The kayaking history tours in the lagoon is a unique and surprising way to discover another Venice most visitors never see.
The lagoon was always the last line of defence of the Republic of Venice. It was their moat and their wall, and they did everything they could to keep their enemies outside the lagoon.
The enemy could be a Turkish navy, or the Black Death that killed tens of thousands, or it could be starvation.
Many of their efforts can still be seen around the bocche di porto, the largest of which is very close to our base on the Certosa island.
The Venetians of old were terrorised of the Black Death, and with good reason. In the 16th century epidemics killed 40% of the population of the city, leaving the survivors deeply traumatised. No one wouldn’t have lost a loved one, and most would’ve lost many.
Venice was a major trading centre, halfway between Western Europe and the Middle East, and ships, travellers and merchandise passed through the city in huge quantities.
While the Venetians had little scientific knowledge about how the decease spread, they had deduced something. They know the decease had an incubation period, that is, it was contagious before people got sick, and they knew that contagion could be through objects too, not just other persons.
To protect themselves two quarantine stations were setup in the lagoon. The Lazzaretto Vecchio was used for sailors and travellers who were suspected of carrying the decease, and the Lazzaretto Novo for the merchandise.
Some of the old buildings (16th century) on the Lazzaretto Novo have survived, including the Tezon grande which was used for storing merchandise believed to be carrying the contagion of the plague.
The Lazzaretto Novo is not far from the Certosa island and guided visits can be organised. They are included in the history tours in the lagoon whenever possible.
Venice was at war with the Ottoman Turks for much of the 15th and 16th centuries, culminating with the battle at Lepanto in 1571.
Two monumental fortresses were built just inside the lagoon, to ward off any surprise attacks from the sea. The fortress at San Nicolò on the Lido is lost to time, but the opposing fortress at Sant’Andrea is still standing, albeit in a poor state inside.
In a kayak you can paddle straight up to the gun positions at water’s edge, and at times it is possible to land and have a look inside the island as well.
Sant’Erasmo and the Torre Massimiliano
The island of Sant’Erasmo is now inside the lagoon, but it used to be a lido, facing the Adriatic Sea directly on the eastern side.
After the fall of the Venetian Republic, the Austrians build a massive defensive tower here, just behind the beach, to control the entrance to the lagoon from the sea. This tower, the Torre Massimiliano after the Austrian emperor, can some times be visited.
There are several places with old garbage dumps, from the 14th to the 18th century, both on the Sant’Erasmo island and some other places in the lagoon nearby. Often just digging in the mud with your hands you can pull out pottery shards and old animal bones from centuries past.
A full day lagoon tour with Venice Kayak is normally around 4-5 hours active paddling. We meet at 9:45 in the bar of the Certosa hotel, so we’re ready in our kayaks before 10:30.
The best place for lunch on the history tours in the lagoon is a local place on the beached called ‘Bacan’ on the island of Sant’Erasmo, close to the Torre Massimiliano.
The history tours in the lagoon are around 15-20km.
Groups can be up to 6 persons. Larger groups can be arranged, but must be agreed upon well in advance, as we have to find an assistant guide for larger groups.
History tours in the lagoon are available from late March until late October.