The Island of St Giorgio Maggiore

by Fabio Marzari | venews aprile 2007

Isola di San GiorgioA recent film by Saverio Costanzo called In memoria di me (In Memory of Me) shows the island which all its beauty at once large and small, finite and infinite.

It is a little island that has had the good fortune to be at the centre of  intellectual discussions, opening minds while at the same time being limited geographically.
The island is going through a series of restructurings that will bring it closer to today’s needs.  It is now an internationally known cultural centre right in the heart of the Venice’s lagoon.  The main aim is to be able to attract young researchers and intellectuals from all over the world. For this the Cini Foundation who runs the island, is building comfortable accommodation and providing modern work equipment and study spaces.

The most suggestive plans are for the Manica Lunga or Long Corridor.  It runs 128 metres and is wide 7 metres.  It is destined to be a library of the most unusual sorts made from modified monks cells. The silent and aesthetic qualities of the ‘room’ were deemed perfect for the creation of a library. The long hallway ends in a ‘trifora’ that looks out over the lagoon toward St Mark’s Square.
The island is a treasure house of architectural works of art by names such as Palladio and Longhena. Every part of the building complex has its own story. The most famous of these are the cloisters, the Palladian cenacle, the Long Corridor and the Library by Longhena. What is less known is the ill named Foresteria della Fondazaione or ‘guesthouse of the Foundation’.  These 12 large rooms, living, dining rooms were built for Vittorio Cini to entertain friends.  It is fascinating in the atmosphere of exclusivity that it gives.

There are few places in the world where ‘great men’ frequently gather and where precious antiques evoking the refined taste of the past are at hand. And not only from the past but there are also examples of great contemporary artists such as Carena, Severini, Sironi, Vedova.
Combined with art works is the splendid view from its many windows: in front there is the Salute Basilica, the lagoon and St Mark’s Square, at the right is the Ducal Palace and the Schiavoni waterfront.  On the left is the Zattere and the Giudecca with Venice’s trademark water and sky horizon. And then there is the history, few places can say they have all this plus 1000 years of history behind them.  St Giorgio Maggiore and the Giorgio Cini Foundation can truly say they represent one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in Italy.

And finally there is the bar, with a view over St Mark’s and the Ducal Palace, that won’t burn a hole in your wallet.

The building of a 60 room residence for researchers and students is being built.  It will be 12,000 square metres, invisible from Venice and take the place of the ‘officina dei Salesiani’ at the end of the Long Corridor.  In 2007 the Teatro Verde or Green Theatre was reopened.  It is an open air theatre in the magical space between the island’s gardens and the waters of the lagoon.  It takes its place at the centre of what will be a workshop area on such themes as conservation and the protection of this cultural heritage. Digital technology will be at the forefront of projects designed to favour cultural and scientific exchange. The Cini Foundation, that has always seen itself as a bridge between culture and learning and commits itself to the creation of new spaces and financing students, researchers and public figures in projects to these ends.
Knowing the lethargy in which Venice usually finds itself when confronted with the ‘new’.  It is tempting to think of St Giorgio as an island apart, an island that gets things done. The new island.

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