Dark vaulted rooms, homes to ancient wisdom. The Secret World of Venetian Herbs and Spices, does it still exist in Venice or in any other part of the World? It’s still here, in Venice. It’s being rediscovered now.
The 14th century was the heydays of the mercanti di spezie – Venetian merchants: They created an exclusive commercial network with trading posts in the Levant (South-Eastern Mediterranean cities and islands, from Alexandria to Constantinople and on the Black Sea). By the year 1380, Venetian merchants also included the Western Mediterranean and regions beyond into their standard trading routes.
I was enamored with the description in the book Venetian Navigators, by Andrea di Robilant, relating on the impressive selection of spices the cogs belonging to the Zen Family were carrying:
Most of the sacks amassed in the hull were stuffed with exotic herbs and roots. It was said of Venetian ships that they left such a profusion of pungent aromas in their wake at sea that they could be detected miles away given the right wind. The most common spices were ginger from Malabar, cinnamon from Ceylon, pepper from Hindustan, cloves from Egypt, nutmeg from Malacca and wormwood from Persia.>
Not only spices for cooking were transported to Venice, but minerals and spices were used as cosmetics and pharmaceuticals as well: Ships carried rhubarb, manna and aloe. Ginger was a precious stimulant and antiscorbutic. Borax cured glandular and spleen diseases. Musk was an efficient antidote to poison. Vanilla had a soothing effect on asthmatics, saffron and camphor had a tranquilizing effect.
Quite a few useful concepts and knowledge worth re-discovering !