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Capitolo 2 Brief history of the ferry in Venice

1 - From the origins to the fifteenth century
pag.  1 2 

The first bridges, in Venice, were formed by a table thrown from one shore to another.

The original tissue of the city of Venice was linked to the water crossing: the canals were much more numerous and the pedestrian ways , not yet paved, interrupted on the shores of every island. Only on the narrowest canals there were improvised "mobile" bridges, realized with a simple table thrown between a shore and another. The first bridges, certainly of wood and with the central part mobile to allow the passage of the masted boats, are quoted in some chronicles starting from the end of the ninth century. The passage from a shore to another could take place only by a fit float. The evidence of the chroniclers make us known about the fact that any water passage between an island and another or between island and mainland was called " ferry". Such a word identified both the transport service in its complex, and the place where the "ferrying" began and finished. The word ferry indicated even the boat destined to do the transport of people or things on a fixed way: a real line service. Those boatmen, who in ancient times had already associated in "fraglie" and had endowed of particular statutes, discovered the city public transport. The ferry boats, unlike the carriages or the sedan chairs used in other cities, of an exclusive master use, had timetables and fees well defined and were at everyone's disposal who made a request. Later, other chronicles say that in Venice there are boats with a sail and used as ferry;they are certainly the "travel ferries", in other words those destined to the links to Marghera, Padua, Treviso, Portogruaro, Vicenza and Verona.
 These ferries were an active part and a propulsive one for the history of the city. Wishing to give such enterprise associations a temporal position more definite, we must go back to later documents:of the "traghettum Sancti Benedicti" we know only in 1293 ( while we know that the first Rialto Bridge dates back to at least to 1180). In a chronological order we find then other city ferries such as S. Barnaba, S. Sofia, S. Felice and so on till the S.Gregorio ferry whose statute is of 1400. The statutes of the various guilds were called in Venice "mariegole" and were subject to the control of the magistrature called "old justice".
 Such mariegole were, at the beginning, the collections of the inside laws of the "fraglie". As years go, on the contrary, the state replaced the free will of the guilds and the mariegole became real collections of laws of public law. Those of the ferries ( there are 26 left) give information that allow a deep knowledge of the life, not only associative, of Venetian boatmen. At the head of the various fraglie there was a "Gastaldo" voted by the associated who stayed in office a year.

reduction and adaptation from : G.Zanelli, "Il trasporto pubblico urbano, a remi, nella Repubblica di Venezia", conferenza

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