De notte ora ai teatri, ora al Redutto
Son quel che col feral serve de lume;
E pur che i paga mi so andar per tutto.
"El còdega", from "Le Arti che vanno per via nella Città di Venezia" by Gaetano Zompini (1753).
The còdega, as narrated by Zompini, was the servant of the square who illuminated the night street to the Venetian nobles, in exchange for a fee.
The term còdega actually takes on two meanings: one is related to the rind, or cotica, or the skin of the pig.
The other is what interests us, linked to the profession of personal night illuminator. Its etymology, or the origin of the name, is not certain and is said to originate from the Greek οδηγός (odigos), which means to drive / guide / driver. Another name by which it was called was feralante.
But let's go in order: starting from 1128, the Republic of Venice decides to implement a series of measures necessary to avoid dangers to the population during the night darkness, with the risk of tripping or being the victim of evildoers. The cesendeli are thus introduced: small candles and oil lamps hanging on the wall (which Giuseppe Boerio, in his Dictionary of the Venetian dialect, also refers to the way of naming insects commonly called fireflies in the Chioggia of the time). The lighting intervention is at the expense of the government while the maintenance of the candles is entrusted to the parish priests with the burden of placing particular aedicules or votive capitals above the illuminations, in order to discourage the bad guys.
Despite the presence of sacred images, the dim light of the candles is not however able to dissuade the criminals from carrying out condemnable acts: thus the murders, thefts and attacks continue. The Doge therefore increases the number of infantrymen in charge of control and legitimized to intervene in case of danger, unfortunately, without success: in 1397 an increase in the number of cesendeli was then decreed to ensure even more brightness.
From that moment another fifty years pass and the situation is not curbed. Indeed, there is even an increase in cases of violence by triggering, in 1450, the positioning of four large lamps under the porticoes of Rialto and the obligation to bring a light was introduced in the case of night walks, after 3 in the morning. If there is a moment when the Venetian night begins to become bright as we know it now, it is precisely this.
El còdega", from "Le Arti che vanno per via nella Città di Venezia" by Gaetano Zompini (1753)
This is where the profession of chaplain normally carried out by humble and poor people who - in order to accumulate some money - accompany the patricians around the city and illuminate their path with a lantern. The còdega will also act as a real companion, for example holding an umbrella during bad weather. It is not difficult to imagine that the chaplain happened to intercept and listen to gossip, intrigue and secrets from the noble and wealthy he accompanied (who knows how the concept of privacy was perceived at the time!).
The profession will continue to be useful for a considerable period of time, the physiological decline of which takes place with the introduction of the ferali, oil lamps protected by a glass bell: the precursors of modern lampposts. However, the role of the còdega does not end completely and evolves in the impizadór, that is, the person in charge of lighting the lamps.
Starting from 1720 the city was equipped with oil lighting lights, initially only in the Mercerie and then extended to the main streets. In the nineteenth century, during the Austrian domination, oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps. Electricity arrives in 1887, but only for private individuals. Electricity was also extended to public places in Venice only in 1927.
Fàr el còdega has also become a synonym of servìr da mocolo, in Italian holding the mòccolo (generally understood as a candle), often referred to as the third uncomfortable person or one who supports someone else in particular conditions.
Today, Codega is a surname and the name of an international award dedicated to excellence in the field of lightning design that takes place in the Riviera del Brenta, in Venice: Codega Prize / Codega Awards, in fact.