Room at the Top

Altana, Wooden Terrace, Venice
If you look out over the sea of terracotta tiles, which make up the Venetian skyscape, you will see a number of wooden terraces perched on the tops of houses. They are known as altane and they were put to a variety of uses. An altana was a place to dry clothes, to take a breath of fresh air, or to enjoy a moment in the sun. 

In the past an altana was often used by the ladies of the house to help them bleach their hair. They would use a type of shampoo (the ingredients of which included urine) and sit out on the altana. The ladies wore broad-brimmed hats with no crowns and spread their tresses over the brim, which served to protect their skin from the strong Italian sun.

The altane remain as popular as ever, but their role in assisting Venetian women to lighten the colour of their hair has, perhaps, been usurped by the hairdresser.


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