VOL. 8 July ISSUE YEAR 2007

Off the Beaten Track

in Vol. 8 - July Issue - Year 2007
Saving The Republic

The many tourists who flock to admire Saint Mark's Square can be forgiven for not noticing a plaque in relief which looks down from a wall on one of the narrow streets just off the square. The plaque depicts the astonished face of a woman at the moment in which a heavy object is falling from her hands. The event which triggered her surprise and which would have such a profound effect on her life is also one of the most interesting chapters in the thousand-year history of the Republic of Venice. This is what happened on a rainy June morning in the year 1310......

Lucia Rossi had been doing domestic chores ever since she learned to walk, at first in her parents' home together with her numerous siblings, then while raising a family of her own and now, in her ripe age, as she looked after her sons, daughters and grandchildren. She had never learned to read or write, but her sons had found good jobs at the Arsenale, where Venice built and maintained its mighty fleet, while her daughters had married honest and hardworking artisans. She could look back with pride upon the lifetime of sacrifices which she and her husband had had to endure.

Today, as she had done every day for longer than she could remember, Lucia Rossi was up at dawn, scurrying from one corner to the other, sorting through meats and vegetables, measuring out just the right quantity of spices, chopping, slicing and blending while the rest of her family slept in the next room. This was the time of day she enjoyed most, when she had the kitchen all to herself and she could collect her thoughts. Her movements were quick and precise. With a stone mortar firmly tucked in the crook of her left arm, she ground some herbs with the pestle, while an occasional rumble of distant thunder kept her company.

But this morning something was amiss. The distant thunder was sounding less like thunder and more like something else. But what? It sounded almost like footsteps, many footsteps. Heavy, determined footsteps, getting closer and closer. Lucia glided over to the window and peered down at the street two stories below. She caught her breath as she saw a group of men moving towards the Palazzo Ducale, the center of power of the Republic. As she leaned out for a better look, she gasped when she noticed that the entire group, thirty or forty strong, was heavily armed. What she was witnessing was an attempt to overthrow the government and seize power, according to a plan which had been meticulously studied for months. On that rainy morning, the conspirators went into action, one group passing through the Mercerie under Lucia's window, another converging on the Piazza from the west, while yet another group was to arrive by boat from the mainland. They were soon to learn the mysterious ways in which fate shows her will, for the mortar slipped from Lucia's grasp and struck the group's flag-bearer on the head. Seeing their flag and their companion fall to the ground, the men thought they were under attack and went into a panic, with some retreating while others attempted to push forward. The commotion was loud enough to attract the attention of the palace guards, who promptly sounded the alarm and quickly overpowered the attackers.

Several days later, when the last of the conspirators had been rounded up, Lucia Rossi was summoned to the Palace, where the Senate asked what it could do to show its gratitude. She made two requests. The first was that she be allowed to fly the flag of the Republic from that fateful window on the anniversary of the successful conclusion of this dramatic event. The second was that the rent of her apartment, which belonged to the state, never be increased for as long as her family and her descendants continued to live there. Both requests were immediately granted. Court records show that Nicolò Rossi, one of Lucia's descendants, won an appeal against a rent increase over a century and a half later, in 1468. As for the flag, it was proudly displayed from Lucia's kitchen window every year up to the fall of the Republic in 1797. The last of these banners is now kept in the Correr Museum, just around the corner from where Lucia lived. For almost five centuries and up to the end, Venice kept its word.

By Giovanni Gregorat, Contributing Editor MFN & Sales Manager, Pometon Abrasives

Author: Giovanni Gregorat