Through my images I wanted to describe the use of space in the east coast of the Venice province, an area made suitable for bathing thanks to the reclaiming of the land carried out between 1860 and 1940, which has subsequently become a tourist destination. In the summer of 2011, I walked around the waterfront between the vaporetti docks in Venice — Punta Sabbioni and the estuary of Valle Zignago in Caorle.
The four days of photography were structured according to a set of simple rules, to mark the methods and timing of work similar to a liturgy: I crossed the coast on foot from west to east, proceeding from sunset to sunrise, I started the journey every day early in the morning, exactly at the point where I had stopped the previous evening; I took all the shots with the horizontal line of the horizon at the same height.
Each of the four journeys that I walked is bounded by the estuary of a river course (Sile, Piave, Livenza) and has individual characteristics of how the space is used. Luca Casonato
The slightly curved line of the coast which reaches Caorle from Punta Sabbioni is monotonous, but not dull. Its degree of repetition depends on how we look at it and what we discover. As we move inland and away from the coast, the sea becomes almost invisible, and the same applies in reverse, or from the sea looking towards the coast. All is plain on the horizon, and the vertical elements that mark a landscape through the deep and scenic views are almost non-existent here.
From a naturalistic point of view, the landscape is a long strip of golden, fine sand, so fine that the grains are no longer recognizable one by one, but they form a homogeneous, compact and pasty mass. Walking on it requires lightness, balance, rhythm and strength, and it is not so different from walking on melted snow in the spring, when it starts to get warm. Wet and dry sand are two completely different lands. Whether it is the beach or the dunes (where they still survive), it matters little: the beach and dunes are the interface between sea and land, and thus separate the water activities from the resort activities. Yes, because the combination of water and resort is the main actor of this coast; the tamed water which in the last century has come to mean a holiday for all, and the resort as a return to the past is to be the alter egos of the metropolis.
Tourism has free rein. It gives this landscape the sense of being heavily anthropized, and brings together different aspects, framing them to form a collage, made of many pieces. What would the dunes be, if there were no umbrellas? And what would fun be if there was no traffic congestion? And sport without food? Hospitality here takes many forms and generates various types of settlements, for all tastes, ranging from campsites to bungalows, from dated summer camps to hotels, from pine forests to restaurants, from guest houses to towers. But the most recognizable architectural landmark of these 45 linear kilometres of city landscape is the Lido: a purely summer architecture located on the state-owned strip, spread almost uninterruptedly, which offers shade and relaxation in spartan style.
Punta Sabbioni e Cavallino
Punta Sabbioni is a precise point, the result of the triangulation necessary for those who move around in the lagoon — which is neither land nor sea — to precisely define one's position. At the end of the mainland, there is a long breakwater with a lighthouse at the end. This is one of the inlets into the lagoon, and the mega-site of the Mose reminds us of what has always been and is still the precarious relationship between man and nature, and how this requires continuous adjustments. In the distance you see the San Marco bell tower, Venice and other bell towers. A few meters away, the sand dunes are home to a measly but wild flora that adapts continuously to the sandy and salty splash soil.
To the untrained eye, the plants are bushy and not very generous, but in reality they offer shelter and livelihood to a specific fauna, especially to the many birds flying around and which you can hear.
The Cavallino, a few kilometres away, is still Venice, because Venice is a fortified area before being a city. We are close to its defensive line, which made it invisible to enemy fleets, alongside its natural dam, the Lido, long and narrow. Today tourism in Venice should not focus exclusively on its monuments and the exciting real-time observation of its slow but steady return to dust, but also on the exceptional nature of its coast. Venice is also an endless succession of hotels, campgrounds and small amusements. The Cavallino, with its deep beach, its bungalows and its wild grasses, more popular in some places than in others, takes us along this path.
