The Designer Barges of the Brenta

Burchielli OriagoThere is a scenic strand of coastline along the Brenta River that links Venice to Padua known as the Brenta Riviera (Rivera del Brenta ). Architects, such as Palladio, designed summer residences (villas) for wealthy Venetians who were looking for a diversion from the summer heat of Venice. They would take “designer” barges known as a burchielli floating along the Brenta Canal (naviglio Brenta), stopping along the way to party. The barges were able to navigate through the shallow river and were pushed by oars from St. Mark’s in Venice (Piazza San Marco) through the Venetian lagoon to Fusina then pulled by horses along the Brenta.

It is possible to follow the historical route of the 18th c Venetian burchielli, viewing the villas along the way. There are replicas of burchielli and motor barges navigating the Brenta from Padua to Venice that can be rented but they are expensive. You can also drive S11 that runs along most of the canals length. We did this with my Italian cousins and stopped at Trattoria Porto Menai dall’ Antonia along the canal in a town called Mira for a spectacular feast of scampi giganti griglia (giant shrimp, grilled) and other assorted seafood with prosecco to drink.

One can only imagine the trip along the Brenta, as the life of the canal revealed itself to you – magnificent villas as well as craftsmen’s workshops and fisherman along the banks of the river. And in the burchielli of the wealthy Venetians, noblemen entertaining their guests with comedians and musicians, slowly floating down the river in colorful, elegant barges decorated with mirrors and carvings traveling to their country villas. The 18th c Venetian playwright Carlo Goldoni describing the villa season wrote “Tis time to set out for the villa. O’ longed for moment come at last. What anguish we’ve endured fearing we should never go”.

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