When walking through Venice, there are so many ornate churches, grand palaces and eye-catching shops that it’s easy to overlook some of the city’s smaller – yet still highly significant – architectural features, such as the stone well-heads that sit at the centre of many courtyards and squares.
Today there are approximately 230 well-heads in Venice, all of which are merely ornamental. In the late 19th century, however, there were over 6500 – and until this period they played a fundamental role in Venetian life, as the principal source of the population’s drinking water
Each well-head covered a shaft which led to an underground cistern where rainwater was collected and filtered, before being drawn up in buckets via ropes and pulley systems. So important – and indeed sacred – were these wells that the heads were often highly decorated as a symbol of their spiritual significance, embellished with fragments of altars and the stones of ancient temples, or engraved with religious signs and the crests of the families who paid for their construction.
Whilst some of the city’s wealthier individuals built their own personal wells within their private palace courtyards – examples of which can be seen at Ca’ d’Oro and Casa Goldoni – the vast majority of the population relied on the public wells in their local squares, which were locked with an iron lid each evening and reopened at 8 o’clock every morning. As a result, these wells were the hubs of local life, central to the social routine of each parish community, and they remained as such until June 23rd 1884, when Venice’s first aqueduct was built, bringing fresh water from the river Brenta on the mainland.