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The squeri of Pellestrina
The squeri of Pellestrina
Barca xe casa (a boat is a home) is a typical Venetian turn of phrase, and it’s obvious why: this is a city that has been built to navigate around. Nowadays, the connection with water is kept alive by craftsmen who restore and build rowing and sail boats. The squeri, small boatyards where expert craftsmen build and repair wooden boats, are just as ancient as Venice itself, everything is still the way it used to be. The world changes but gondolas, the symbol of the city, do not. And nor do the sandoli, sanpierote, caorline, topi, cofani and all the other typical lagoon boats.
Traditional squeri are usually built on a courtyard that slopes down towards the water to launch or tow boats, whereas manufacturing is carried out inside a teza, a wooden warehouse built on brick pillars, which can sometimes have another storey where the squerariol (the boat builder) lives.
Discovering the squeri of Pellestrina is like trying to visit a real place following virtual coordinates, as they are all no longer in activity. Despite this, we would like to mention a couple of them, seeing how important they have been for rowing and sailing in the lagoon.
The Schiavon were skilled workers from Dalmatia (schiavone means dalmatian in Venetian) who came to build the Murazzi in the mid 1700s. They established a few boatyards mainly in Pellestrina.
Brothers Attilio and Nino (born in 1926 and 1929 respectively) were considered the masters of the “batelo a pisso” and the inventors of the sanpierota, but they also built many other types of boat like the bragozzi, topi, batàne, bateli mestiereti and cofani...everything except caorline and gondolas. Nino also designed the corbe (wooden pieces on the bottom of ships) for the new Bucintoro. The boatyard closed down in 1991.
The Menetto family has also been a boat building dynasty for many generations - their name appears in documents dating back to 1764. Piero Menetto started his apprenticeship at the Schiavon boatyard in 1963 and then continued in his father’s workshop near the Pellestrina cemetery.
He only worked using antique techniques and in fact was considered a “primitive” by “modern squeraioli, who worked according to building plans instead. To him “a courtyard, good wood, a good eye and skill were enough to make a boat”. By “eye”, he did not mean something done by chance, but rather the sort of feel you develop with experience.
Piero built most of the sanpierote on the lagoon, which are much appreciated and recognised even by the less-experienced. His death in 2008 aged only 60 represented a true loss for Venetian nautical culture.