Around Cannaregio

Dorsoduro Picture of the Week
San Marco
San Polo External Links
Castello Santa Croce
My favorites

Along with San Marco and Castello, the sestiere of Cannaregio is located to the north and east of the Grand Canal, which in the vernacular used to be called de citra ("near side" of the Grand Canal). Cradle of explorers and artists, Marco Polo, Wagner, Tintoretto and Titian found a home in Cannaregio. The name Cannaregio is derived from the reeds (canna) that used to grow on the shores of the canals. The reeds -long gone- were replaced by a rich and diverse cultural and commercial life that survives even today. The Strada Nova, a new street, that spans almost the whole length of the sestiere, connecting San Marco with the Ferrovia, is the heart of Cannaregio. Its soul, however, can be found in the back canals and hidden campi, the Jewish ghetto and the church of the Miracoli.

We begin our tour where we ended it at San Marco, on Ponte de l'Olio. In front of us and to our right is the only department store in Venice, Coin, which occupies several floors of a Gothic palazzo. This department store epitomizes the old Venetian mercantile spirit. Born in the Veneto at the beginning of the 20th century, Coin now has branches all over Italy. We take Salizada San Giovanni Grisostomo; to our left is an emblematic pasta shop, Pastificio Rizzo, Cannaregio 5778, where you can find not only an assortment of artisanal pastas with unique textures and flavors -for example the multicolored Arlecchino Pasta or the striped Rainbow Bowties that will take you back to Venice whenever you cook them at home- but also staples from faraway corners of the world, from Argentinian dulce de leche to American cranberry juice. We make a right turn on Calle de l'Ufizio de la Seda (Street of the Office of Silk), on the side of the church of San Giovanni Grisostomo, and soon turn right again on Calle del Cagnoletto. We turn left on Calle Morosini that leads to Corte Morosini. This beautiful courtyard with two uncovered staircases, a 14th-century wellhead and Gothic windows is one of the most enchanting corners of Venice.

Map of Venice

We retrace our steps to Calle de l'Ufizio de la Seda and go under the sotoportego to Corte 1º del Milion that leads to Corte 2º del Milion. These courts take their names from Marco Polo's Il Milione, an account of his travels to the Far East that he dictated while in prison. Marco Polo (1259-1323) was born and lived in the area now occupied by the two courts and the Teatro Malibran. Remains of very old Veneto-Byzantine architecture (11th and 12th centuries) are still visible in Corte 2º del Milion. The location of Marco Polo's house can be seen from the middle of Ponte Marco Polo, looking into the entrance of the theater.

Corte Seconda del Milion

 Corte Seconda del Milion

We make our way back to the church of San Giovanni Grisostomo. A beautiful Bellini, Saints Jerome, Christopher and Louis can be admired above one of the side altars. This is how Henry James describes the painting: "... one of the very few (Bellinis) in which there is no Virgin...a St. Jerome, in red dress, sitting aloft upon the rocks, with a landscape of extraordinary purity behind has a brilliant beauty, and the St. Jerome is a delightful old personage." The high altar boasts Sebastiano del Piombo's St. John Chrysostom and Six Saints. The three female saints to the left of San Giovanni Grisostomo are also described by James: "These ladies stand together on the left, holding in their hands little white caskets; two of them are in profile, but the foremost turns her face to the spectator. This face and figure are almost unique among the beautiful things of Venice, and they leave the susceptible observer with the impression of having made, or rather having missed, a strange, a dangerous, but most valuable, acquaintance." A magnificent marble altarpiece by Tullio Lombardo, The Coronation of the Virgin, graces another side altar. As we leave the church, we continue on the salizada in the opposite direction we came in. We cross the bridge over Rio de San Giovanni Grisostomo. In  the upper floor window by Ponte di San Giovanni Grisostomo, also called by the Venetians Ponte dei Giocattoli - Bridge of the Toys -  because of the toy store that until a few years ago used to be in that corner, there is a big Lego-style duck, the last remnant of the toy store.

