The ill-fated love between a Venetian fisherman and a beautiful mermaid. A secret hidden under the city’s Sotoportego dei Preti

Venice is a city of many layers and so are the city’s countless stories and legends. Walking through the Castello area, near Campo Bandiera, stopping every now and then to revive with a bite to eat and a glass of Masottina's Doc Brut Prosecco Treviso, a traveller glances to his right, then to the left, attracted by the sight of a tiny archway bearing a very unusual name: Sotoportego dei Preti – the archway leads to a narrow, covered passageway. Having stepped inside, our traveller notices a curious detail: a red heart-shaped stone set among the bricks of the archway. Legend has it that this was once the home of a Venetian fisherman named Orio, who one day caught a beautiful mermaid, Melusina, in his net. The pair, as in all the best fairy tales, fell in love, and Melusina gave up her otherworldly nature in order to follow her beloved fisherman on dry land. Melusina, however, told her lover she would marry him on one condition only: until their wedding day, Orio had to agree to stay away from the house every Saturday. For several weeks Orio kept his promise but curiosity, and perhaps jealousy, got the better of him in the end. One Saturday he secretly returned to the house to spy on his future bride but she was not there, instead, he was welcomed by the sight of a large water snake. Seized by fear, Orio ran away and kept his secret, the two married anyway and their marriage was blessed by the birth of three children. They lived happily until the day Melusina died of a sudden illness. The fisherman, grieving the loss of his bride and worried about leaving his children alone, nevertheless went fishing everyday feed them.

A detail, however, struck him every evening as he came back: whenever he returned home, both the children and the house were always spotless and in perfect order. How was that possible?

One day, having come home early because of a storm, Orio found in the kitchen that same sea serpent he once saw many years before. Fearing for his children’s safety, Orio killed the snake. It did not take him long to realise that the snake was really his love, Melusina, or rather her animal nature which had managed to survive her death and that he, instead, had killed forever. Such a sad story. To comfort our traveller, we can let him know that, according to this romantic legend, all young lovers who touch the heart-shaped stone - placed here in memory of Orio and Melusina – will see their love last forever. This, perhaps, would be enough to let him walk away from the heart and leave the Sotoportego behind; however, a lingering restlessness might follow him as he steps in the cheerful atmosphere of the next bacaro. Why? Sipping his Prosecco, he might try to shake the feeling off: after all, it is just a story. But no, it isn’t just a story. The tale of Orio and Melusina reminds us that even the strongest and purest love, if it asks of us to renounce our true nature, who we really are, will end up in pain. And so we come to the end of our journey through the streets of Venice. When a voyage ends, it is easy to feel a touch of melancholy. At least, until the next departure.