Restoring the old ways – Venice’s Nizioleti

Restoring the old ways – Venice’s Nizioleti

Venice is not like any other city I have been to for many reasons. Its charm and uniqueness is what draws people back time after time. It is a very small city, everything seems to be crammed together in a very constricted space, with alleys and walk ways interlinking and snaking across the islands. Every corner of this city has a history or a tale to tell, every church has a spectacular interior and at every turn there is always something to discover. But how many of you that have been to Venice have noticed the nizioleti? 

Whilst wandering around the maze of Venice you may not realize that you are walking past, perhaps even using an essential part of Venice’s history without even realizing. Venice’s characteristic style signs called nizioleti (little sheets) are a treasured part of the city’s heritage. The nizioleti or street names are painted on building facades and the names often originate from particular people or events associated with that area.

Some nizioleti indicate the direction to follow to reach destinations of particular importance or public interest (for example, “Al Vaporetto”, “To San Marco”). In recent times, many nizioleti signs have been replaced by reflective yellow metal signs: the writing inside, black, echo the same style of old nizioleti.

Confusing Venice Street Signs

Confusing Venice Street Signs…which way to San Marco?? Picture credit to Bryan in Europe

However I read recently that a Venetian called Alberto Alberti was concerned about the state of which these signs were in and created a Facebook page dedicated to them. Tons of pictures of neglected and decayed signs were added to the site and in some cases were repainted not in the regulation Bodoni capitals. Negotiations with the city council have led to a project launched to restore all of Venice’s 3000 odd nizioleti due to begin this summer (2014). 

The process of applying very thin plaster and picking out the black letters with regulation stencils and adding a thin black border is said to be a tricky job but the council have given this task to local people in order to help out local craftsmen. To ensure that spellings go unchanged, the city council is carrying out a geo-tagged photographic survey of every single sign as well as compiling an official index of streets and numbers so the correct wording of street names will now be recorded for the first time ever.

So next time I’m in Venice I’ll be sure to look out for the signs and try and translate what they mean – you might learn something about that particular area from them…!

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