Maybe this is your first day in Venice, so we are going to start our itinerary from Piazza San Marco, then we will visit Campo Santo Stefano, the Accademia Bridge, Campo Santa Margheriata, San Rocco and the Basilica dei Frari. To be sure to find all churches and bacari open, I recommend to do start the tour in the morning (at about 10/10.30 am).
Here you are in the most beautiful square in the world, Piazza San Marco, the beating heart of the city. The piazza was once called morso (bite) probably because its land was more resistant, and later it was called brolo (enclosed garden) because it was surrounded by trees. Now the square is much bigger than once. The current proportions are due to Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172-78). At that time the old square was extended and two small churches were demolished.
Now it has a trapezoid shape, is 175.7 meters long, 82 meters wide on the Basilica side and 57 meters wide on the shorter side. It is enclosed on three sides by buildings called Procuratie that were originally used by the procurators of San Marco, very important magistrates of the Republic. On the right side, with your back to the Basilica, there are the Procuratie Vecchie called Vecchie (old) because built earlier than the opposite, from 1517 under the supervision of Bartolomeo Bon. Begun in 1586 by the famous architect Vincenzo Scamozzi, the Procuratie Nuove (new) were completed around 1640 by Baldassarre Longhena, an other very important architect. Today the two sides of the Procuratie are occupied by bars and shops (very expensive, but beautiful bars and shops).
The 4th side of the piazza is occupied by the Basilica di San Marco, the most famous church of the city and one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture. After that St Mark’s body was stolen from Alessandria, Doge Giustiniano ordered the construction of the first St Mark’s church, in 828.This was probably a small cruciform building with a cupola built along the lines of churches in Constantinople set aside to hold the bodies of martyrs. The Second church was built to make way for the current and much great edifice; the product of Venice’s new trading wealth from its maritime empire. In 1063, under Doge Domenico Contarini, work began on the third church (the present one) that was finished in 1071 and consecrated in 1094 under Doge Vitale Falier. St Mark’s was the hub of civil and religious life. Here the Doge was consecrated and acclaimed. The doge’s funeral procession also stopped in the Basilica and here the ‘capitano da mar’ (admirals) and the ‘condottieri’ received the ensigns of their commands. The Basilica is open every day, Monday-Saturday from 9.45 am to 5 pm, Sunday from 2.00 pm to 4.00 pm (until 5.00 pm from Easter to November). Entrance in the Basilica is free, but the ticket to see the Pala d’Oro is 2€, for the Museum of San Marco is 5€ and for the Tesoro is 3€. You cannot enter the basilica with luggage (with a bag is ok, but not with backpack). Luggage must be deposited in Ateneo San Basso, near Piazzetta dei Leoncini, in front of the Gate of Flowers, North façade.
John Ruskin about St. Mark Cathedral
A multitude of pillars and white domes, clustered into a long low pyramid of coloured light; a treasure heap, it seems, partly of gold and partly of opal and mother of pearl, hollowed beneath into five great vaulted porches, ceiled with fair mosaic, and beset with sculpture of alabaster clear as amber and delicate as ivory…as if in ecstasy the crests of the arches break into a marble foam, and toss themselves far into the blue sky in flashes and wreaths of sculptured spray, as if the breakers on the Lido shore had been frost bound before they fell, and the sea nymphs had inlaid them with coral and amethyst.
Separate from the body of the church, the campanile was begun in 888 and rebuilt several times between the 12th and the 14th Century. From the top of the tower you get a wonderful view of the city, the roofs, chimneys, squares, streets and bridges below. Venetians used to go up to enjoy this spectacle as did their foreign guests. It is believed that Duke Frederick II of Austria went up all thirty-seven flights of stairs to the campanile on horseback. An other famous visitor to the belfry was Galileo Galilei. In 1609 from here he demonstrated the application of the telescope to the rulers of the Serenissima. The campanile survived for centuries until around 10 am on 4 July 1902, when it collapsed. There where no human victims and almost miraculously only small damage to the nearby Libreria Marciana and the corner of the Basilica. However, Sansovino’s Loggetta was completely destroyed. The Republic resolved that the campanile should be rebuilt ‘where it was and how it was’. The first stone was laid on 25 April 1903 and nine years later, on 25 April 1912, the new belfry was officially opened. The campanile has always had five bells, each with its own name: the Marangona used to sound when the workers began or ended working; it also sounded the first signal for Great Council meetings; it was followed by the sound of the Trottiera, so called because when it was rung the nobles had to hurry to reach the Palazzo Ducale, making their mounts ‘trot’. The third bell, the Nona, was rung at noon, while the Mezza Terza announced meetings of Senate. The last one, the Renghiera or Campana del Maleficio, the smallest one, indicated a capital punishment. The bell-ringer at St Mark’s was a very important job and in 1596 the Great Council established that the position must be held by a citizen of at least 25 years standing. Moreover, the bell-ringer could not delegate but had to carry out the job in first person, everyday.
At the base of the campanile there used to be low wooden sheds stands, which were rented out to bakers, shopkeepers, and wine merchants. It is believed that the Venetian word Ombra (shade) used to mean a glass of wine derives from the fact that people used to drink wine in the shade of the campanile.
