An area on the edge of the sea
Casa dei Racconti lies in the municipality of Ceggia in the province of Venice, just north of the ancient Via Annia, the Roman road built in the 2nd century B.C. to connect the wealthy town of Aquileia with the south of Veneto. The road was named after the Roman magistrate who ordered its construction, a member of the noble Annia family. Along it grew up flourishing towns such as Oderzo, Quarto d’Altino and Concordia Sagittaria.
Because of its links, the road played an essential role in carrying traffic between Rome and the east, even as far as Constantinople. The remains of a three-arch Roman bridge discovered nearby just over sixty years ago bears witness to the importance of the route.
The earliest references to the town of Ceggia date from the same period: the town’s name apparently derives from the Latin “cilium maris”, the “edge of the sea”. Though the name evokes visions of a picturesque seaside, in reality the region was marshy and insalubrious, so that as the Roman empire declined and the first barbarian invasions arrived, it was gradually abandoned. Much of the area around the Venice lagoon between the Piave and Livenza rivers lies below sea level and most of the main settlements (including the towns mentioned above) were built on outcrops of dry land. The population rose again only after major reclamation work was completed in the twentieth century.
The new diocese, the convent,
and the beginnings of Casa dei Racconti
The area was largely abandoned in the Middle Ages, partly because of its intrinsic challenges and partly for the lack of local administration that characterised the period. The first signs of rebirth came with the founding of the parish of Grassaga in 1535 by a congregation of the order of the Canons Regular. On the initiative of these priests, a monastery was built in 1569, near the site where Casa dei Racconti stands today. The long abandoned monastery was finally demolished by the Republic of Venice in 1793, and we can be certain that materials recovered from it were used to construct Casa dei Racconti.
Evidence of this emerged in 2013 when the current owner, Gianni Pasin, undertook a thorough refurbishment of the building. Work revealed that two different kinds of stone had been used. One, typical of the 19th century, was reddish in colour and regular in size, while the other was yellowish, incompletely finished and doubtlessly recovered from a far older building.
The first references to the present house date back to 1842, when a land registry was compiled. A drawing from this period, taken from the municipality’s land registry map, has been enlarged and now occupies a whole wall and part of the ceiling in the main hall of the house.
From the Papadopoli Counts to Gianni Pasin
After Napoleon Bonaparte yielded the Veneto region to Austria under Emperor Francis II in 1797, and after the consequent dissolution of the Republic of Venice, the new administration began reclaiming local marshlands. While this work fell short of solving the problem (something only achieved by the reclamation projects of the twentieth century), it nevertheless permitted communities to form, and farming to commence.
Local lands were granted to the Papadopoli family who would go on to become counts. It is believed that they built the house in the first decades of the 1800s and continued to own the land and the building until 1921.
The property was then acquired by Giovanni Giol, the son of emigrants who had made their fortune in Mendoza, the wine-making region of Argentina.
The property changed hands again in 1966, but this time the holding was split up: the Rubinato family acquired the house and 26 hectares of surrounding land.
This reduced holding was then sold to the Borga family from whom the present owner, Gianni Pasin, acquired it in 2013, renaming the house “Casa dei Racconti”.
Roots, memories and stories
Giannino Zanatta was born in the house and lived there until he was eleven (1958). In the external wall of his old bedroom there is a stone carved with three crucifixes and the date 1559. (This was probably placed there on purpose in memory of the donation of stones from the old monastery for the construction of the new building.) Zanatta cherishes many memories of his childhood and family, and remembers stories related by many others who lived in or visited the house at the time. Some of these tales go back to a time before he was born.
“At that time, some 21 or 22 people used to live here. The children used to help their parents from as young as 5 years of age, obviously doing what they could”, he relates. “The people of the house cultivated about fifty fields on a crop-sharing basis, so the stable was the most lively part of the whole holding.”
The stable was a place of social gathering as well as work. It was where the “filò” took place on winter evenings. In those days, the “filò” meant not just the weaving of cloth by the women but a whole range of social activities besides. People used to come into the warm stable to avoid the chill of winter evenings, so the men and the children were there too. Everybody would talk, tell jokes and play music together. The stable was where young people fell in love and arranged their future marriages.
Giannino remembers many such episodes, just as he recalls harvesting the wheat with a reaping machine pulled by oxen; mothers hard at work making shoes for their children from pieces of cloth and the tread of old tyres; and the fountain in the yard that always delivered beautifully pure water that nearby families used to come and collect. His memories of childhood are filled with fascination for little things, like the ringing of the bells in nearby villages and going to a festival in San Donà – a wonderful event in the eyes of a child.
Other memories, some his own, some related by others, are more dramatic: the most vivid of these concern the Second World War.
“My family hid two allied soldiers for nearly a year in 1943. One was English and the other a New Zealander. Both had escaped from a train taking them to a concentration camp in Germany when it stopped at Ceggia station. We hid them in two underground drainage tanks, which we rapidly cleaned out and whitewashed. They had to spend every day in there, but would come out in the evening to sleep in the haystack or sometimes in the fields.”
The Zanatta family received official recognition for their courage and in 2001 the sons of the New Zealand soldier visited the house (quite transformed by then) to see where their father had been hidden away and to thank his saviours.