Vere da Pozzo and Cats
Observation requires a privileged standpoint to be able to appreciate and distinguish all the elements relevant to a situation developing before our eyes. Cats are indisputable masters at this art.
They will wander around, whether they are an indoor or outdoors cat in search of the best and most comfortable raised position available to lay down and absorb with all their senses the flow of life, its wonders and oddities. What some may point at as “aloofness” in cats, is actually a natural inclination towards neutrality one yawn at a time.
While walking around Venice I have seen many times felines laying happily above a number of surfaces: benches, windowsills, monuments, bridges and wells. Well-heads are definitely favored by them. During warm weather its cast iron lid would heat up keeping them extra warm.
In Venice water water-heads – or vere da pozzo – were built as a necessity: even though Venice is a city built upon and surrounded by water, it cannot count with a spring of clean water supply for domestic use. For this reason, Venetians started building cisterns all over Venice as far back as 1038 a.C. to collect rain water.
In conjunction with the birth of these structures by decree of the Republic of La Serenissima, new working figures were born, for example the “provveditori di comun”, state appointed officials who would regulate the use of water-heads throughout the city as well as the operators directly responsible for the correct water distribution in every district, or sestriere.
Every water-head operator had specifics tasks: The “pozzeri”, were a group of workers who would built the walls and the floor of the water gathering basin. The “acquaroli”, would refuel the water basin and made so that it was destined exclusively for domestic use and not commercial.
The “capi contrada” were those in charge of the keys to their pertinent district and would open the water-heads twice a day at the tolling of “the water bell” under the surveillance of the “piovani”, the parishes that watched over the distribution of water. Last but not least were the “facchini degli stazzii” assigned to the hygiene of the water-heads and its surroundings.
Through time, these wellheads became an architectonic and ornamental element of the campo (Venetian square) and corti private, (wellheads on private property) as well as a meeting place for the population, in particular women and children.
Today the water-heads of Venice have dwindled down to around 650 surviving models from over two thousand and no longer hold its historic use and cultural relevance. Nevertheless, they are still held in high regard by our felines, who enjoy to quietly oversee the passage of time from a higher ground.