On the side of the Piazzetta that is Palazzo Ducale. Probably founded in 814 by Angelo Partecipanzio, it was renovated in 977 and extended in 1173. In the following centuries the 12th Century Byzantine building was replaced by the wonderful construction (14th – 16th Century) we can see today. In 1483 a violent fire broke out in the side of the palace overlooking the canal, where the Doge’s apartments were, and an important reconstruction became necessary. Antonio Rizzo, the commissioned architect, introduced the new Renaissance language to the building’s architecture. An entire new structure was raised alongside the canal with the official rooms of the government decorated with works of Vittore Carpaccio, Giorgione, Alvise Vivarini and Giovanni Bellini.
Another big fire in 1547 destroyed some of the rooms on the second floor, and in 1577 a third fire destroyed the Scrutinio Room and the Great Council Chamber. In the subsequent rebuilding work it was decided to respect the original Gothic style. However, there are some classical features. For example, since the 16th Century, the palace has been linked to the prison by the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), that you can see by turning left at the corner between the Ducal Palace and the two columns.
Opposite to the Palazzo Ducale you can see the Libreria Sansoviniana, a beautiful classical building named after its architect, Jacopo Sansovino. The first sixteen arches, counting from the corner with the campanile, were constructed by Sansovino. Then, in 1570 Sansovino died, and in 1588, Vincenzo Scamozzi undertook the construction of the additional bays, still to Sansovino’s design, which brought the building down to the molo or embankment.
From the 17th arch on, the building was used for the Zecca, the workshop where coins were produced.
The Libreria has a beautiful portico with a loggia on the top and is surmounted by statues representing Greek gods. Now it houses the Biblioteca Marciana, one of the most important library in Italy. The great hall is decorated by frescoes by Paolo Veronese.
Sansovino also planned the highly decorated Loggetta, next to the Campanile, and various statues and reliefs for the Basilica of San Marco.He designed these building after the terrible events of Agnadello. After that period of humiliating wars and economic decline Venice was left exhausted, but quickly following the dissolution of the League of Cambrai, the Republic began to reassemble its holdings and economy. For this reason, in that moment Venice really need to exhibit its renewed power. Through his architecture and sculpture Sansovino contributed to the rebirth of the city operating as medium of propaganda too. The transformation occurred in the Zecca, the Libreria, and Loggetta transformed the entire square into a forum and theatre for Venetian pomp.
Near the Palazzo Ducale on the Molo side there are two Oriental granite columns arrived here from a Greek Island or from Egypt in the 12th Century. Originally there were three columns were but one fell into the water and it was never recovered. The two surviving columns were erected in 1170 by Nicolò Barattieri, who was also the architect of the first wooden Rialto bridge. In recognition for his work, the Republic allowed him to keep a gambling stand between the columns. Gambling was forbidden in Venice at that time, and the event explains the origin of the Venetian name for gamblers, Barattieri.
On the top of the first column you can see a bronze lion of St. Mark, and the second column is a statue of St. Theodore, the patron of Venice before St. Mark, holding a spear and with a crocodile to represent the dragon which he was said to have slain (this statues and is a copy, and the original is kept in the Doges Palace). At one time public executions took place between the columns and a platform for capital punishment was erected there. For this reason they were called ‘the columns of justice’ A way of saying often used by Venetians refers to this custom: ‘you’ll see what time it is’. This alludes to the fact that the last vision of the condemned was the clock tower, on the opposite side of the platform between the columns.
Unlike the other statues of St Mark that you can see all around the city, in this case the lion’s book containing the pray to St. Mark is closed. One boatman, when asked by a foreigner in the days of the Serenissima why the book was closed, gave the following explanation: ‘it is because when you come between these two columns there is no more need for reckoning’. He was alluding to the capital punishments.
On the 3rd side, opposite to the Basilica, on the upper floors, is located the Museo Correr, one of the 11 Venetian civic museums. The Correr Museum takes its name from Teodoro Correr (1750-1830), a passionate art collector who was a member of an old patrician family. As a passionate collector, Correr managed to put together an extraordinary amount of antiquities. Driven by passion, Teodoro made his collection available to scholars and then he donated the collection to the city with the condition that it would be organised as a museum open to the public. It was written “his home in San Jacopo dall’Orio at n. 1278, where the Museum is sited, should, from this point on, take the name Correr Collection; that it be open to the convenience of the public at least two days a week, from 9 in the morning to 3 in the afternoon, and that any scholar or art-lover may there see, transcribe and draw. What is more, three people are to be appointed, with adequate salaries, to the posts of curator, custodian and porter; and once the claims on the inheritance have been detracted, part of what is left shall be used to acquire objects to increase the museum collection. All property shall serve to run this public institution, which he places under the protection and tutelage of the City of Venice” (La Gazzetta di Venezia, 26th February 1830).
From the centre of the square, looking at the Basilica, on your left you can see the Lavena Caffè, an historical, beautiful Caffè opened in 1750, with excellent food and a great service, but of course very expensive.
Take the Sottoportego dei Dai, on the left of the Caffe and follow the main street. Now you are in Calle dei Fabbri (o Favri) that means blacksmith and so called because of various blacksmiths that once worked here. This calle leads to Ponte delle Pignatte, bridge of pots, named after a shop selling pots which was here until the end of 20th Century.
After the bridge, on your right hand side you can see a nice mask shop. There are different type of masks. The Servetta muta (meaning mute servant woman) is a small black or white oval mask with wide eyeholes and no lips or mouth worn by patrician women. So the women wearing this mask were unable to speak. The Columbina is an half-mask, only covering the area near the eyes, nose, and upper cheeks. Then there is the Medico della peste, (the plague doctor) with its long nose, one of the most bizarre and recognisable Venetian masks. Originally it was used as a method of preventing the spread of disease. The design originates from 17th Century French doctor who adopted the mask together with other sanitary precautions while treating plague victims. The long nose was filled with herbs, dried flowers, spices and other aromatic items to keep away bed smells which were thought to be the main cause of infection.
