Often the key success factors lie in the details that are visible to everyone, but they are not “seen”. Cansiglio wood may be an example.

A few months ago I was able to understand the value of the musical strings of gut, and I could appreciate true Baroque music. Recently I learned the value of oars during the centuries of navigation before the grand sailing ships and coal-fired ‘steamers’.

The occasion was the presentation of the brand “Woods of Veneto” aimed to enhance the use of local species, from certified and controlled forests, in furniture made by the prestigious furniture makers of Veneto. At one point Giustino Mezzalira, of Veneto Agriculture, praising the work done by entrepreneurs who have returned to using local species, used some magic words to describe Cansiglio wood as: “the oars of the Battle of Lepanto.”

Like all families who have emigrated (even just a few hundred kilometres south), when we return to our lands of origin we perform fixed rituals, and one of these for me was the visit to see Cansiglio wood and the lakes of Misurina and Santa Croce in Veneto. The words of Giustino opened a window to a world that I had studied, and this brought me directly to the heart of Venice.

The history of the Republic of Venice is fascinating and hundreds of adverse circumstances have helped to create one of the most magical cities in the world. For centuries the naval power of Venice dominated the Eastern Mediterranean and all trade with Asia. But how could a small island city become the vital center of trade for so long?

One secret was definitely the industrial capacity of the Arsenale, the place where the boats were built, and the other in the intelligent cultivation of forests intelligent from which came the lumber to build these boats and all other urban uses (from the foundations of the houses to feeding the glass furnaces).

The cultivation of forests in the Triveneto area started before 1200. Regarding Cansiglio, since 1548 the Republic of Venice appointed a Forest Captain for its management, who monitored every essence of the forest. The height, the linearity and the absence of nodes of the great beech trees, growing on these porous karst soils, were optimal for the oars of the Venetian galleys (more than 10 meters long) and were one of the secrets of the power and speed of the ships of the Republic. Perhaps even one of the secrets of the victory over the Turks at Lepanto to control routes to the east.

The Forest Captain for Cansiglio wood had to write down the age of each tree and decide when it could be cut, with severe punishment for all offenders. The role of the forest was so important that, by law, the daughter of the Cansiglio forester, although not herself belonging to the nobility, could marry a member of the Venetian nobility.

The guild of “remeri”, those who turned the beech logs, the Cansiglio wood, into unsurpassed oars, was one of the most important of Venice. It was only dissolved by Napoleon, and even the descendants of those craftsmen make the gondolas and oars according now to ancient Venetian traditions.

The Venetian craftsmen who use Cansiglio wood tell stories of an original part of the history of Venice, even to those who pass on the canals to spend a romantic weekend, without wondering what could be an original miracle of the power of this enchanting city born on some island in the lagoon.