A steamer moored on a sea of grass: this seems at first sight the Giovanni Nicelli airport on the Lido of Venice, set in the northern tip, at the height of the church of San Nicolò.
Built in 1935 on a project by the engineer colonel Felice Santabarbara and the architect Mario Emmer, is a small masterpiece of rationalist architecture and counts two firsts: since it was founded it has never stopped working and in 2014 the BBC added it in third place in the list of the 10 most beautiful airports in the world, preceded only by that of Montevideo and Hong Kong.
THE FIRST FLIGHT
The link between the Lido and the air begins, in truth, long ago, for fun, thanks to a brilliant advertising stunt by the CIGA which, in order to attract its sophisticated clientele on 19 February 1911 he made a Farmann biplane fly over the Excelsior, driven by the car champion Umberto Cagno. The show is so successful that it is repeated a few days later on the skies of Venice: for the occasion, in a crowded Piazza San Marco, Cagno’s aerial evolutions are accompanied by the notes of the Royal March of Ordinance, played by the City Band .
THE AIRPORT IS BORN
The birth of the airport is instead linked to WWI, when the Fort of San Nicolò was used as an air base for the Nieuport fighter squadron, sent by France to defend Venice, in the aftermath of the bombing of the city by the Austro-Hungarian and German air forces.
At the end of the conflict, the history of Italian civil aviation begins in this eccentric airfield between the bastions of a sixteenth-century fort. From here on 18 August 1926 the first passenger flight took off, bound for Vienna. It bears the insignia of the Transadriatica, founded in Ancona at the end of 1925 by Renato Morandi, a young engineer with an obsession for airplanes.
Morandi’s is a pioneering enterprise, a mixture of brilliant intuitions and fortunate encounters that in the space of four years led him to develop a considerable number of routes, in Italy and in Europe, favored by the opening, in 1928, of the airport. Roman of Littorio. A race, that of Morandi, abruptly interrupted in October 1930. Following his sudden and untimely death, the Transadriatica was acquired by the state and transformed, in 1934, into the Ala Littoria, the first Italian flag carrier to become, after the Second World War, Alitalia, from whose ashes the ITA was just born.
Designed since 1929 at the instigation of Morandi, but realized only six years later by Umberto Klinger, director of the shrewd policy of mergers and concentrations that led to the birth of the Ala Littoria, Nicelli finally endowed the lagoon city with a modern and in step with the times. To furnish the hall, a series of paintings dedicated to aviation were commissioned to the futurist artist Tato; on the wall of the entrance a gigantic geographical map is frescoed showing all the routes of the company; the furnishings are designed by Emmer himself who, in line with the dictates of the time, takes care of every detail: from the balustrades to the fixtures; from the bar counter to the medallions depicting the five continents present in the room of the futuristic restaurant with a viewpoint open on the track.
AT THE IN-FLIGHT CINEMA EXHIBITION
Throughout the Thirties, and until the eve of the Second World War, it remains the second operational base of the Ala Littoria in terms of importance and amplitude of traffic, as well as the main technical maintenance center. It also soon became the privileged gateway for the numerous celebrities heading to the International Film Festival, one of the oldest and most prestigious in the world, launched for the first time in 1932 on the initiative of the then president of the Venice Biennale Count Giuseppe Volpi di Misurata, and became an annual event since 1935, the year in which the new terminal.
During the Second World War, thanks also to the acquisition of the overhaul of the Regia Aeronautica aircraft, the workshops of the Lido airport employ more than 1200 people, a considerable number for those times and which allows us to imagine how feverish it must have been. activities of the Venetian airport.
After Mussolini’s fall, the German occupation of the camp and the workshops follows, during which many equipment is confiscated or destroyed. The airport and its runway are also in danger of devastation saving himself in extremis thanks to the intervention of some employees who defuse the explosive charges arranged by the retreating Germans. Battered and impoverished, it was chosen by the British first and then by the Americans as a military communication center, to and from the lagoon city, remaining available to the allies until 1946.
With the economic boom and the evolution of airplanes, a slow decline began for Nicelli. In 1953 the companies moved first to the Treviso airport, then to the new Tessera airport dedicated to Marco Polo, inaugurated in 1961. In 1974, the Officine Aeronavali were also moved to the mainland and the airport, between ups and downs, for all decades afterwards it is kept active thanks to the local Aeroclub.
AND THE REBIRTH
At the beginning of the 2000s, thanks to a powerful restoration that lasted three years and ended in 2007, the airport was restored to its former glory. To make up for the lack of the original furnishings, which have been lost together with the works of Tato, a sober and linear furniture is chosen to maintain the 1930s imprint of the building; replicas of Tato’s paintings are made that today dominate the hall together with the route map; all the rooms on the ground floor and first floor are preserved in their original form, including the two terraces that stretch on both sides of the building and which give it that special transatlantic air. On its facade, facing the lagoon, today as 86 years ago, the swallows of the Ala Littoria stand out, symbol of Nicelli since 1935.
In 2016, a consortium entirely from Lido was awarded the management of the airport. Nicelli Srl entered into business at the beginning of 2019, chaired and managed by Maurizio Gigi Garbisa, has since started an important development project which aims to complement the normal flight activity with that of Meeting Hub for customers in possession of private jets., which here could be an appointment, organize meetings, breakfasts, meetings, without having to leave the airport, in complete safety and total privacy.
PRIVATE AVIATION HUB
Realized according to the intentions, including the cultural ones of promotion and dissemination of Italian aeronautical history, the project could make Nicelli both a cultural reference point for the Lido and Venice, and a center of gravity private aviation, especially business. In addition to all the airport services it is able to offer (here the info), has a private dock that allows docking in front of the airport, an excellent starting and arrival base for exploring Venice and the Lagoon, and valid connection for all the great Venetian hotels.
Today the airport is authorized for aircraft up to 5700 kg at take-off; the request for authorization from ENAC is underway to allow the landing of heavier aircraft, capable of carrying up to 12 passengers. In 2020, despite the pandemic, air traffic was more than 2,500 aircraft, including airplanes and helicopters, for a total of 5,000 take-offs and landingsi, a result that is far from negligible if we consider that the previous year was 6000.
AT LUNCH AT NICELLI
With the start of the new business the Fly restaurant was also inaugurated, housed in the same premises where the one opened in the Thirties was located, faithfully restored to its original state. Rightly considered one of the best on the Lido, not only does it have a spectacular location, complete with a terrace pleasantly overlooking the grassy runway, but it boasts a high level cuisine to enjoy which there are customers who arrive by plane from Piedmont, from the France or Switzerland.
President Mattarella also sat at one of his tables, surprised by one of the restaurant’s most frequent visitors.