Follow calle dei Fabbri until you see Calle San Luca, on your left hand side. Now you are in Campo San Luca. This area (and the next one) is a little different from other areas of Venice because it was radically remodelled in the 19th Century. Before the reconstruction it was called Campo dei Zendai. The Zendai were a national dress worn by patrician women that consisted in a black silkcloth (the zendalo) with a belt around the head and a veil to hide o reveal the face. So here there were several shops of Zendai .
Follow Rio Terà San Patergan. Maybe you have seen that streets have different names. Fondamenta means street along canal which was the foundation of the nearby buildings. The most frequent is the calle, that means street that is longer than it is wide. Then there are the Rio Terà that means buried canal. In Venice there are many Rio Terrà because the natural archipelago was originally formed of 107 island, some of which were connected throw bridges but some canals had been filled to create new streets. The Salizada are the first wide paved streets. Previously people walked on the bare ground, then in 1264 streets began to be paved with bricks. Then there are the Ruga, from French rue, that are streets lined with houses or shops on both sides, named applied only to the earliest streets on this kind, then they were called just calle.
This is Campo Manin, completely rebuilt during the Austrian invasion at the end of the 18th Century. You can see that this campo is too much symmetrical to be Venetian. Before the reconstruction it was a very small square with a church and a campanile in the middle demolished by Napoleon and the plaque near the statue of Daniele Manin, a patrician patriot, marks the site of those buildings. The awful modern building closing the East side of the square was created under the Austrian administration at the beginning of the 19th Century and today houses a bank.
Now we deviate just one moment our way to see the beautiful Contarini dal Bovolo palace. Turn left into Calle della Vida before the bridge and then turn right into Calle Contarini dal Bovolo. This is the amazing spiral staircase designed at the end of the 15th Century (1490) by Giovanni Candi as one of the Venice homes of the Contarini family. Bovolo is the Venetian word for snail shell as it looks like a snail shell. On the top there is a belvedere (panoramic view point) capped with a cupola. Then the palace has five logge of different high, the last one, added in a second time, as the last part of the stair. It is an extraordinary example of Venetian architecture in transition: leaving the features of the Gothic, this palazzo is one of the first building with Renaissance features built in Venice. Palazzo dal Bovolo was chosen by Orson Welles as one of the main locations (Brabantio’s house) for his 1952 screen adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello.
Come back to Campo Manin and take the first bridge on your left called Ponte della Cortesia because until 1805 here there was a tavern named della Cortesia.Then we are in Calle della Mandola, a very famous one in Venice because it is full of shops. The name Mandola derives from the custom of selling acquavite (like brandy) with an almond inside (mandorla in Italian) in a tavern located here.
By taking Rio Terà de la Mandola (on your right) you can reach the Fortuny Museum. The palace, once owned by the Pesaro family, was transformed by Mariano Fortuny (the Spanish fashion designer and painter) into his own photography, stage-design, textile-design and painting atelier and now it is part of the Musei Civici Veneziani.
At the end of the calle there is Campo S. Angelo o Anzolo. You can see a part of the square is raised. They did it in the late 15th Century to collect rainwater. So you can see two wells (used to take the water collected) one of which (the one on the right coming from Calle della Mandola) is decorated with reliefs of the Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary alluding to the day of the annunciation, 25th of March, in the legend same day of the foundation of the city.
Maybe you’ve notice that in Venice there are lots of wells. Venice was surrounded by salt water but there was no drinking water, so wells were built to collect rainwater. The vera is the typical Venetian word that indicate the stone that covers the well itself. At the beginning to cover the wells were used recycled materials taken from the ruins of Altino, an historical Roman site in the Terraferma, and in fact the oldest wells have vere made with some portions of capitals and columns sections. Many of these vere show effigy of the family that has built the well. The largest one is located in campo San Polo and measures 320 cm in diameter. In the 19th Century the census counted about six thousand wells, but after the aqueduct construction in 1884, many wells were destroyed especially the brick ones. Today Venice has about 600 wells, none of which are in use.
From there you can see the leaning Campanile of Santo Stefano, a fine beautiful Renaissance construction. The campanile is regularly supervised, but engineers believe that there is no risk of collapsing and indeed it is like this since about 5 centuries.
By crossing Ponte dei Frati and then following Calle dei Frati you will reach Campo Santo Stefano. On your left, before entering in the campo you can see the Curch of Santo Stefano (opening: Mon-Sat 10.00-17.00, free enter to the church, 3€ to visit the Sacrestia). After the Frari and the Church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Santo Stefano is the third largest monastery church in Venice. Built by the Augustinian Hermits in the 13th Century, it was renovated two centuries later. The Sacristy contains a beautiful museum of works of art by some of the greatest names in Venice Renaissance art. Among those there are Tintoretto’s Last Supper, The Washing of the Feet and Christ in the Garden. The internal plant is tripartite with a tall nave and side aisles. The nave colonnade in Verona red marble is still the one of the 15th Century.
Maybe the principal feature of this church is the complex and amazing ship’s-keel roof. The ceiling is one of the few examples of original intact covering in Venice. The ceiling that you are looking to is exactly the same built in the 15th Century. Then down to the side walls is a series of baroque altars, added later, in the 17th Century.