    Rio de S. Giovanni Grisostomo (towards the Grand Canal)

  Rio de S. Giovanni Grisostomo (towards R. dei Miracoli)

Ponte dei Giocattoli
 Ponte dei Giocattoli

We cut across Campiello F. Corner and then Campiello Riccardo Selvatico and come to the picturesque Sotoportego Falier where we make a left turn.

By the Santi Apostoli bridge there is a shop, half on land and half on water, that was already there in the year 1500 as shown in Jacopo de' Barbari's masterful rendering of Venice. The church of Santi Apostoli is one of the churches founded by Saint Magnus in the 7th century, supposedly on the spot where he saw twelve cranes. It was reconstructed in 1549 and 1609. The belfry was built at the beginning of the 18th century by Andrea Tirali. One of its most remarkable artworks is the Madonna degli Alberetti, a marble sculpture showing Mary seated on the ground between two small trees adorned with birds, and holding Jesus who looks more like a toddler than a baby. The sculpture is attributed to Nicolò di Pietro Lamberti, also known as Nicolò Aretino (early 15th century).

Campo and church of Santi Apostoli

Campo Santi Apostoli from Sotoportego Falier
 Campo Santi Apostoli

We cut across Campo Santi Apostoli and take Salizada del Pistor. We turn right at the third intersection, Rio Terà dei Franceschi. On the left-hand side is Cinema Giorgione, the last operating movie theater in Venice. We turn left on Rio Terà Santi Apostoli on the side of the theater, and then right at the second intersection, Rio Terà Barba Frutariol. We cross Ponte Giustinian into Calle de la Madona and Campiello de la Madona. In this campiello, between the two windows of an upper floor, a plaque marks the house where the veduta painter Francesco Guardi lived and died.

At the other end of the campiello we take Calle Morandi that leads us to Calle Varisco, the narrowest street in Venice, spanning only 53 cm. If you walk by the intersection of Calle Varisco and Calle Bandi, in the early morning hours you would be delighted with the sweet smell of orange-blossom water coming from the ovens of a nearby bakery.

at Calle del Pestrin, off Varisco
Calle Varisco

From Calle Varisco we continue to Calle del Pestrin where a beautifully shaped wellhead sits under the protective shade of verdant vines or a more prosaic umbrella, depending on the season. A moving Pietà is carved on the corner pillar. As we cut across campiello Stella and then Campiello Widmann we may see canoce, a delectable Venetian crustacean, and other tempting sea creatures waiting on ice to become somebody's meal.

Wellhead on Calle del Pestrin
 Fresh canoce

We take Calle Widmann at the other end of the campiello to the fondamenta and sotoportego of the same name, where we make a left turn. The magnificent church of the Miracoli will soon be in view as we reach Ponte del Piovan at the end of the sotoportego. The church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli is one of the best kept secrets of Venice. Tucked away in this quiet corner of Cannaregio, this jewel-box of a church is a favorite with Venetian brides but is visited only by the determined tourist. It was built between 1481 and 1489 from a design by Pietro Lombardo, the same architect that designed the beautiful Ca' Dario on the Grand Canal. It is one of the few free-standing churches in Venice -another one being San Zulian in the sestiere di San Marco- and the only one completely clad in marble. Multicolored marbles from Carrara, Verona and the Eastern Mediterranean, probably leftovers from the Basilica di San Marco, were used in its construction. The interior of the church boasts an unusual elevated altar where the miraculous image of the Virgin and Child, to which the church is dedicated, is honored. A magnificent coffered ceiling and splendid carvings by Tullio Lombardo -Pietro's son- complete the picture. The church was recently painstakingly restored by the American committee Save Venice.

