The past in the present

Festa di San Piero - archaeological finds

In Venice the past is part of the present. We live in buildings that are usually hundreds of years old, and many other buildings around us are even older.

Scattered around on many of the buildings you can find bits and pieces that are even older, such as the byzantine paterae from the Middle Ages.

The past is with us every day.

Popular traditions

Painting by Canaletto of a nightly celebration at San Pietro di Castello, circa 1758
Nightly celebration at San Pietro di Castello – painting by Canaletto, c.1758

Another less tangible part of the past that is still with us, are the sagre (sing. sagra).

Many parishes in Venice (and elsewhere) still organise these annual, often week long, celebrations during the summer. Sometimes it’s connected to the patron saint of a church, but often it’s not that obvious.

In Venice there are at least the Festa di San Giacomo dell’Orio (Santa Croce), the Festa di Sant’Antonio Abate in the parish of San Francesco della Vigna (Castello), and the Festa di San Piero at the old cathedral of Venice: San Pietro di Castello. On the Lido there’s a sagra in Malamocco every summer.

The main attraction of these summer feasts are inevitably food and drink. In some places they do local or traditional cuisine, while others organise giant barbecues. The larger organisations will have a live band on every night.

San Piero de Casteo

Festa di San Piero - poster
The poster for the Festa di San Piero

A few weeks ago was the Festa di San Piero. Five evenings of eating, drinking, meeting old friends, listening to music and dancing

San Piero de Casteo (in Italian: San Pietro di Castello) is considered one of the oldest settlements of what is now Venice.

The name Castello (castle or fortress) probably refers to the fortifications present here in early medieval times. The island of San Piero was the last line of defence of the Rialto settlements against any attack from the sea.

When the Venetian navy shipyards, the Arsenale, later dominated the area with its tall walls, the name stuck and became the name of the entire sestriere.

Archaeology – past and present

Festa di San Piero
Festa di San Piero in the present

Archaeologists have been digging around the cathedral for many decades. They’ve found objects from the early Middle Ages, and also from Roman times.

Not a lot has been published, however, outside of a few specialised publications, and most of the finds are still in the labs for conservation.

The people living in the area therefore know little of the archaeologists’ work.

For the popular Festa di San Piero this year some of the younger archaeologists took the initiative of bringing some of the finds down to the feast for a presentation.

Based on the attendance they did the right thing. Lots of people of all ages showed up, and there was a constant crowd around the table to get a closer look at the objects.

In Venice even a distant past is never far away.


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