Now enter in the Sacrestia. Ther is a fee of 3 € to pay or you can buy the Chorus pass (10€) that permit the entrance in several Venetian churches. The big painting on your left is Titoretto’s Last Supper (1580ca.). Maybe you know Leonado Da Vinci’s Last Supper. A comparison between Tintoretto’s Last Supper and Leonardo da Vinci’s treatment of the same subject provides a demonstration of how artistic styles evolved over the course of the Renaissance. Leonardo, that made his painting at the end of the 15th century, is classical. The characters radiate away from Christ in almost-mathematical symmetry. In the hands of Tintoretto, the same event becomes dramatic. Through his dramatic use of light, and his emphatic perspective effects, Tintoretto seems a baroque painter during Renaissance. The centre of the scene is occupied not by Christ or the apostles but by secondary characters, such as a dog and a mendicant. In this way he can involve the viewer in the scene and it was exactly what the Counter Reformation asked for. The oil painting on canvas, executed in his final years, was originally housed in the Chiesa di Santa Margherita and moved here after Napoleon’s invasion to protect it, because this place was more hidden. Tintoretto painted several paintings with the same subject, and now a day we have 10 Tintoretto’s Last Supper, the last one dated 1592 ca. is in San Giorgio Maggiore Island.
On the other side of the room you can see Tintoretto’s Orazione nell’Orto 1580 ca. (Agony in the Garden) that like the former painting was in the Chiesa di Santa Margherita and moved here after Napoleon’s invasion. According to all four Gospels, immediately after the Last Supper, Jesus took a walk to pray. Jesus was accompanied by the Apostles Peter, John and James. He said his prayer three times, checking on the three apostles between each prayer and finding them asleep. In that occasion he said the famous phrase “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. You can see how Tintoretto employed directional light to emphasize different moments of the story. He fly in the face of classical Renaissance rules, while the light in his paintings, rather than being delicate and harmonious, is powerful, his picture is very direct. Try to imagine a Catholic believer in front of a painting like this in the period of the Counter Reformation. The emotions expressed could arrive to him immediately. Even if he couldn’t understand all the details, the treatment of light make the painting very significant and this is exactly what the Counter Reformed Catholic Church was searching for.
Then you can see the Washing of the feet, when Jesus washes the feet of one of his followers as an example of how people should treat others, in the scripture just before the Last Supper. There are at least six known works by him on the subject. This passage permit a complex composition with many characters in a variety of poses, and the diversity attracted Tintoretto. This one is very different from his other painting of the same subject. It is darker (as lots of his lasts works) and less dispersive. This is the exact translation in painting of the Counter Reformation wishes. Sometimes Tintoretto went against those rules by adding very smart details, but in this case he simply did what his client was askeing for.
In the Sacrestia you can also admire a beautiful gallery of statues and marble bas-relieves.
Let’s go out of the church. Are you hungry? Coming out from the main entrance of Santo Stefano church, go right into calle delle Botteghe, and after few steps you can find Trattoria Da Fiore, a very nice bacaro (typical Venetian bar) and restaurant. You can just eat some cicchetti standing outside or have lunch in the back room (this place is usually very busy, so if you want to have lunch you will probably have to wait). Try their sarde in soar with polenta (the cicchetto is about 3 €) and (just in November/December or in spring) their deep fried moeche (about 5€ each). The moeca is a little soft shell crab, found in the markets and on restaurant menus only for a few weeks every spring and early fall, when the crabs are molting their shell.
Come back in Campo Santo Stefano. Here was where Venetian used to promenade on a listone, a public paved walkway across the grassy campo. So all the campo was made of grass with animals, market stalls, children playing and in the middle there was the paved street and noblewomen walking and chatting.
In the middle there is the statue of Niccolo Tommaseo, a linguist, literate, journalist and essayist born in 1804 that was very active in promoting Venice freedom during the Austrian domination.
Going towards the Accademia Bridge, on your right there is The Church of San Vidal. Originally founded in 11th Century, it was rebuilt several times, the last one at the end of 17th Century that gives it this neo-palladian, classic and clean façade designed by an architect named Tirali. Now the church is deconsecrated and used for concerts or exhibitions (enter and look, it’s free).
On the opposite side there is Palazzo Franchetti built in 1460 in Gothic fiorito style and extended in the middle 19th Century. It is owned by the istituto Veneto and used for exhibitions, conferences, events. From the bridge you will see the canal façade with its large watergate and thevery decorated windows of the two piani nobili.
Here we are at the Accademia Bridge, named after the Gallerie dell’Accademia that are just down of the stairs. It connects the sestiere or of San Marco with Dorsoduro. The six Sestieri (Venice districts) are Castello, the largest one, San Marco, Cannaregio that takes its name from cannarecium because the area was once covered by reeds (canne), San Polo named after the ancient church of San Paolo, Santa Croce also named after a church, and Dorsoduro that takes the name from osso duso, hard bones, because this land was higher and stronger like a bone.
The original Accademia Bridge was built in 1854, it was made of steel and designed by English architect Neville (who also designed the original Ponte dei Scalzi near Venice’s Santa Lucia Railway Station). It was replaced in 1932 and then in 1985, by a new wooden bridge, which was a replica of the 1932 design, built to make the structure safer.
