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Venetian word of the day: barene

If you’ve ever flown into Venice Marco Polo airport, you may have noticed some strange island formations in the north of the lagoon. They look like odd-shaped mosaic tiles peeping up out of the water, their irregular forms fitting into each other like a jigsaw. These are the barene, the typical lagoon islands without which Venice would not exist.

Looking at aerial photos of Venice you will notice it has a similar formation of irregular shaped islands separated by the canals. This is because the founders of Venice lived on what were, essentially, barene, driving wooden piles around them to form the foundations on which the city was built.

Some of the barene are very low and disappear at high tide. Others are higher and are permanent features of the lagoon. They are not to be confused with the velme, which are mudbanks and only appear at low tide. The velme are rich in molluscs but have no vegetation whereas the barene are covered in it. They are separated from each other by canals known as ghebi.

If you want to see the barene close up, you pass several on the boat to the remote island of Torcello or if you go to Sant’Erasmo. The northern end of the lagoon is particularly rich in barene.

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