The nizioleti — the painted street signs in Venice — sometimes have some really odd names on them. Some of them are odd enough to make you stop and go: What?
When that happens to me, I head home for my copy of Curiosità Veneziane by Giuseppe Tassini (1963) which almost always has some kind of answer.
I’ve already written about the Alleyways of Fire. Here are some more examples of odd names of streets in Venice.
Big Eye Alleyway
The Calesela dell’Ochio Grosso at San Martin (Castello) literally means the ‘Little Alleyway of the Big Eye.’ There’s also a Ramo dell’Ochio Grosso nearby. Ironically, it is one of the narrowest alleyways in Venice. There’s nothing big about it in any way.
It is a very small place without any claims to fame. The only document mentioning it, at least according to Tassini, notes that a Zuan Carlo Occhio Grosso (John Charles Big Eye) lived there with his family and owned several properties nearby in 1566.
It would have been fantastic to have a picture of Zuan Carlo, but alas!
Honest Woman Bridge
The Fondamenta and Ponte di Donna Onesta (Dorsoduro) has lead to many theories, probably because there are very few facts.
The most common stories are about prostitution. The name should refer to a meretrice, a female sex worker, either ironically in the sense that prostitutes are by definition not ‘honest’, or literally that she was indeed an honest person.
Tassini suggests that, like in the previous example, it is a persons name. He bases this on a document which refers to a donna Honesta. Note the capitalisation, which could indicate not an ‘honest woman’, but a ‘woman named Honest.’
A folktale about the name has a sword-maker living there with his very gracious wife. A young nobleman cast his eyes on her, and ordered a misericordia from her husband as a pretext to frequent the house. He later returned to inquire on the order when he knew the husband was out, and forced himself on the woman. Mortified by shame and dishonour she killed herself using the very stiletto the rapist had ordered.
Love of Friends Alleyway
The Calle Amor dei Amici (San Polo) is not far from the Ponte di Donna Onesta. There was once Ponte Amor dei Amici too, but the canal it crossed has been filled in. The archives are silent on this name, so Tassini offers no explanation.
The folktale above, however, has a variation including the love of a friend of the sword-maker. According to this story, the friend was a cap or hat maker whose workshop was at the foot of a bridge nearby. He had ordered a fuseto, which is a kind of stiletto which doubled as a ruler, with marks for measuring along the blade. He arrived at the sword-maker’s house just in time to prevent the rape, and wounded the nobleman with the fuseto. For that he was banished from Venice for six months in 1490. This act of love for his friend gave the name to the bridge and alleyway where he had his workshop.
Every stone tells a story
It has been said that in Venice every stone tells a story, but often you don’t even need a stone.
If people don’t know the reason why, they make one up, and some of the odd place names in Venice are very much in need of a reason.