Verba volant scripta manent-‘spoken words fly away, written words remain’

© Laura di Stefano, 2015
© Laura di Stefano, 2015

No other phrase is truer that this ancient proverb in Latin, which is suitable to describe the huge amount of written records preserved in the Archivio di Stato of Venice. Although Venice is beautiful and her politic and artistic history is visible and touchable stone-by-stone wandering in her hundreds of white bridges, the Archivio di Stato is the  place in which  the ‘real’ history of the city is preserved.
After a fire that destroyed the most ancient documentation in 976, caused by an uprising of the population against Doge Pietro Candiano IV, the Republic of Venice decided to dedicate even more attention to the preservation of its documented history.

© Laura di Stefano, 2015
© Laura di Stefano, 2015

The Archive is located in  buildings adjacent to the monumental Basilica of S. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the Franciscans’ motherhouse in Venice (the one with Titian’s Assumption!). Today, hundreds of thousands of records are preserved behind the medieval walls and are accessible to all  people interested in their study. As a historian studying Venice and its families, I have taken to visiting the  Archive during my free time in Venice and a visible contrast with the external city is the first thing that I noticed.

© Laura di Stefano, 2015
© Laura di Stefano, 2015

The chaotic coming and going characteristic of the lagoon’s small streets do not affect the archive, which appears as a part of a different dimension far away from the fervent city centre. Surrounded by the most glorious expression of  Venetian gothic architecture, the reading room is a quiet place where to study and contemplate Venetian history.
However, despite the Archive being accessible  (and free) for all different kinds ofthe  public, the majority of visitors to the Archivio continue to be  researchers and local people. Tourists seem to ignore its existence, or maybe are unaware of it, or simply are not interested in a direct contact with historical records. Often, I wonder what, this great amount of people who visit the lagoon every day,actually ‘know’   about the city and its history. The reply might probably be that tourists (not all, but the great part) limit their knowledge at their first impression: crowded streets, expensive restaurants, byzantine architecture and singing gondoliers. It seems that for many current visitors the most important thing is to obtain a good selfie in Piazza S. Marco, rather than know in which way the horses behind their shoulders arrived above the portal of the Church.

LdS_ContarinigeneaologyI think that the real history of places is almost always undervalued and covered by a thick layer of ignorance and souvenirs in fake Murano glass that attract people more than any document which revolutionised the aspect and the story of this ancient Maritime Republic. Anyway…let them wander with a selfie-stick, staring into space.As regards myself, I feel that I am one of the luckiest. I prefer to know that instead of the military base F. Cornoldi  in Riva degli Schiavoni near Palazzo Molin dalle Torri there once stood an exact copy of the Jerusalem Sepulchre – instead of having a bag full of masks.



Laura di Stefano


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