18th Century Venice: Lanterns and Lamplighters

Here Zompini illustrates two indispensable creatures of 18th century Venetian nightlife, the Codega (lantern bearer, above) and the Impizza ferali (lamplighter, below). The dialect term Codega derives from the Greek odegos, a guide. As the rhyme explains, his job was to escort you safely home from the theatre or casino, or from or to anywhere you wanted, so long as you paid him. The Impizza ferali, paid by the city, was charged with lighting the street lamps which were a comparatively late arrival, installed in 1732. The lamplighters were regulated by their own guild, which had its headquarters in the church of San Giuliano. Before this, there had been rudimentary and sparsely regulated street lighting in the form of lanterns containing cesendeli, wax candles, a custom dating back to the early 12th century.

Gas came to Venice in 1843 when the French company, La Lionese, was granted permission to open a gasworks in the remote and cautiously chosen location of San Francesco della Vigna in the lagoon. In the same year another French company,  De Frigère, Cottin, Montgolfier and Bodin, successfully installed gas lighting in Piazza San Marco. Following this, the rest of the city was gradually converted to gas. The lamplighters learned to turn on the taps with long poles, though their services were eventually phased out with the introduction of clockwork mechanisms. The eventual electrification of Venice is a whole other subject for a future post. Suffice it for now to say that it began on Giudecca in 1889 and by 1922 much of the historical centre around San Marco was fully wired up.

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