Jesolo is a seasonal resort, cosmopolitan and large, serving the entire Veneto region, a region that in the past 50 years has gone almost unconsciously from poor and agricultural to industrial and prosperous area. Whoever comes here to spend a few months or weeks of vacation, rather than isolation or direct contact with nature will be pleasantly sucked away by organized distraction and pleasure. Once home, those who have been here cannot really say to have been at the seaside, but will have to say that they have been to a seaside town. It is the same status of other small seaside cities, such as Rimini, Sanremo, Taormina, or Viareggio. One of the ways in which Jesolo has decided to make the leap from village to city has been through the construction of tall buildings, designed by the hand of well-known architects. They are small residential high-rises, easily visible from the coast and the mainland, comparable to or bell towers or lighthouses, scenic and sought after in terms of real estate.
Jesolo, a twenty-kilometre-long strip that is just a kilometre wide, consists of three functional strips parallel to the coast. In the summer each band performs a specific role and serves as a key moment of the day, with its shape, accessibility and commercial activities. The first, innermost strip, is dedicated to the movement of traffic, and is mostly surrounded by plane-trees. It is in direct contact with the countryside behind it and is also used by cyclists and runners. The second strip is a pedestrian street, which houses a large number of shops selling clothes, souvenirs and ice cream, quiet in the morning and progressively more noisy from the afternoon until late at night. During the winter it is almost empty. The strip along the sea, or the beach, is invisible from the other two strips, from which it is accessible only through narrow passages carved in the blocks that overlook the water. The beach is raked and cleaned daily, and is a universal space impeccably organized by the umbrellas in military-style disposition, recreational activities, from toilets and snack bars, based on zoning and flexibility, a real open space of modernity.
Towards Duna Verde
This is an area that is also marked by the estuaries of the rivers Sile, Piave, and Livenza, all within walking distance of each other. They interrupt the long beach and pierce the interior landscape, rendering it visible. It is curious how the sea is more attractive than rivers today, and it is unclear why. Jesolo ends with the Piave, and shortly after there is the Laguna del Mort, an enclave of brackish water that few visitors brave walking through the mud on foot and balancing their luggage (water, food, towels, sun creams for the day) on their head. That is because there are few tourists willing to walk more than a few dozen meters, seeking a bit of adventure and isolation. The uneven distribution of tourists is determined by the presence or absence of car parks. Laguna del Mort offers a unique opportunity to walk and dive in the past, a taste for the coast as it once was. In the distance, looking west, a new tower in Jesolo reminds us that we are not so far away from air-conditioned comfort.
To the east, the settlement of Duna Verde is a massive estate, a small town near the foundation, whose centre is shaped as a amphitheatre. The name refers to the natural matrix of the place. A short distance away there are villages of houses/huts in the pine forest, rather reminiscent of holiday settlements typical of northern Europe. The linear beach continues, bland and beige, ready to change over the course of the day, appearing clean every morning, but always facing south (which, lest we forget, is the northernmost point of the Mediterranean). The water colour is a pale blue, with shades of green and grey, while the sea is shallow without much of a tide, easy to tame.
If it were not for the presence of old administrative boundaries, place names and customs, and if one attached more importance to the current state of things, we would say that between Punta Sabbioni and Caorle it is one single city, for now unnamed. Jesolo, Caorle, Duna Verde, Eraclea Mare, Cavallino, Porto Santa Margherita are all neighbourhoods of an emerging linear city, able to compress and expand depending on time of year. This changing seasonality accentuates its urbanity. In August 2010, the daily attendance was over 167,000 people, which combined with its residents brings this seaside metropolis to near 231,000 inhabitants. The sense of urbanity is given by the many activities taking place in its system of open spaces: in the sun and in the shade, day and evening along the coast and along the streets, for every generation. The overcrowding — with its three corollaries, public life, food, and noise —, for the masses, is synonymous with being on holiday. Most people today live in the forced isolation of suburbia all year round, and it seems natural in contrast for the holidays to be consumed in crowded places.
Caorle is the only neighbourhood of this small metropolis to have a typically Venetian historical centre. Its shape is suited to the shape of the coast, with a point and a bay, with the lighthouse and the church strategically positioned in succession. But the old town of Caorle is only a small part of the whole, and for this reason it is particularly significant, unique with its loyal customers who have been returning for many years. The beach here is wide and broad and holidaymakers walking on the sand in a line on runways (which are not too hot to walk on) from the hotels to the shore, and this little ritual seems to have a certain importance. Sebastiano Brandolini