From here you can see the Church of Santa Maria della Salute. In 1630 there was a terrible out-break of plague that caused more than 82.000 deaths in the Venice. So the Republic decided to start the construction of this beautiful church dedicated to the Madonna della Salute (salute means health) begging her to stop the plague. That truly happened and a year later the plague stopped. The works at the church and at the monastery continued until 1672 with the architect Baldassarre Longhena, a very famous one, because the Government wanted him to realize an amazing church to thank the Madonna della Salute and to avoid new plague out-breaking.
This church has an octagonal plan and has some esoteric features due to the use of this number. Based on the measurement in the Venetian foot (1 foot is about 35 cm), number 8 and number 11 (plus their multiples) recur continually. Number 8 is very common in Christian and Jewish symbology (in the Bible is the symbol of the new beginning -there are 7 days in a week and the eighth in the new beginning). Also number 11, two times number 1, has a symbolic meaning, particularly for the Jewish (Longhena, the architect, was Jewish) because Kaf that means 11, is also the middle of the Hebrew alphabet. So number 11 symbolizes the infinite: the 1st 1 that form the number is the beginning, 11,Kaf, is the middle and the 2nd 1 is both the end and the new beginning. .
An other interesting element is the presence of some little putti that seem to fly up out of the lagoon. During the plague many people went to live on boats because they hoped the purifying properties of the water would protect them from the disease. So the angels rising up from the sea symbolize salvation by water. The Festa del Redentore, a very important one in Venice, celebrated the 3rd Sunday of July, commemorates the end of the plague by building every year, still now, a long temporary bridge from the Zattere to de Giudecca island, where a dedicated church was built. That bridge symbolizes the return of the people from their boats to the city.
After the Salute church there is Punta della Dogana, now an important contemporary museum, but once it was Venice customs office, where every bots entering and going out from Venice had to pass. Than the Canal Grande ends and the open lagoon starts.
After the bridge there is Campo della Carità and the big building you see there host the Gallerie dell’Accademia. The building hosted the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità and the Church of la Carità, closed at the beginning of the 19th Century (the Napoleonic administration closed many institutions in Venice including some churches, convents and Scuole Grandi). Now the two constructions are unified together to house the museum.
The Scuole Grandi of Venice were voluntary, lay congregations, and their members came from all orders of society (the word scuola was not used with the current meaning of school but following the Greek etymology - σχολεῖον (scholeion) that means ‘free time’). Unlike the rigidly aristocratic Great Council, which only admitted a restricted number of patrician families, membership in the Scuole Grandi was open to all citizens, and did not permit nobles to gain director roles. Their activities included the organization of processions, sponsoring festivities, distribution of money, food and clothing to poor people, provision of dowries to daughters, supervision of hospitals, they often protect relics, and also commissioned famous works of art. There were six Scuole Grandi in Venice and several Scuole Minori (about 400).
The museum were first opened to the public on 10 August 1817 and now hosts a beautiful and reach collection of Venetian painting (for example works by Titian, Giorgione, Bellini, Carpaccio, Tintoretto, Veronese, Tiepolo and many others). Entrance: 10€ -Money very well spent-
Take Rio Terà della Carità, the calle that follow the West side of the museum and after few steps turn right into Calle Larga Nani. Now you are on the Fondamenta Nani. Immediately at the end of the Calle Larga, on the left there is a very good bacaro, the Bottegon (you can notice it because of all the people crowding the Fondamenta in front of it). I really recommend you stop here, have an ombra (glass of wine) or a spriz (I prefer the one with Campari) and some of their cheap and so tasty cicchetti.
On the other side of the canal, there is the church San Trovaso, a 9th century building renovated at the end of the 15th century.
After the church, you can see the outside of the Squero di San Trovaso. It is a gondola workshop, opened in the 17th Century and still active. Once there were several Gondola workshop in Venice but nowadays just few survive. The design of the gondola is asymmetrical so the left side is larger the right one and in this way the gondoliere can ride the gondola by rowing just on one side.
The strange shape on the front of the gondola represents the six sestieri of Venice and the island of the Giudecca, oriented on the other side. The bigger structure on the top represent the Doge’s hat and the arch between the Doge’s hat and the first sestiere represents Rialto bridge. Until 17th century there were very coloured Gondolas but the Republic decided to stop this custom in order to limit exaggerate ostentation. Until the beginning of the 20th Century gondolas could be covered by a Felze (like a cap to protect passengers from rain), but now are totally open. Some say that the reason was to let the tourist look outside easily but other believe the the Governmet forbidden the Felze because in these covered areas to many indecent act took place.
As we are really close, before going to campo Santa Margherita, I’d like to show you the Zattere, so follow the street right to the end of the Fondamenta. Now you are on the Zattere dei Gesuiti that runs along the Canale della Giudecca. This is the South part of the Venice so is very sunny and used to promenade, jogging, relax in summer. From here you can see the Giudecca Island with the Church of the Redentore, designed by Palladio, built to commemorate the end of the plague. From the Zattere to the church every year during the Festa del Redentore is built the temporary bridge to symbolize the return of the people from their boats to the city. The name Giudecca derives from Jewish because the first Getto was built here.
Now come back to the Fondamneta Nani, go beyond the Squero and the bacaro until you reach the Ponte delle Meraveglie (bridge of marvels, the 2nd bridge on your left) so called because, according to the legend, it was miraculously build by unknown hands in just one night. More probably the Meraveglia family had a palazzo near the bridge but the legend is more suggestive.
The bridge bring us to calle della Toletta named after the plank (toletta) placed over the canal to cross it before the construction of the bridge,
Now we have to continue along this street. You can see that this calle is very rich in shops, bars and very frequented as we are going to Campo Santa Margherita, a university location, and the social heart of Venice.
