International Women’s Day is observed around the world every year on 8th March to celebrate the value of women and to remember their struggle of many decades for peace, justice, equality and development.
International Women’s Day is a great occasion to observe one of our destinations from another point of view. There are so many places telling stories of women and that demonstrate how the city of Venice is “feminine”: an urban space that has made the boundaries between houses and squares, between public and domestic places less marked, allowing the women’s life to be firmly intertwined with the urban context and make it visible. And women, like men, by their side or by defending themselves from them, have struggled, worked and loved to build a city with many voices.
If we pay attention to the urban asset, it reserves many surprises…
In the old rural heart of the city we find women engaged in agricultural work, women who took the sea route, who founded convents and hospitals, institutes to accommodate needy and pilgrims; we see them freely dispose their wills in notarial and testamentary deeds; the exercise of trades in a now extended and urbanized Venice, lacemakers, embroiderers, midwives, singers, sorcerers, and cultured and refined courtesans; not to mention strong figures of dogaresse or queens.
Venetian women of the modern age were freer and intellectually independent than in other Italian realities, precisely because they were daughters and expressions of the peculiarity of Venice and its institutions, a city that had always known how to relate in a relaxed and open way with diversity, a city without walls, a melting pot of peoples and cultures, which welcomed a cosmopolitan, multifaceted and lively society.
Women are therefore seen as ingenious and creative presences in many fields of the city’s long cultural history, from writing to painting to music and education.
In this day dedicated to women we tell one of the many stories about a female protagonist:
In San Polo district there is a bridge, a calle and a fondamenta (typical names for streets in Venice) of the dona onesta; it seems that two friends, while crossing the bridge, were discussing the loyalty of women and the most cynical said to the other: “You know what is the only honest woman, that there”, and so he pointed to the carved marble face of a woman, still inserted in the wall of a house near the bridge.
Others tell of a woman, married to a bladesmith, who fell in love with a young patrician. He ordere her husband a dagger to sneak into the house of the woman. After a few days, with the excuse to see where the work was, he entered the house and took advantage of the woman alone in that moment. Overwhelmed by grief for having been dishonored and fearing that her husband, in revenge, would kill the patrician, the poor woman killed herself with the dagger.
A third story instead reminds about a “honest courtesan” who lived nearby and the place was named after her. Or, most simply, in that area lived in 1537 a woman called “Honesta”, as reported in the chronicles of the time.
An old Venetian saying goes: “When an honest woman passes over this bridge, the bridge will collapse”; but so far the bridge has not collapsed yet…