In the stonemasons’ yard

The Sotoportego del Tagiapiera, the Gateway and Courtyard of the Stonemasons in Venice, opens with two elegant neo-classical columns from the Campielo del Sol, the Little Square of the Sun, which in the Middle Ages was called Campielo de la Scoazera, the Square of the Refuse Dump. In fact, since the 15th century here was the walled dumping-ground of the Rialto quarter, from where the burchieri, the freight haulers, on behalf of the Magistrato alle Acque, regularly carried the garbage out of the city on gondolas. In 1617, the refuse dump was ended, the walls pulled down, and later the transport route of the gondolas, the Rio Terà San Silvestro – Rio Terà Sant’Aponal channel also filled (this is referred to by the word Terà = terrato, buried) and converted into a pedestrian road. Thereby the stonemasons’ yard also became accessible by land. Nevertheless they continued to bring here through the back gate, along Rio de le Becarie, the Istrian stone and carry away the stone carvings intended to decorate the city’s many buildings.

In Venice they begin to massively build in stone instead of wood in the 14th century. Then in 1307 they founded the stonemasons guild, whose scuola, the seat of their religious and corporate life, was on the top floor of the three-level building next to the nearby church of Sant’Aponal. This is recalled in the relief dated 1603 with the inscription “SCOLA DEL TAGIAPIERA”, the Scuola of the Stonemasons, and with the figures of the Quattro Santi Coronati, that is the four Christian stonemasons of ancient Rome, crowned with the wreath of martyrs. The first depiction of the stonemasons yard survived from 1545 in a manuscript.

I got this far in my lecture to the group, when two young men, who were talking in front of one of the courtyard’s workshops, ask me with a smile: “What is so interesting in this yard?” “That this was the first stonemason yard of Venice,” I reply. And that it is very nice anyway. The whole court, the pillars, the blacksmith’s work, the knockers,” I point at the door behind them. “Yes, now a blacksmith works here,” says one of them. “But earlier there was a carpenter’s workshop there, that of my grandfather. Back there, through the riverside gate they brought in the raw wood from the boats, there they unloaded it in the courtyard, here he processed it and made tables and cabinets out of it.

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“Where do you come from?” the other asks. “From Hungary.” “Oh yes? Do you know that the Serenissima and Hungary fought for a long time for Dalmatia, until it passed to Venice?” he asks proudly. “Of course. And do you know,” I riposte, “where the agreement about it was signed between the two states?” “No.” “Well, across the street, in the church of San Silvestro, in 1409.” “Seriously?” they asks in astonishment. “We have grown up here, but never heard about it.” “Yes, there’s a plaque on the wall of the church,” I say. Having spoken of it, we go there with the group, so they can also see, after the previous one, this second Hungarian memorial place in Venice.

“On 9 July 1409 was signed in this church the document by which the Kingdom of Hungary renounced all rights over Zara and Dalmatia in favor of Venice, thus consolidating for centuries the ancient ties between Dalmatia and Venice. Erected by the Dalmatian Society of the History of the Homeland on 29 November 2013.”