Is that a…?
Yes, it’s the image of a “pantegana”, a big rat carved in the stone of a column on the Canal Grande.
It’s neither the result of modern vandalism nor is it the work of a great artist of Venice. The origins are unknown, and the reason of this carving can only be guessed, so that is what the Venetian did. The column is part of a “sotoportego”, a covered walkway, at the end of the “calle del tragheto” in front of the S.Felice church. “Traghetto”, ferry, indicates an alley that led to a boat service crossing the Canal Grande. The traghetto, as it still happens nowadays in a few spots of the city, was done by gondoliers that patiently waited for people needing to cross.
It is therefore very likely that some of them one day, waiting under the shelter of the covered walkway, saw an outstandingly big rat and couldn’t refrain themselves from carving its image on the column, without forgetting to date the year of such an incredible sight: MDCXXXXIIII, 1644.
If it is just a funny story, it’s right to remember how rats have always been a problem for Venice, as the carriers of terrible diseases. Only 14 years before, in 1630, one more outbreak of bubonic plague, which began almost 300 years before with the infamous Black Plague, had killed over 50.000 Venetians in a matter of months! Interesting enough, this was also the reason why, since the link between rats and diseases had been understood, Venice had always welcomed and loved stray cats, and used to host many… until 15 years ago, when they suddenly started to disappear. But that is another mystery of Venice.
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