Sotoportego Widmann

 Church of the Miracoli from Fondamenta del Piovan
Campo Santa Maria Nova and Campiello dei Miracoli

Before or after visiting the church we must stop for a cup of coffee at Bar Ai Miracoli on Campo Santa Maria Nova. This is one of my favorite cafes in Venice. In summertime, sitting outside you will enjoy the company of the locals gathered under the protective shade of the trees. In wintertime, you can curl up in one of the cozy booths by the back windows with an unsurpassed view of the canal and the church. The owner is very friendly and although the atmosphere is always vibrant, you can stay there undisturbed for hours just reading or writing. A stroll around the campo will reveal an interesting collection of stores: a bookstore that also sells old prints, an antique store, a cafe, and some souvenir stores. Across from the canal, at the back of the church, is Campiello dei Miracoli. You may recognize it from the movie "Bread and Tulips," but don't look for the flower shop; it does not exist.

Santa Maria dei Miracoli
                          Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Church of the Miracoli

If you are lucky, you may visit the area when the children from the kindergarten next to the church are taken out by the nuns for a midmorning stroll around Venice, and you may wonder: how does it feel to grow up surrounded by so much beauty?

We take the side street, Calle Fianco la Chiesa and turn left at the end, Calle Castelli, as we reach the next canal, Rio de la Panada, Palazzo Soranzo-Van Axel will be to our left at the end of Fondamenta de le Erbe. The wooden door dates from the 15th century and is unique in Venice. It still has the original metal knocker, a dolphin, and intricate carvings. Many movies were shot with this palazzo as a backdrop, most recently Casanova.

Palazzo Soranzo-Van Axel
Portal detail

We walk to the other end of the fondamenta, to Ponte del Cristo where the Venice of our dreams gets easily confused with the real one in the ever-changing reflections of the canal.

We retrace our steps to the back of the church of the Miracoli and Campo Santa Maria Nova. We walk along the short stretch of the Fondamenta del Piovan and cross the bridge of the same name.  Soon on our right we will find an excellent restaurant, Osteria da Alberto, where we can have the best pasta and the freshest seafood.

View from Ponte del Piovan

We cross Rio and Ponte de la Panada and we will soon be in Calle Larga Giacinto Gallina. Giacinto Gallina was a Venetian playwright of the 19th century. No hens to be found here (Italian pun intended) but there are always cheerful birds singing all morning long from their cages perched on the upper-floor windowsills.

Rio, Ponte e Sotoportego de la Panada

We make a left turn at the first intersection, Calle de la Testa, and by number 6216, between the upper floor windows, will see a head
- testa - (just a face in my opinion) that indicates the place where one of the executioners of Venice lived in the 15th century.

We continue on the same direction and soon the street changes name to Calle del Squero. Almost at the end we find Calle Berlendis, a totally unremarkable place if it wasn't for the fact that here some scenes from the 2005 version of Casanova with Heath Ledger were shot.

Before we retrace our steps back to Campo Santa Maria Nova, we take a look at the beautiful view of the snow-capped Dolomites from the Fondamente Nove, just a few steps away.

Once we return to Campo Santa Maria Nova we cut across and exit it by Calle del Spezier. We will soon be in front of the church of San Canzian and the old pharmacy "Alle Due Colonne".

The church is dedicated to Santi Canziano, Canzio and Canzianilla (two brothers and a sister with seemingly unimaginative parents) who suffered martyrdom in Aquileia around the year 300. We go around the church to the other side of the campo and cross the bridge. To our right is Sotoportego del Tragheto. This sotoportego used to be a very busy spot as the old tragheto (one of the oldest in the city, probably in operation since the time of Doge Angelo Participazio in the 9th century) linked Venice with Murano and the north lagoon. Graffiti on the columns of the sotoportego speak of the big freeze of 1864 when it was possible to walk on the lagoon.

We take the street on the side of the sotoportego and soon we will be in Campiello de la Cason (cason is an old term for prison); we walk across the campiello to Calle del Manganer. This will take us behind the Campo and church of Santi Apostoli where the Strada Nova begins.

