would probably have been a couple of months.