Venice is surrounded by a lot of water that is brackish. From the very beginning, Venetians understood that water was a common good for everyone. For this reason its protection has always been of great importance.
In order to provide the city with fresh water local people had to look elsewhere for ideas as they had no drinking water at their disposal.
Venice and its marshes
They took the Benedictine monks as a model., who built cisterns around the courtyards in their cloisters. In open squares, courtyards and in private palaces Venetians constructed cisterns to collect their drinking water.
There were at least six thousand ones in the city and many of them were in use until the end of the 19th century.
Cisterns were opened at the sound of bells by the chief of the district.
The guilds of arts and crafts such as the wool workers, who needed a lot of water for their activity, had to bring in fresh water using barges.
Private cistern used like a vase for plants
During shortages water was also brought in with barges and cisterns were filled or the ‘bigolanti’ , who were women, went round the city and sold water in the various districts. They put a ‘bigolo’, a kind of curved wood, around their neck, with two buckets at the ends, and they sold it by the bucket.
A richly decorated cistern, once inside a private palace
Venetians protected their fresh water being aware that it was a common good and that high water and animals polluted their wells. Animals had to be kept away to maintain hygiene and the wells were raised or constructed on a higher level to avoid high water. The cost of cleaning the well was so high that very often it was abandoned rather than cleaned.
Cistern on a higher level
Venice inaugurated its aqueduct at the end of the nineteenth century and its cisterns were closed little by little. Today they are just ornaments!