After Ponte Leonardo and the Sottoportego, you can see Campo San Barnaba. The church was founded in the 9th Century but demolished and rebuilt several times, and then completely renovated in the 18th Century. The church appears in numerous films including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where it served as the exterior to the library. In this campo you can find the gelateria Grom. Have an ice-cream here, they are delicious.
Follow the fondamenta on the left along the canal. Here there is a suggestive boat selling fruit and vegetables where you can buy a fresh snack.
The first bridge you see is Ponte dei Pugni. At the four corners there are footprints because on this bridge, from September to Christmas fighting was allowed to solve questions and problems. The participants had to stand on the corner before the fighting begun and, as the bridge had no sides, who lost fell down into the water. Fighting was forbidden in 1705 when an encounter turned into a very violent fighting with knives and stones and just the priest of the church of San Barnaba could divided them coming out with a big crucifix.
Follow the street after the bridge to reach Campo Santa Margherita, named after the deconsecrated church of Santa Margherita founded in 837, closed in 1810 because of the Napoleonic reforms and then used as cigarette factory, store of marbles, a cinema and now assigned to conference, exhibitions and events. The campanile is half destroyed and only the lower section survives. It was cut off in 1808 as it was unsafe and nowadays we can see only the lower half. The little building in the centre of the campo was the Scuola dei Varoteri, that means leather workers, built in 1725. On it there is marble plaque reporting the minimum sizes of fishes that fish seller were allowed to sell. Sardon means sardine, branzino is bass, dentice is red sanpper, bisato is eel, ostrega is oyster and peoccio means mussel.
Follow the calle that goes along the West side of the church and cross the bridge. Here we are in Campo San Pantalon. Pantaloni was a nickname used by other Italians for Venetians, but we don’t know an historical reason for it. Some say that the term derives from Pianta Leoni (to plant lions) because Venetian used to plant lions (the stand of St. Mark) on the territories they conquer. Pantaleon is also a Venetian typical mask representing an old, wise but credulous and simple merchant. In any case the nickname was used as an insult and still today, sometimes is used in the way of saying ‘Pantaleon will pay for it’ referring to something too expensive and useless.
The church is very ancient and has an uncompleted façade. We don’t know when it was founded, but we know that it was rebuilt in the 9th Century by the Giordani family. The interior is simple, has a vaulted ceiling, and three side chapels. On the ceiling there is an amazing, big painting (not a fresco but oil on canvas) by Gian Antonio Fiumani (end of 17th Century) representing the Martirio di San Pantalon.
Enter in Calle San Pantalon. On the left corner at the end of the calle there is a very good bakery called Tonolo, you can stop here and have a caffee and a pastry (if you are here in the Carnival period try their frittelle, so yummy!). At the end of Calle San Pantalon, turn left and then turn right into the first calle called Calle della Scuola. Cross the bridge and follow the calle on the right.
Here we are in Campo San Rocco. St. Roch, whose relics rest on the main altar of the church, was a patron saint of the city and every year, on his feast day (16 August), the Doge made a pilgrimage to the church. The church of San Rocco was built between 1489 and 1508 by Bartolomeo Bon the Younger, but was substantially altered in 1725 by Scalfarotto.
On the other side there is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, founded in the 15th Century as a confraternity to assist the citizens in time of plague and secular associations of charity. In the Scuola there are many works of Tintoretto. All the works in the building are by him, or his assistants, including his son Domenico. They were executed between 1564 and 1587. Works in the ground are in homage to the Virgin Mary, and concentrate on episodes from her life. In the upper rooms, works on the ceiling are from the Old Testament, and on the walls from the New Testament.
Until 1910, the Church had been connected to the Scuola by a wall, which enclosed the space of campo San Rocco, now demolished to allow the passage from and to the railway station and the bus station.
The church is small (free entrance), but really rich in works of art, statues and decoration. For example above the portal you can see a beautiful 18th Century organ. In the centre stands a 17th Century processional crucifix. On the main altar stands the urn which conserves the body of the saints. The most beautiful paintings in my opinion are those of Tintoretto. Tintoretto’s painting in the church are huge because of their public location. In that contest, Tintoretto clients ask him for painting expressing immediate impact, feelings easy to communicate and sometimes with propaganda intentions against the Protestant Reformation.
The works of Tintoretto in the church represent episode of St. Rock’s life. According to the Legenda Aurea, St Roch came to Italy during an epidemic of plague and here he was very diligent in tending the sick in the public hospitals and is said to have cured many sick by prayer, the sign of the cross and the touch of his hand. On his return to Montpellier (his original town) he was arrested as a spy (by orders of his own uncle) and thrown into prison where he languished five years and died on 16 August 1327, without revealing his name to avoid glory.
Starting from the right side wall you can see Christ curing the sick. The crowded place and the low ceiling make the painting very oppressive to express the heaviness of the disease. In the centre there is Jesus Christ restoring an almost dead man supported by a young woman. On the other side an other man seems just get up. He is the paralytic just restored by Jesus.
In the presbytery you can see St. Roch in the hospital. Here Tintoretto give us an extraordinary sample case of disease. Decaying bodies with bandages, lotions, suffering everywhere, and a symbolic use of light. Brightness means life, darkness means death. The characters achieve new life through their faith and the miraculous intercession of St. Roch, so you can notice that those who are looking to him are brighter.
