Venice has shown its pioneering spirit in many ways. A journey into the city’s ancient red light district

In Venice, no name has been left to chance. If Calle del Frutarol literally indicated the greengrocers' street and the Campiello del Remer was home to the city’s oar makers, Ponte delle Tette (literally “Tits bridge”) and the foundations by the same name were certainly not called thus just to make passers-by smile. Avant-garde in every way, Venice in the late middle ages and in the early modern era was already known for its carnival, a time for debauchery and excesses known to last well after the celebration’s official end. Notions of morality and modesty have changed with the times, so it may come as a surprise to learn in how many ways, hundreds of years ago, Venice’s ruling class regulated and enabled the work of the city’s prostitutes. Ponte delle Tette, on the border between the San Polo and Santa Croce districts, was the heart of what, in every way, could be considered a forerunner of today’s red-light districts: to attract customers, prostitutes leaned out of windows with their naked breasts on full display.For centuries, prostitution was never effectively outlawed in the libertine city par excellence, and in particular times it would appear to have been almost encouraged. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, although there are no official records to attest this, homosexuality was considered to be so widespread as to constitute a danger to the image of la Serenissima, a rumour which, as Europe was in the grip of great religious ferment, could have injured the Republic where it hurt the most: its trade.

Thus, the freedom granted to the women of Ponte delle Tette to show themselves naked to potential passing customers can be considered an effective, and clever, form of primordial marketing.

Today, this area of Venice is called le Carampane, from the name of a noble family who, after the death of its last descendent, saw its patrician palace transformed in a hospice for older prostitutes retiring from the profession. The foundations and buildings, alas, today show little or no trace of such mischievous and excessive times; but it is still worth visiting Ponte delle Tette with an open mind, to observe it with the eyes of our imagination. Perhaps, a chilled glass of Masottina’s Prosecco Docg Brut, can help us reconnect with the extravagant spirit of the time.