Sunday, 15 December 2013


In 1992 several zattere (three section rafts) were built in the traditional way to recreate the journey down the Piave from Perarolo to Venice.  I am obliged to Cierre Edizioni in Verona for allowing the publication in this blog of some of the beautiful photographs from their fascinating publication, La Via del Fiume (Cierre Edizioni, Verona, 1993). 

Three zattere on the riverbank at Perarolo in 1992
The three rafts (above) were pictured moored at Perarolo.  In modern times the water level at this point of the river is no longer sufficient to support rafting, and water from the dam upstream at Pieve di Cadore was released to allow the rafts to make their journey downriver.

On the river

The stretch of water between Perarolo and Codissago is still treacherous though, when the river is running deep.  The oarsmen use the oars to move the zattera sideways, or to align it with the mouth of a cataract, or to steer the raft in order to avoid dangers such as rocks and submerged trees.

Passing by Longarone

The zattieri di Codissago were all big, strong men.  Great strength was required to steer the zattera as it raced down the river.  The front oars were the most difficult to work.  The zattieri wore spiked boots to enable them to grip the decking.  Ahead, downriver, the Spiz Gallina (Hen's Beak) looms over the left bank of the Piave.

Rough water

If the water was rough, two men were needed to work each oar.  In the tool bag (centre of raft) can be seen a traditional had operated auger (drill), of the type used to build the zattere and also to effect repairs as the craft moved downriver.  

An oar in the rest position showing the handles

Each oar had two handles, a side handle and a handle at the end of the oar.  Rope was a precious commodity, used only for tying up the rafts or for lashing down the deck cargo.  In the photograph above, the oar is fastened with twisted hazel.  This material was used everywhere in the construction of the rafts.  

When arriving in Cadore, for example by train to Perarolo, one is struck by the great diversity of trees that grow in the Piave valley.  Hazel grows as well as any, and the shoots of hazel are easy to cut with a machete, as the photo to the left shows.

When twisted, the fibres of hazel (nocciolo in Italian) shoots shear to form strong sections of 'rope' - una saca di nocciolo.  Because the zattere were on a one-way journey to Venice (where the cargo was removed and the zattere broken up for lumber) everything used in the construction of the raft had to be disposable - and wood such as hazel was to be had a-plenty for free.

The  saca was used to join two section of the raft together.  This ingenious mechanism gave the raft the flexibility required to ride over submerged banks of gravel without breaking up. The  saca was also used to fasten the blades of the oars to the shafts, to build the oar posts, and to hold the oars in place.

Zattieri di Nervesa

The Door of Perarolo opens with a scene on the bridge at Nervesa.  Nervesa was one of the last ports on the Piave before Venice.  Here the river ran slowly and, having gathered the waters of all major tributaries, was wide and relatively easy to navigate.  The zattieri  working out of the port didn’t need the strength of the men of Codissago to operate the oars.  A typical crew might contain a mix of men of all ages.  The photograph above is from a postcard dated 1900.

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You may examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide.  The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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