Trees are the things that make the soil: Isola delle Rose (The Island of Roses)

by Katia Ceccarelli

The beauty of the cities that live in their own myth such as Venice is that myths take time to be created and what we can see today is the surface that surrounds and confuses the layers of history.
And if we look closer at these layers and look for something among them, we realize that the greatness gives way to the state of abandon and back again to the greatness.
There are no predestined places, not on the long term, and the proof of that can be seen in the many secrets and small discoveries of the most famous lagoon in the world.
The current name of this island, Isola delle rose (The Island of Roses), makes us think of a little paradise and many people in Venice know that it refers to the island where the Marriot hotel is.
In fact the hotel and resort extend over the whole area which was once known as “Sacca Sessola”, in English “Scoop Bag” (sessola is the Italian word for scoop, the special spoon used to collect grain, dried legumes or garbage).
This island in the south Lagoon is young and artificial, artificially created in the second half of the nineteenth century with materials from the construction of the Santa Marta commercial port.
In those days nothing was thrown away, and in Venice the art of recycling did not have to wait for the environmental trends of the new millennium to be appreciated and put into practice.
Over the decades this area was a depot for materials and tools first and then a shipyard. Eventually some trees were planted and so the land became soon covered with dense and luxuriant vegetation, typical of the Mediterranean scrub.
Because everybody knows that here more than elsewhere the soil cannot stay firm without trees.
At the beginning of the twentieth century a hospital for contagious diseases was built here, which eventually became a sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.
It was quite easy to isolate oneself or to be isolated in Venice. There used to be an island for anything: from convents to cemeteries, from mental hospitals to general ones.
Patients were in need of fresh air, that maybe was not enough to cure them but at least eased their sorrow, and so today we can admire beautiful and extremely tall cedars of Lebanon which probably provided little relief to the lungs in bad shape of these patients thanks to their scent.
So many things remind us of those days: the old faded pictures passed down through the generations, or the short stories of the literature of the early 1900s telling of the life and adventures of pale and suffering — and yet fascinating – girls
When the sanatorium was closed the area was abandoned but the Capuchin-Franciscan Friars continued to look after the olive trees. And today it has become the ultimate luxury retreat for romantic breaks and family escapes.
I get on the complementary speed boat shuttle, slinking through the crowd of tourists already wearing flip flops and Bermuda shorts on the first sunny Saturday of May. From the confusion of the little gardens in San Marco I find myself in a peaceful and calm atmosphere. During the boat trip I can only hear the birds singing, the engine of the boat and just few words whispered by the other passengers.
Once landed on the Isola delle Rose I go in search of these flowers (the roses) and Chiara, a nice tourist guide and biologist, explains that all the roses are white but their name is still unknown.
After all, Umberto Eco quoted in his “The name of the rose”: stat rosa pristina nomine (The ancient Rose remains by its name, naked names are all that we have).
During the trip the same guide tells us about the olive trees, the first ones to have played an important role in binding soil: they belong to a variety that is resistant to salinity, because their roots reach the sea.
Some of the buildings of the period in which the island was used as a depot and shipyard are still standing and they have now been turned into a restaurant and function rooms.
A biodynamic vegetable garden is being planted, and its design has taken into account the natural rules according to which herbs naturally grow and assume their shape.
The persons responsible for the green areas have also decided to plant some tamarisks just in front of the sea, there is a certain thrill in seeing those bushes evoked by D’Annunzio, young and brackish but not yet dried out.
And the fig trees, young witnesses of an ancient past, because every country overlooking the Mediterranean Sea has fig trees.
It seems that all the white flowers have bloomed at the same time, the air is filled with the heavenly honey and vanilla scent of acacia flowers and elderflowers, and later there will be the fragrance of the linden tree flowers.
All these trees are a common sight in the Italian countryside, but today we do not pay much attention to them. In the past they were used to make poles and sticks, herbal teas and decoctions, and acacia flowers were the main ingredient for delicious pancakes.
Mulberry and hackberry trees, also known as “spaccasassi” (stone splitters), are memories of the peasant economy on the land and sea.
An Aleppo pine tree grows lying with its dusting and smelling red bark, some ivy has spread up its trunk, pretending to be something else: it changes the shape of its leaves in order to confuse any enemy.
And I think back to those olive trees, planted in an orderly manner, that have raised the collar due to the salt water. It is like when the children get close to the shoreline and move their little feet in the fresh and foamy sea water.

For the visit to the Isola delle Rose special thanks go to:

Wigwam Club Giardini storici Venezia

JW Marriott Venice Resort & spa


Photo credits:
Katia Ceccarelli

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