Campiello de la Cason

The Strada Nova was opened in the second half of the 19th century. No other street in Venice is wider, longer or with less character. Still, many things along the way are worth seeing. For example, the view of Ca' da Mosto, one of the oldest palaces on the Grand Canal dating from the 11th century, is unsurpassed from Ramo Dragan, off the Strada Nova, a few meters away from Campo Santi Apostoli. Alvise da Mosto, also known as Alvise Cadamosto, was a Venetian explorer, who at the service of the King of Portugal, Henry the Navigator, discovered the Cape Verde islands and explored the western coast of Africa. He was born in this house.

At the beginning of the Strada Nova and facing the campo is the only Lutheran church in Venice and one of the few (perhaps as few as fourteen) in Italy. The terracotta-colored building is the work of Andrea Tirali and dates from the 18th century. The building used to house the Scuola dell' Angelo Custode, which was suppressed by Napoleon. The wonderful Churches in Venice has an article dedicated to this building.

Shop on Strada Nova Ca' da Mosto (center) from Ramo Dragan

 Campo Santi Apostoli
Lutheran church at the beginning of Strada Nova

We continue on the Strada Nova and soon we reach Campo Santa Sofia. From this campo the view of the Pescaria (Fish Market in the Rialto district) and the Fabriche Nove is superb. In Campo Santa Sofia you can take the tragheto across the Grand Canal to the Rialto market. You can also visit Ca' Sagredo, now a luxury hotel. Ask permission at the front desk to visit the impressive staircase, a work of Andrea Tirali (1732) surrounded by frescoes by Pietro Longhi.

Church of Santa Sofia

Campo Santa Sofia

              The Pescaria from Campo Santa Sofia
                       Fabriche Nove from Campo Santa Sofia

 Ca' Sagredo

The Ca' d'Oro (House of Gold) is off Strada Nova just past Campo Santa Sofia. Now a museum, the house was built in the early 15th century and it once boasted a gilded façade. By the beginning of the 19th century it had fallen into complete disrepair. It underwent a careless restoration that almost destroyed it, but it was brought back to its previous glory, albeit without the glitter, by the intelligent restoration commissioned by Baron Giorgio Franchetti who donated it, along with his vast art collection, to the state in 1916. It is now, as it once was, one of the most beautiful buildings in Venice. It houses wonderful paintings by Carpaccio, Vivarini and Mantegna and sculptures by Tullio Lombardo and Bernini among many others. The best time to admire the façade of Ca' d'Oro is after a rain, when the polychrome marbles deepen their colors. In the words of Horatio Brown, "There are two moments particularly favourable for an artist to take his walks in Venice. One is after a rain shower, when the old intonaco upon the walls has every tone brought out, and is vivid with colour ranging from grey through pale sea-green to red -the old Venetian red with which so many houses used to be stained. The other choice moment for a walk is in the early morning before the business of the day has begun."

The view from the upper floor loggias is an another reason to visit Ca' d'Oro.

Just past Ponte Novo San Felice is the church of San Felice and Calle del Tragheto. At the end of this street, by the Grand Canal, engraved in a massive column belonging to Palazzo Contarini-Pisani is a bas relief of a rat, unusual homage to a most despised animal, especially in a city where so many died because of the plague carried by this rodent.

Church of San Felice

The oldest pharmacy in Venice is on the Strada Nova, Cannaregio 2233a, right across from the church of Santa Fosca. The old apothecary room decorated with majolica vases and beautifully carved walnut furniture can be admired from the room next door in the Farmacia Santa Fosca all'Ercole d'Oro.

View from the dock at the end of Calle del Tragheto 

Oldest pharmacy in Venice
Monument to the Rat

A couple of things are worth seeing in Campo Santa Fosca. One is the statue of Fra Paolo Sarpi (1552-1623), a scientist and theologist who is credited with discovering the dilation of the iris and making the first map of the moon. However, he is better remembered in Venice as a patriot who stood against Rome in defense of his city when Pope Paul V excommunicated everyone in Venice. His arguments were so well founded that the Pope finally conceded to Venice. An attempt to assassinate him took place soon after, but Fra Paolo miraculously survived and recovered. His comment on the wounds received was "I recognized the style of Rome," making double reference to the style of the Roman Church and the stiletto knife used in the attack. He lived for another eighteen years in his Servite cloister.  

