Chimneys are part of the landscape of Venice and one cannot walk around the city without noticing their peculiar, funny shapes. Venice, located between the water and the sky, has a fascinating, unique skyline: bell-towers, domes, church pinnacles, statues, roof terraces and …chimneys. As a matter of fact even great painters such as Giorgione, Titian, Canaletto and Tintoretto, emphasized the various funny shapes of chimneys in their paintings of Venice; in such respect Carpaccio’s “The miracle of the cross” and Canaletto "The Grand Canal" are remarkable examples.
Looking at the various funny shapes of Venetian chimneys, one may wonder why Venetians should want to make so much of an effort to build such elaborate and expensive constructions, just for …. chimneys.
The answer to such question is simply … safety.
All those strange and funny chimney shapes were actually designed and developed in order to prevent that sparkles could be taken up by hot air, get out of the chimney and then fall onto the roofs and cause a fire.
The internal structure of the chimneys forces the hot air to swirl along a winding path; as a result, the dangerous sparkles have to travel a “long way” during which they cool down; they knock against the inner walls and instead of getting out of the chimney they are pushed inside and kept in special pockets. This is also why a lot of them have very high shafts above the roof..
Between the XIII and XIV century, brick constructions were built more and more, but the majority of houses were still made of wood with roofs covered with reed or straw. This is why, even though Venice is surrounded by water, fires could become extremely dangerous; In the late XIII century following the breakout of a few terrible fires caused especially by furnaces, the Republic issued a few decrees to regulate the use of fire in workshops, furnaces, bakeries and private houses: all the glasswork workshops and furnaces were moved to the island of Murano; shipyards were concentrated in the Arsenal, far from the city center.
The most dangerous possible causes of fire were moved either out or to the outskirts of the city but still small workshops, bakeries and private houses needed to use fire and represented a danger: it is around this time that chimneys began to be designed and built the way we see them today. The Republic fined and also forced to close down furnace and shops owners who did not have suitable “anti sparkle” chimneys. Little by little the construction of chimneys became some sort of an artistic competition among house owners and the chimneys were even accurately decorated.
Another peculiarity of Venetian chimneys is that the flue, instead of being built inside the house wall perimeter, as it is usually the case, is actually built outside, so that the space of the kitchen and of the above rooms is not restricted (the lack of space has always been a problem for Venetians).
This type of external fue was designed as another safety measure in order to keep smoke and sparkles as far as possible from the roof which, in the old days, was usually made of flammable material (wooden small boards, straw or reed).
This type of external fue also avoided the possible problem of rainwater filtering through the gaps between the chimney and the roof.
A lot of these bell shaped chimneys are painted in many masterpieces of famous venetian painters. Many of these bell shaped chimneys were decorated and painted (apparently even Giorgione and Titian (Tiziano) decorated some of them).
This is the most common type of chimney: a shield (bell) with the shape of a truncated cone is built around the top of the chimney shaft; the largest base of the truncated cone points towards the sky, the smaller base stands on a layer of corbels (modillion) with openings .
The Air gets into the bell from the outside through the openings of the corbels and creates a circular slow whirl in the bell. When the sparkles get out of the chimney shaft they get into the bell and are repeatedly knocked against the inner walls of the bell by the circular air flow; as a result, sparkles are put out and the air flow from the corbels helps the smoke get out and away from the chimney.
The wind enters in the in chimney “bell” through the corbels below and from above: the two air-draughts meet in the bell and form turbolences that force the smoke out of the upper openings following the wind direction so that the chimney does not get dirty as it often happens with standard chimneys. As a result, the draught of the chimney is also improved. The water flows out of the “bell” through the below corbels.
Many Venetian houses and palaces quite often display various types of chimneys ot their roofs:
Truncated upside cone, fork shape and cubic shield chimneys
This beautiful pinkish palace has both the cubic shield
and the upside down truncated pyramid chimneys
It is difficult to classify the many different types of Venetian chimneys; please find below pictures of the more recurrent shapes:
View of Venice rooftops with different shape chimneys
Typical view of Venice rooftop with different shape chimneys
note that the fue is built outside in order to save room for the apartment.
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