The beds in the 16th century, Ducale palace, Villa Pisani, are extremely short. Granted, most of the bed’s guests, Napoleon Bonaparte and King Victor Emmanuel III for example, were not as physically as looming as their political personalities (5’6″ and 5’ respectively), but there is a reason other than height for the bed length.
That is just one tidbit revealed on the guided tour of the spectacular Villa Pisani, one of many splendid summer residences of the Venetian Doges and noble families, that is part of the Batelli del Brenta boat tour.
More than 2,000 villas were built between the 15th and 16th centuries during the glory days of the Venetian Republic. Throughout the region of Veneto the “leone alato” or winged lion that was and still is the symbol of Venice, remains timelessly carved on arches and walls, many of these visible only by boat from the Brenta River and connecting canals that lead from Padua to Venice.
A cruise line known as the Burchiello once sailed up and down the 25 kilometers of water roads, taking nobility and political figures to their summer homes. “It was a public boat,” explains Silvia, a long-experience guide of the Veneto region, working with for Antoniana Viaggi, “but the price was so exhorbitant that only the wealthy could afford the luxury.” Complete with velvet sofas, entertainment, refreshments and heating in the winter, the original Burichiello was opulence at its finest.
Villa Pisani, one of many splendid summer residences of the Venetian Doges and noble families, is part of the Battelli del Brenta boat tour
The Brenta river that runs down to the Adriatic Sea is navigable thanks to numerous “chiusi” or water locks that allow boats to run the course of the river in aquatic steps. “There is a dislevel of 12 meters from where the Brenta originates to where it empties into the Venice Lagoon,” say Silvia, “ without the “chiusi” the boat trip would have been more like an amusement park ride.”
Villa Pisani named after the Doge or Duke who ruled Venice from 1735 to 1741 is the largest of the villas and open to the public. The duke himself was barely able to enjoy the massive structure that includes a garden maze, orange garden, expansive stables and a spectacular ballroom ceiling painted by Giambattista Tiepolo – his last work. Alas, Pisani passed away one year after the villa’s completion. After passing hands to Napoleon’s family, the villa ended its days as a private dwelling with King Victor Emanuel II…Italy’s last king. It was also the host of the fateful meeting between two of the last century’s most heinous tyrants, Mussolini and Hitler.
Villa Pisani is one of six villas that are included in present day cruising tours, though the Veneto has many villas open to the public that can also be reached by car. The Burichiello today are comfortable touring boats that cruise in the same, chartered path as those from past centuries and are a beautiful way to spend a day or afternoon getting to know the villas of Veneto.
As for the short beds, there is a modern answer to an ancient superstition. Lying down horizontally was a position for a body in a coffin. In other words, the dead. In modern Italian “mi ha steso” is a common way of saying in slang, “it killed me” or “it knocked me out.” Propped up with pillows and cushions, both Napoleon and King Emmanuel slept sitting up, even though their beds would have been on the short side no matter what. Never judge a royal by his bed length.