The other point of interest in Campo Santa Fosca is the bridge behind the statue. It is called Ponte Santa Fosca, but it was once known as Bridge of the War, Ponte della Guerra, because of the fist fights staged on this bridge between rival groups.  Marble footprints inlaid on the paving of the bridge indicate the initial positions for these fights.

Campo de la Madalena

After crossing Ponte S. Antonio, to our left is Campo de la Madalena, a beautiful corner of the city with typical houses and charming old chimneys. The church, built originally in the 13th century and totally rebuilt in the 18th, displays masonic symbols over the portal. A little further up on Rio Terà de la Madalena (the continuation of the Strada Nova) is Calle Larga Vendramin where we make a left turn. At the end we find the back entrance to Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi where the Venice Casino operates (except for the summer months when it moves to the Lido). This is also the place where Richard Wagner lived and died in 1883.

              Gothic Portal, Palazzo Magno, C. de la Madalena
                      Back entrance to Palazzo Vendramin

We leave Campiello Vendramin by the exit that connects to Campiello Colombina; we continue onto Ramo and Fondamenta Colombina from where there is a nice view of Ponte Storto (Crooked Bridge) and the Rio and church of San Marcuola, a hybrid saint. In typical Venetian fashion, the name Marcuola doesn't refer to one saint, but rather two: Ermagora and Fortunato. How these two names evolved and fused to become Marcuola is anybody's guess, but there are other examples: The church of San Trovaso, in Dorsoduro, is dedicated to Saints Gervasio and Protasio, and the church of San Zanipolo, in Castello, to Saints Giovanni and Paolo.

Left: Behind the church of San Marcuola.

Campiello drio Ca' Memmo (next to S. Marcuola)
Church of San Marcuola

Grand Canal with Rio de S. Marcuola from Fontego dei Turchi

Palazzo Gritti-Dandolo and Ca' Memmo-Martinengo (behind)

Next to the church of San Marcuola is Ca' Memmo-Martinengo. Here is where Andrea Memmo, Procurator of Saint Mark, friend of Casanova, passionate lover of Giustiniana Wynne lived and died. His life and tumultuous affair with Giustiniana have been masterfully recounted by Andrea di Robilant in his moving book A Venetian Affair. Andrea Memmo is buried in the church of San Marcuola. We take Rio Terà del Cristo to the busy intersection with Rio Terà San Leonardo, Calle del Pistor and Rio Terà Farsetti and take the latter.

Intersection between Rio Terà San Leonardo, Calle del Pistor, Rio Terà Farsetti and Rio Terà del Cristo

We walk on Rio Terà Farsetti and at the first intersection to our left, we turn on Callesele. This street will take us to Calle Gheto Novissimo, one of the entrances to the Jewish Ghetto. The word ghetto derives from the Venetian word getar, meaning "to cast." The area was already known as the geto novo or geto at San Hieronimo (San Girolamo) because of the new foundries where primitive cannons were cast and their proximity to the church of San Girolamo. A Senate decree of 1516 created the first Jewish ghetto (gheto in modern Venetian), the Gheto Novo, forcing about seven hundred Jews already living in Venice to move to this location. It's worth mentioning that the original Venetian word geto evolved into gheto (or ghetto in Italian and many western languages), with a hard "g" sound, because of the way Ashkenazi Jews pronounced it.

The ghetto was entirely walled and closed at night; the Jews were allowed to move freely around the city only during the daytime. In 1541 the Gheto Vechio, separated from the Gheto Novo by a bridge, was created. So in typical Venetian fashion when it comes to names, the names contradict themselves: Gheto Novo is older than the Gheto Vechio. There are still five synagogues, called Scuole or Scole, in the ghetto; three in the Gheto Novo: German, Italian and Canton, and two in the Gheto Vechio: Spanish and Levantine. Some of them can be visited through the Museo Ebraico located on  Campo de Gheto Novo. The synagogues are nondescript on the outside but lavishly decorated on the inside. The German and the Italian can be recognized from the street because their façades display five identical windows, representing the five books of the Torah.

