In the sleepy faded spa town of Battaglia Terme not far from Padua lies the key to the building of the great and unique city of Venice. At some point a thousand or more years ago it must have been discovered that the volcanic stone quarried in the hills around Battaglia provided perfect paving stones for the passages and alleyways of Venice, having a rough texture which prevented slipping, an important factor for a city based on water.
Canals provided the easiest means of transporting these stones from Battaglia to Venice, and in consequence a network of navigation systems developed and remained in use for 800 years until the mid 20th century.
The last bargeman, Riccardo Cappellozza, tells the story of how he was chatting to the local librarian about his work now that he was about to retire. They both realised that a whole language was about to disappear. Riccardo supplied the nouns for the tools and equipment, the verbs for the movement of cargo and business of sailing, and the stories about life on the barges, or burci as they are known locally. From that small beginning, he began to collect the abandoned materials of his trade from whole boats to tiny hooks, and the museum was created.
To enter the museum is to time-travel to a gentler age of beautiful hand crafted tools and a slower pace of life. But times change, and with the recent economic crisis the museum was about to close, with everything going into storage. Luckily, however, support from unexpected quarters has helped to save this valuable collection for posterity.
Stoke Bruerne Canal Museum in Northamptonshire has been very enthusiastic about a twinning arrangement to save Battaglia’s museum, and the Devizes Canal Museum has also played its part. By this summer there will be cultural exchanges and a new page will be turned in the story of what was once an unknown museum in a little Italian backwater.
With twinning comes international recognition, and a new lease of life with new sponsorship from Civilta dell’Acqua. All this is in its infancy, but the ever-fascinating story can be followed here on the blog.