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Venice: 100 years after the First World War

A visit to some of the coastal fortifications along a historic route, not far from Venice, on the centenary of the First World War.

For the last few years, the centenary of the First World War has been remembered. Celebrations will conclude in 2018, one hundred years after the signing of the armistice between the belligerent states, which marked the end of this tragic event.

A hundred years ago, Venice was directly affected by the war. It was often hit by air raids – these are remembered by gravestones that can often be found on the facades of churches and Venetian houses. The air raids caused civilian casualties and damage to the city’s artistic heritage.

We only need to look at the bombing of the civil hospital and the church known as the chiesa degli Scalzi. The ceiling was destroyed, along with Teipolo’s fresco representing the Transportation of the Holy House of Loreto. The remains of Tiepolo’s work can be found in the Gallerie dell’Accademia.

With its military Arsenal, an important naval base and a group of workshops and factories for the defence industry with the nearby port for seaplanes on the island of Sant’Andrea, the city was an important military objective, especially after the retreat of the Italian lines following their defeat in the battle of Caporetto, with the front arriving on the Piave river, only around 30km from the city.

To defend Venice and the sea surrounding the city, great coastal battery complexes were built. These were impressive defences along the coast of Punta Sabbioni and Cavallino Treporti, not far from the city centre. Some of these can still be admired today, even though they have been incorporated into some of the numerous tourist complexes and campsites which have popped up along the coastline.

Batteria Amalfi, Batteria Pisani, Batteria San Marco, and Batteria Radaelli are the names of these defence fortifications. Batteria Pisani, named after the Venetian commander who defeated the Genoese in the Chioggia war, has recently recovered from its state of neglect and abandonment, and has been transformed into a place of remembrance of these tragic events.

You can enjoy a visit inside along the interesting route that runs from March to November. The tour covers the battery rooms and follows both the history of the construction and its recent renovations. It is a rich exhibition of relics of all kinds (both military and from the soldiers’ daily lives), many found during restoration work, which tell us about life during those years and what it was like inside the batteries for garrison soldiers.

There is still a road today which bears the name “Via delle Batterie” (Battery Road) by the coast overlooking the sea, near to where these fortified complexes stood. On the side facing the lagoon, you can still see the tall buildings that are now abandoned or used for other purposes, including the telemetry towers, required to detect enemies and for cannon shooting.

For recent history fans, a bike ride through these areas can be an interesting alternative to a typical visit to Venice, and the prefect opportunity to discover nature trails that are easily accessible by bike in the northern areas of the lagoon.

Along the route, there are plenty of restaurants in the area where you can stop for a spot of lunch and enjoy typical local produce. During the summer months, at the end of a long day cycling, there’s also the chance for a refreshing swim in the sea off one of the many beaches.

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