One may wonder why in an area equivalent to the size of two city blocks there are five temples, an unusually high concentration of religious places for any city. But this is Venice, and this is the ghetto, a place where Jews from the most diverse corners of world were welcomed but forced to live together in tight quarters. They all prayed to the same God but remained faithful to the rites and traditions of their old countries. They didn't eat the same food, they didn't wear the same dress, they didn't speak the same language, and they didn't pray together.

Despite their segregated condition, Jews were able to create an intense cultural life that transcended the walls of the ghetto and Venice itself. Literary salons, printing presses, centers of religious and philosophical studies flourished in the ghetto in the 16th and the 17th centuries.

Campo de Gheto Novo  
Tablet in Gheto Vechio, Cannaregio 1131
   Artisan's shop in the Gheto Vechio

Above: Scuola Levantina;
right: Scuola Grande Spagnola (Gheto Vechio) both attributed to Baldassare Longhena and his workshop

Above: Scuola Italiana (far left; notice the five windows) congregated Jews mainly from Rome; left: Scuola Canton used for the Franco-Ashkenazi rite (Gheto Novo)

As the population of the ghetto increased, so did the demand for housing, which resulted in the construction of taller and taller buildings, like the seven-story apartment house still standing today in the Gheto Novo. At the beginning of the 18th century the officers of the Republic posted a stone tablet in the middle of the Gheto Vechio warning Jews who had converted to Christianity not to enter the private houses of other Jews or suffer the consequences (whip, prison, galleys). The carving of the lion of Saint Mark on top of the tablet was chiseled off, presumably by the Jews, at the fall of the Republic in 1797. One of the few good things that Napoleon did for Venice was abolishing the ghetto.

A sad chapter in the history of the ghetto is the deportation of more than 200 Venetian Jews between 1943 and 1945. Almost all of them lost their lives in concentration camps. A memorial, a series of bronze panel by artist Arbit Blatas on the walls of the Campo de Gheto Novo, commemorates this dark moment.

No more than 200 Jews live in the ghetto today but the place still retains many of its old traditions; there are regular services at the synagogues, and bookstores, crafts stores, bakeries and kosher restaurants cater to the local and international Jewish community. One of my favorite stores is Shalom da Venezia that specializes in Jewish art, Cannaregio 1219.

Catholics vs. Jews, chess version

Fondamenta de Cannaregio near the ghetto

A Hanukkah menorah from Shalom Venezia

We exit the ghetto through the sotoportego at the end of Calle Gheto Vechio that leads to Fondamenta de Cannaregio. We turn left, cross the bridge with the four obelisks, Ponte de le Guglie, and continue straight ahead to Campo San Geremia.

The church of San Geremia and Santa Lucia will be on our left. Santa Lucia, virgin and martyr, was originally from Siracusa, Sicily. She is the patroness of gondoliers and eye doctors. Legend has it that she plucked her eyes out and presented them to her suitor who, in a fit of rage, had denounced her to the authorities for being a Christian after she refused his proposal so she could consecrate her life to God. Her feast day is December 13, the winter solstice in the old Julian Calendar. Since her name Lucia means "light", one may wonder whether it is a coincidence or not that her day fell on the shortest day of the year; a day that always brings the promise of the renewal of light. Dressed in red and wearing a mask, her body is on display inside a crystal casket in the church.

The feast of Santa Lucia is very dear to the Italians (and also to the Scandinavians) who celebrate it according to local traditions that vary from place to place. In North-Eastern Italy, Saint Lucy brings gifts to the well-behaved children and coal to those who misbehaved. The other saint to whom the church is consecrated, San Geremia, was never canonized by the Church. But he is not alone in Venice; neither were San Moisè and San Giobbe (Job) for that matter, being all biblical figures from the Old Testament. Certainly, that did not stop the Venetians from building them churches.