On the other side there is Saint Roch in prison visited by an angel that illuminate the dirty and sad cell creating a contrast between the joy of eternal salvation and the misery of temporal life. This picture is with the propaganda needs of the Counter Reformation because it seems to tell us that, as St. Roch could escape from the prison just by death, there is no escape from this life without the help of God.
Over this canvas there is Saint Roch curing sick animals.
Now go out of the church, cross Campo San Rocco e follow salizada San Rocco until Campo dei Frari. This is the astonishing Basilica dei Frari, dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Ticket 3€ or you can buy the Chorus pass.
The imposing edifice is built of brick, in Italian Gothic style. The construction begun in 1250, but the building was not completed until 1338 and it has been a Francescan church and convents until Napoleon’s invasion that turned the convent into a parish church, renamed Basilica in the early 20th Century. Part of it became and still is the State Archives. The campanile, the second tallest in the city after that of San Marco, meads 80 meters.
The Basilica is a Latin cross with a nave and two aisles separated by twelve huge round pillars representing the twelve apostles. On the ceiling there are tie-beams because of the brick vaulting – a very risky choice of material in a so humid city.
Dominating the centre of the church is the dark wood of the monumental monks’ choir (a rare survival in Venice) separated from the nave by a marble screen designed by Pietro Lombardo. The choir stalls present fine inlay work by Marco Cozzi, depicting views of an ‘ideal city’ as was seen Venice at that time.
In the nave are shown some overpowering tombs, like the one of Doge Giovanni Pesaro (dead in 1659), designed by Longhena, with four huge moors curved under the weight of allegorical figures symbolizing Religion, Virtue (on the left), Harmony, Justice (on the right). The moors under these allegories allude to the victory of Christianity (whose value are said to be virtue, harmony and justice), against the unbeliever and the bronze skeleton refers to the deterioration of the body in contrast with the eternity of the spirit. The two putti on the top hold a banner with the Pesaro emblem and a crown. The Pesaro family had his own chapel in this church and Giovanni, the only one of the Pesaro family to be elected doge, decided for an impressive, monumental tomb in the family church.
The pyramidal tomb of the sculpture Antonio Canova (dead in 1822), next to Doge Pesaro’s tomb, is a far calmer thing, in white marble, the favourite material of the sculptor, and with neoclassical features. His heart is preserved in a hardly visible porphyry urn behind the left open door, although the rest of him is buried in Possagno, his original city near Verona, but a finger said to be in the Gallerie dell’Accademia.
On the other side is the tomb of Titian. He died in August 1576 of a fever or just because he was very old (some say by plague, but I don’t agree). He wasn’t buried here but tomb was anyway erected here to celebrate his memory and in some way to respect his last will (even in late) as Titian realized the Pietà (now at the Gallerie dell’Accademia) for the Franciscan of the church because he wanted to be buried here. The tomb was realized by two pupils of Antonio Canova, Luigi and Piero Zandomeneghi between 1838 and 1852. In the middle there is the statue of Titian with a crown of laurel and next to him the allegorical figures of Universal Nature, Wisdom, Painting, Sculpture, Graphic and Architecture. On the top the widget lion of Venice and behind Titian a bas-relief of his Assumption of the Virgin Mary.
Following the nave in the direction of the main altar, on your left you can see Titian’s Pesaro altarpiece (1519-1526). The Virgin wears a beautiful red robe covered with a blue garment and a white mantle, under which Christ Child appears. The Virgin looks down to the figures on the left side of the canvas, while Christ looks to the right side. They appear inside a monumental architecture. We see the bottom part of two enormous columns (symbolizing solidity, strength and power of Christianity), which form part of a portico with classical structure only partially visible to the right. Since the church of the Frari is operated by the Franciscan order, Titian placed the order’s patron, St. Francis of Assisi, in a prominent spot in the painting next to Christ. St. Francis is identifiable not only by the brown dress which is typically worn by Franciscans, but also by his bold head and the presence of the stigmata on his hands. Below St. Francis, several members of the Pesaro family kneel in adoration. It is not unusual for Italian painters of this period to include members of the family that commissioned the work, and in this case just male members appear given that just men could take part in the government of the city, so just men were important, and just them had to be shown. On the left side of the Virgin and Child we see a prominent figure dressed in a blue robe, with a marvellous yellow garment draped over him. He is St. Peter, who is recognizable because of the key which is attached to his ankle that symbolize the Key of the Church as he is considered to be the first bishop and Pope by the Roman Catholic Church. The group on the left of Peter includes Jacopo Pesaro, a military leader who defeated the Turkish in a battle during those years, and a man wearing a turban who symbolize the Turks. The message here is that Pesaro family is bringing the Turks to the Catholic Church (symbolized by St. Peter) and to Christ.
Now cross the monk’s choir until the main altar with Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin (1516-1518). This is one of Venice most important painting and indeed is beautiful. My grandparents married here just in front of this monumental Virgin, what a wedding!
The Assumption of Mary depicted in the painting is celebrated every year on August, 15th and is a dogma of the Catholic church. It commemorates the rising of Mary to heaven before the decay of her body. It is a sign of her passing into eternal life and thus, it is a holy day of obligation. This picture shows different events in three levels. In the lowest level are the apostles. In the centre the Virgin Mary, in a red robe and blue mantle, raising to the heavens with the help of a group of putti on a cloud. Above there is God, who watches over the Earth. Next to him and angel flies with a crown for Mary. Each apostle reacts differently to the vision. One covers his eyes. One kneels in prayer. The figure closest to us turns his back and reaches up, as if he wants to embrace the Virgin before she disappears. All of them look upward at the rising figure of the Virgin, surrounded by a golden light. She forms the apex of a triangle that is visually supported by the apostle with his back to us and arm extended, and his opposite number is the one covering his eyes. Like Mary, they wear a red rope and in this way you can see the triangle.
