Ca’ di Dio 750 Years
by Prof. Alain Touwaide
After decades- or even a century – of extraordinary prosperity, particularly thanks to the capture of Constantinople in 1204, and its domination of the Byzantine world and the eastern Mediterranean Sea and, through them, the trade in the rare and precious goods of the Ruta della Seta (Silk Road), Venice faced a period of uncertainty in 1272: in 1261, the Byzantines had recaptured Constantinople, causing Venice to lose its eastern Mediterranean trading bases. Moreover, the Mongols were disrupting the geo-politics of the time by conquering and unifying the Asian continent from China to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Even though this new empire represented a potential single market for Venice, the end of the Crusades, the loss of Constantinople and the fall of the different Latin small principalities and other kingdoms founded by the Crusaders closed the gates to the East and brought back disbanded troops, wandering mercenaries and leprous pilgrims to the West. Venice had to reinvent its future. Venetian merchants were looking for new trade routes and outlets. In 1271, Marco Polo left to explore the Mongolian empire and paper began to spread, heralding a revolution in books that later made Venice’s fortune. In the meantime, true to its tradition, Venice took care of people in need: in 1253-1268 it expanded the Ospissio Orseolo and, in 1260-61, founded the first Scuole Grandi. Later on, in 1272, it created a house – Ca’ di Dio – for the poor, returning to the vocation of the Church Fathers’ times of the 4th century. Though still uncertain in 1272, a rebirth was beginning.
Prof. Alain Touweide
1272-2022 | 750 years of history
and almost not feeling them...
The fascinating history of this palace overlooking the Bacino di San Marco began in 1272. Over the years, it lived different lives, without ever losing its true soul. From accommodation for pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land to a place for abandoned women in distress. In 1544, the Procuratori de San Marco de supra began a full renovation of the facility, entrusted to the famous Jacopo Sansovino.
The Prior asked Sansovino to build 24 new more comfortable and brighter units. Each housed woman, called “camerista”, was given an individual room equipped with a kitchen and a fireplace, as shown by the numerous chimney flues of the façade on the Rio de la Ca’ di Dio.
However, in 1547, the works had to be temporarily suspended, as the Procurators were informed that the Doge was the only public authority who could take charge of Ca’ di Dio’s needs by ancient custom. After resuming the works in 1548, numerous changes and extensions were made that changed radically the original design. In 1556, the Maggior Consiglio passed a Parte (law) subjecting Ca’ di Dio, until then under the administration of an external commissioner, to the Doge jus patronatus, thus making the Prior answerable for its management directly to the head of state. It was also decided by law that the facility could accommodate also needy widows of soldiers and
civil servants. This decree was partially amended in 1623, when the Maggior Consiglio ruled that only poor, honest, unmarried women of noble and citizen origin, aged at least 30, could be accommodated. By this decision, the government specified the type of users admitted to the hostel, redefining also its internal organisation: the women, who were obliged to live in their assigned room, could carry out their work outside. The institution financial administration, significantly grown thanks to conspicuous donations, was entrusted to five Priori appointed by the Doge. The appointed Priori were assisted by a Revisor, an Appontador, a Physician, a Surgeon, an Orderly, a Proto (including Baldassare Longhena), an Apothecary, a Mansionario and a Nurse. After 1797, with the fall of the Republic, Ca’ di Dio survived the Napoleonic dissolutions and during the 19th century, restoration works were carried out. In particular, in 1884, the oratory was restored and given back its original name of Santa Maria Assunta, which had been changed to San Giocacchino in 1840. After the last restoration, carried out between 1970 and 1973, the complex would house 92 rooms allocated to self-sufficient people of both sexes. Today, the same vocation for hospitality its fully shown by the restoration and redevelopment that transformed the old “house” into a new hotel full of charm and history, celebrating the city that has hosted it since its origins
Ca’ di Dio | the concept
unchanged over time hospitality
The same vocation for hospitality is fully shown by the restoration and redevelopment that transformed the old “house” into a new hotel full of charm and history, celebrating the city that has hosted it since its origins. The interior design was entrusted to Patricia Urquiola, an internationally renowned firm of architects, which has developed a project where Venice is staged. The colour palette is subdued and soft, with fluid shades and transparencies in continuous movement just like water. The idea is to contrast and combine the Venice of the “sconte”, hidden calles made of old bricks, with the Venice of aristocratic palaces full of marble and decorations. In order to continue the relationship with the place, materials representative of the city and its tradition were chosen, such as glass, wood, wrought iron, stone and marble, worked by the skilful hands of local craftsmen and workers.
The structure of Ca’ di Dio itself is unique for Venice, thanks to its three courtyards that become oases and natural refuges to find one’s own peace of mind, after a day spent visiting the city, its exhibitions, festivals and fairs, immersed in its life marked by the flow of water and international events of cinema, art, culture and architecture.
The original works of art of Ca’ di Dio finally return “home” following the major restoration of Sansovino’s architectural complex after being restored and repaired.
Ca' di Dio and the "Respectus" cuisine
A Ca’ di Dio tutto inizia con la stagionalità
Each season has its own colour and fruit inspiring the menu, welcoming guests “home” with simple preparations based on quality seasonal ingredients that speak for themselves.
The aim of the Ca’ di Dio cuisine is to give guests an authentic experience, rich in history, places and people, focusing on the customer. It has respect for traditions, products, aromas and flavours; it is a cuisine characterised by clean and truthful tastes, based on the quality of raw materials and enhanced by the technical skills acquired through experience and constant research. A cuisine based on local products without forgetting Italian high-quality products, recipes with clean, authentic and balanced flavours. The processing and cooking techniques chosen respect them, reduce their transformation and simplify cooking so as not to lose the true essence of the product. The product enhancement is combined with the tradition and history of the places where Ca’ di Dio is located.
Venice has a glorious history of conquests and great trading power, which has allowed spices and products to be introduced into Venetian cuisine, especially from Asia.
The sweet and sour used in the classic “Saor”, pepper, nutmeg, cumin, aniseed and cinnamon are just a few examples of the Venetian aromas that characterise traditional dishes but also give room for reworking, always respecting the origin of the dishes.
Everything is home-made, with authenticity and passion. From bread-making with natural yeast and stone-ground organic flours from Veneto, to fresh pasta and pastry. Focusing on local high-quality products, from the use of meat from Montello or Alpago, to local cheeses and vegetables from Sant’Erasmo up to unmissable lagoon fish.
The in-house vegetable garden provides fresh ingredients for the dishes of the “Respectus” kitchen and represents a corner of beauty and tradition in the heart of the hotel.
The essence of the “Respectus” cuisine is emotions made up of welcoming, aromas and flavours, stories to be told and passions to be conveyed.
The vision of the General Manager
Christophe Mercier, Ca’ di Dio General Manager, tells us about his vision
“Venessentia” encapsulates the concept of hospitality that starts from Ca’ di Dio to discover the uniqueness of Venice. Venice is made of stone and marble. Its lagoon, vegetation and biodiversity are unique in the world and deserve all our care and attention. Our active sustainability project starts with the major structural investments of the restoration phase, through the uniforms and shoes made of recycled materials that we wear, and above all through conscious actions, which every day focus on the environment around us. Venice, very elegant and refined, with its Palaces overlooking the Canal Grande, whose soul can be revealed only by walking along its narrow streets known as “sconte”, “campi” and “campielli”. “Venessentia” revives the true essence of the city, active and alive, but also fragile, which can be discovered slowly by savouring, walking, tasting and experiencing, all at once, 1600 years of history.”