Across from the church, on the other side of Campo San Geremia, we take the narrow Calle del Vergola that will lead us to the hidden Parco Savorgnan. A small oasis in the middle of the city. You will not find many tourists here, but there are some beautiful and friendly cats.

Back on Campo San Geremia we take Rio Terà Lista di Spagna that leads us to the third bridge on the Grand Canal, Ponte dei Scalzi (scalzi meaning "barefoot") which takes its name from the nearby church, Santa Maria di Nazareth, commonly known as dei Scalzi church because of the barefoot Carmelite friars who founded it. It's one of the "newest" churches in Venice, if a 300 year-old building can be considered new. Its façade is in the Venetian Baroque style. The church was designed by Baldassare Longhena (the same architect who designed the Salute church), completed in 1689 and consecrated in 1705. It once housed a famous fresco by Giambattista Tiepolo, The Carrying of the Holy House of Mary to Loreto. The fresco was destroyed by an Austrian bomb during an air raid in 1915. Ludovico Manin, the last doge of Venice, is buried here. A few steps from the church is the Ferrovia or Stazione Santa Lucia. Here is where the old church of Santa Lucia once stood, until it was demolished to make room for the train station.

Ferrovia and Scalzi church


Location of the old church of Santa Lucia

If we continue on the fondamenta along the Grand Canal, we will see the fourth bridge, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, Ponte de la Costituzione. After some delay, it finally opened in 2008. It connects the Ferrovia area with Piazzale Roma and it feels right at home. Its sleek design elevates one of the ugliest districts of Venice (if Venice can have any ugly district) and brings the 21st century to this corner of the city.

Left: Statue of Santa Lucia by the train station.
Below: The pillars of the Calatrava bridge on the Cannaregio side, under construction in 2005.

Below: Details about the Calatrava bridge.

View from Calatrava bridge

We return to Ponte de le Guglie via Rio Terà Lista di Spagna where we can stop for a coffee and some awesome pastries at Pasticceria Dal Mas (Cannaregio 150a), one of the best pastry shops in Venice; my choice is usually a Pavana, a sweet roll with delicious candied fruit. We take the long and quiet Fondamenta Savorgnan, along the Canal de Cannaregio, that soon changes its name to Fondamenta San Giobbe. My favorite time to walk along this canal is on a sunny Sunday morning when the bells of the church of San Giobbe incessantly call the faithful to mass. We can see old matrons, arm in arm, slowly walking towards the church while commenting on the latest gossip.  A lonely lady, still half asleep, taking her dogs for an early morning walk; a young housewife hanging a wet tablecloth out of a second-story window - evidence, perhaps, of a Saturday evening spent in the company of friends and family; a crew of city workers trying to fix a broken pipe. This is Venice at its best.

Rio Terà Lista di Spagna

Fondamenta San Giobbe

At the end of the fondamenta is the Chiovere de San Giobbe, a former industrial district of Cannaregio that used to have a slaughterhouse, butchers, a mill and dyers. The word chiovere was used to describe the fields where fabrics were left to dry after dyeing. All that remains of that enterprise today is a few houses with a front garden, a rarity in Venice, and the colorful names of the streets: Calle del Scarlato, Calle del Verde, Calle dei Colori, Campiello de la Grana. At the end of the Canal de Cannaregio, there is an amazing view of the lagoon and the mountains.

View from Ponte dei Tre Archi

We cross the Canal de Cannaregio by Ponte dei Tre Archi (Bridge of the Three Arches), turn left on Fondamenta de Cannaregio and then right on the first sotoportego, Calle de le Cooperative. We turn right at the end and walk along the canal, Rio de Ca' Moro, to the tip of the island. On a clear winter day the view of the Dolomites is breathtaking. No many visitors realize how close to Venice the mountains are, and not many places in the city offer a better view of them. The benches along the fondamenta are an invitation to quiet contemplation. Bring a book and enjoy.