Go right to the Sacristy. Here there’s a beautiful Giovanni Bellini altarpiece, the Virgin and Child with Saints (also known as the Frari Madonna). Giovanni Bellini was the youngest brother of Gentile Bellini, son of Jacopo Bellini (two very important artist) and brother in low of Mantegna.
Gentile was born in c.1429 and has been rather overshadowed by his brother Giovanni, however in his lifetime he was famous as one of the best painters in Venice. He was also the official portrait artist for the Doges of Venice. His brother Giovanni always lived and worked in the closest fraternal relation with his brother. Sadly many of Giovanni’s great public works are now lost. Luckily the religious class of his work, including altarpieces and many Madonnas, have been preserved.
This Sacristy was the Pesaro family chapel when Pietro Pesaro’s sons commissioned Bellini to paint the altarpiece in honour of their mother, Francescina Tron. The triptych consist in a large sections portraying the Madonna and Child Enthroned (in the centre), Saints Nicholas and Peter (on the left) and Saints Mark and Benedict (on the right). It is signed and dated on the central panel. Dated 1488, today it still stands on the original altar. Why this saints? This was the Chapel of the Pesaro family, a very important and powerful family in Venice and Nicholas, Peter and Benedict have the same name of three of the male member of the family. San Mark is the protector of Venice. Here we are in a Franciscan church so Benedict hold his bible open to show some words of the dogma of the Immaculate conception, a very important one for this congregation.
Go out of the church, cross Ponte dei Frari, just in front of the main entrance, turn left, cross Ponte San Stin and enter in Campo San Stin. Here there were the little church of Santo Stefano, called Stefanino to distinguish it from the bigger one near the Accademia bridge and then abbreviated in Stin. Now it is demolished. The house of the campo belonged to the Scuola of San Rocco and the rent from these buildings provided the dowry for two poor girls every year. Dowry was extremely important because the social classes were very close and the only way to raise the social condition was through marriage so a big dowry could lead to a good marriage and improve the condition of the whole family.
Take the 2nd calle on the right called Calle della Vida and follow it until the Sottoportego and Ponte S. Agostino. Go over the little Campiello Sant’Agostinio and reach Campo S. Agostin. The former Church, founded in the 10th Century, was closed and demolished in the 19th Century and now the site is occupied by houses beginning at n. 2304.
Here there is Calle de Ca’ Tiepolo, site of the house of the Tiepolo family, demolished in 1310 after the plot. Here the column of infamy was raised and then destroyed by the parish of San Simeon Grando. Now there is this plaque (at the corner between the Campo and Calle della Chiesa, n. 2304/B) marking the site of the column.
Who was Bajamonte Tiepolo? You Know, sometimes, also in Venice, someone was unhappy. Bajamonte Tiepolo was a Venetian noble, great-grandson of Doge Jacopo Tiepolo. Unhappy with the policies of the reigning Doge, Pietro Gradenigo, Tiepolo and other members of patrician families, organized a conspiracy, put into effect on 15 June 1310 to overthrow the Doge and the Great Council. Their plot failed due to bad planning, insufficient popular support and also stormy weather. The rebels were stopped near Piazza San Marco by the forces faithful to Doge and defeated. According to a popular but historically confirmed tale, Tiepolo himself abandoned the fight when his right-hand man was killed by a stone thrown down from a window by an old woman named Lucia Rossi. Tiepolo was sentenced to exile, condemned to damnatio memoriae and his house demolished, as well as the houses belonging to the other members of the conspiracy . After Tiepolo’s house was demolished, a column of infamy was erected in Sant’Agostin bearing these words: “This land belonged to Bajamonte and now for his iniquitous betrayal, this has been placed to frighten others, and to show these words to everyone forever.”
Even from exile, Bajamonte Tiepolo sent a friend to destroy the column. The man succeeded in breaking it into three pieces but he was captured, deprived of a hand and blinded. Now in its place there is stone plaque that read: “Location of column of Bajamonte Tiepolo 1310″. The column now lies in the stores of the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia. For the Republic the worst punishment was to corrupt the memory of someone. So they punished Bajamonte’s betrayal through connecting his memory to his dishonour by building a column, visible to everyone and eternal warning to do not commit the same error.
Ok, I think that for today it is enough. I don’t now what is your plan now, but if you have to go on the other side of the Canal Grande, I advice you to take the gondola ferry from San Tomà to Campo Sant’Angelo. The gondola ferry is a real gondola (but a very simple one, without decoration) that for 2€ takes you on the other side of the Canal Grande.
So, come back to Campo dei Frari and follow the street (on your left there there is an other Grom gelateria, try pistachio, so yummy), turn left into Calle Larga, then left and again right into Ramo dei Calegheri to reach Campo San Tomà. Take the calle in front of you called Calle del Traghetto and follow it until the end where you will see the gondla ferry stop. It runs all the day until 7pm. Maybe you will have to wait few minutes that it comes back. It takes you at Sant’Angelo stop. Then follow the calle and you will reach campo Santo Stefano. From there..have a good time in Venice, I hope you enjoyed my tour!