Tourist navigation in Padua and on the Brenta Riviera
Since ancient times mankind preferred waterways to any other route; river transportation was considered safe and comfortable if compared to roads, which were often impassable due to rainfall, ice, or banditry.
The Veneto region has always been rich in natural water courses, and here an extensive network of navigable artificial waterways was dug to form true water highways that connect rivers one to the other, and made transportation, irrigation or electric power production easier or shorter. This huge network of navigable rivers and canals was a primary source of wealth for the peoples of the Veneto.
The towns of the Veneto region were connected one to the other by this branched waterway network, ultimately taking to the Venice lagoon and to the sea that represented the major trading points.
When navigation was in slightly sloping canals or upstream, boats were pulled by horses led, in their turn, by horse owners or by the boat drivers walking on the towpaths (alzaia) on the banks.
Navigation Locks, known as Chiuse or Porte in Italian, were created to make navigation easier. These resembled true water lifts that joined the water courses running at different heights and allowed boats to navigate waterways upstream or downstream.
The huge trading activity and the requirements of the Serenissima Republic of Venice favoured the growth in the demand for goods and resources produced in the mainland; cereals, produce, wood, marble, calcareous stones from the Vicenza Hills, and the precious trachyte from the Euganean Hills reached Venice by river.
Besides merchandise, the waterways that connected Venice with Padua and the Euganean Hills were skimmed by old wood barges or burci, padovanas, gondolas, skiffs and barges that carried people and merchandise along the river branches where residences were built. At first these served the purpose of controlling agricultural holdings, but were later turned into wonderful Villas.
The burcio or burchio (wood barge) was a typical river boat suitable to transport big cargoes. It featured a flat bottom, hard wood framework, while the planking and the upper deck were made of soft wood; they could dock anywhere resting their bottom on the bank. They are even mentioned by Dante in his masterpiece Divina Commedia (the Divine Comedy) "come talvolta stanno a riva i burchi / che parte sono in acqua e parte in terra..." (Inferno, canto XVII, vv 21-22) - ("as sometimes the wooden barges lay on the bank / partly in the water and partly on land" - Hell, cantico XVII, lines 21-22).
Even more used was the padovana, a sort of small burcio but narrow and low, where the stem and the stern were alike being both rounded to better overcome differences in water heights and be used in both directions.
In those times, people used to go "to the mountains" in the Euganean Hills, or "on holiday" in their Villas along the Brenta Riviera and the Euganean Riviera, formed by the Battaglia and Bisato canals.
For this service the well-off used the burchiello, or barge, a typical passenger boat with a portion containing cabins on three or four balconies, while the poorer classes used less comfortable and more sober boats as the padovana, or barca da Padova (Padua boat).
For shorter stretches or in town, also in Padua, people used gondolas with a removable cabin: these were called felza, looked and worked like a carriage because they protected against bad weather and intrusive looks.
But in the middle of the 19th century river transportation began to decline slowly, due to the rapid development of railways and of the road network; recent cleaning works, river re-sectioning, and the restoration of old locks have made it possible to resume navigation for tourist or recreation purposes along the old waterways, where the peoples of the Veneto have made their history.
The Brenta river has its source in the Caldonazzo Lake, then it flows down the Valsugana valley to Bassano, where its course in the plain begins. When it reaches the north of Padua, it divides. A branch continues straight to the south lagoon of Venice while at Noventa Padovana the other branch, an artificial canal dug by the Venetians, the old and famous Naviglio del Brenta (Brenta shipway) deviates to Strà, Dolo, Mira to reach Fusina and, ultimately, Venice. Noventa Padovana was the old fluvial harbour of Padua on the Brenta river. Once boats used to stop here, and passengers and goods reached Padua on carts and carriages. Then in 1209 the opening of the Piovego Canal was completed. This 10-km long canal goes from Padua to Strà to convey the waters of Padua from the Bacchiglione river into the Brenta, thus connecting Padua directly to the Naviglio del Brenta and, hence, to Venice. After the opening of the Piovego Canal and the building of the Portello fluvial harbour, navigation in Padua flourished.
Today river navigation in Padua offers admirable, well designed tourist routes.
Boat trips in the town of Padua
Boat tours of the Venetian Villas along the Brenta Riviera
The navigation from Padua to the Venetian Villas on the Brenta Riviera is renowned worldwide.
Once boats were called burchiello (barge); the historical route of the ancient Venetian barges of the 1700s begins in Padua, it passes five Locks that were built to navigate downstream overcoming a 10-m difference in water height, and ten revolving bridges, to end in Venice, in St. Mark's Square. Today all the motorboats navigating the Brenta Riviera from Padua to Venice and vice-versa are commonly called burchiello. The individual name of each boat changes according to the owning shipping company; some of them are modern, made of metal, others are traditional and romantic wooden barges as the burcio. These modern, comfortable and panoramic boats are heirs to past tradition. They slowly cruise the Brenta Canal, while a tourist guide on board tells about the history, the culture and the art of the Villas that rise along the Brenta Riviera.
Boat trips on the Bacchiglione river
A charming river tour in the luxuriant and green vegetation is the navigation from Padua to Selvazzano, on the Bacchiglione river.
Boat tours along the Euganean Riviera
Charming navigation experience on typical wooden boats from Padua to Monselice, on an ancient route that was loved by the Italian poet Francesco Petrarca. Fascinated by the beauty of this place, he loved composing his rhymes while navigating the canal of the Euganean Riviera to reach his vineyard in Arquà, "ameno recesso tra i Colli Euganei, in deliziosa e salubre postura" ("pleasant recess in the Euganean Hills, in a delightful and healthy location").
Boat tours from Pontelongo to the Venice lagoon
Generally offered in summer, in the months of July and August, navigation from Pontelongo to Venice and its islands is pleasant indeed.