We cross the wooden Ponte Novo to Chiovere de San Girolamo; a relatively new housing development occupies most of the island. We walk on Fondamenta S. Girolamo along the canal and then cross Ponte San Girolamo and make a right turn on Fondamenta dei Ormesini. We will soon pass to our right Ponte de Gheto Novo; the next intersection is Calle de la Malvasia where we make a left turn. We soon reach Rio de la Sensa which we cross by Ponte de la Malvasia and continue straight ahead to Calle del Capitelo. This will lead us to Campo Sant' Alvise. The church of Sant' Alvise (Saint Louis, Bishop of Tolosa) will be to our right. The church has some interesting pictures that were once attributed to Carpaccio, until they were dated to a time when Carpaccio was only a boy, and that's why they are now sarcastically known as "Baby Carpaccios." Campo Sant' Alvise is lovely; it has benches that invite us to relax in one of the most remote and tranquil corners of Venice.

Ponte de Gheto Novo

On one side of the Campo Sant' Alvise is Fondamenta dei Riformati at the end of which is a psychiatric hospital Umberto 1º. From the Ponte de San Bonaventura, further down the fondamenta, there is a lovely view of Rio dei Riformati and the lagoon.

Campo and Ponte S. Alvise
Rio dei Riformati

Church of Sant' Alvise

Campo Sant' Alvise, detail

We retrace our steps to Rio de la Sensa and walk along the fondamenta to Campo dei Mori. This is an enchanted place. The statues of three Moors, plus their servant, seem to come alive from the walls of the buildings. According to legend, the three Moors are the Mastelli brothers (Rioba, Sandi and Afani) who came to Venice from Morea (Peloponnese) and owned a palazzo around the corner, on Rio de la Madonna de l'Orto, known as Palazzo Mastelli or del Cammello (of the Camel). The appellative Moors seems to refer to the fact that the brothers were from Morea, and not from North Africa as the term Moor usually indicates.  The statue with the iron nose is very popular in Venice and it's known as Sior Antonio Rioba.

A few steps away on Rio de la Sensa is the house of Tintoretto. Here the painter Jacopo Robusti, better known as Il Tintoretto, lived from 1574 until his death twenty years later. He is buried in his favorite church, Madonna de l'Orto, where many of his paintings can be admired. Among them the Last Judgment and the Presentation of the Virgin Mary at the Temple.

House of Tintoretto
Rio de la Sensa and Fondamenta dei Mori
in winter
House of Tintoretto

We walk along Calle dei Mori in the north direction and soon cross Ponte de la Madonna de l'Orto. The church of Madonna de l'Orto will be in front of us. This church is named after an ancient miraculous statue of the Madonna found in a nearby garden (orto). Its first patron was Saint Christopher (San Cristoforo) protector of gondoliers and wayfarers, a statue of which can still be seen on top of the main portal, probably a work of Bartolomeo Bon. Next to the church is the Scuola dei Mercanti. A beautiful image of the Madonna della Misericordia graces the portal.

Madonna de l'Orto, detail
Church of Madonna de l'Orto

Madonna de l'Orto from Fondamenta dei Mori

San Cristoforo

Madonna della Misericordia, Scuola dei Mercanti

Behind the church is Campiello Piave, a cozy corner of Venice with attractive apartment buildings surrounded by gardens. The view of the church's bell tower with its characteristic onion-shape top is excellent from here. A few steps away is the Madonna de l'Orto vaporetto stop and an incredible view of the lagoon and the islands of Murano and San Michele.

On the Fondamenta Madonna de l'Orto, in the direction of San Alvise, is the beautiful hotel Boscolo dei Doge housed in the old Palazzo Rizzo-Patarol. What makes this hotel different from any other in Venice is its amazing garden, one of the largest in the city. Ask permission at the front desk to visit it. In the 18th century, the Patarol family created a diverse botanical garden with hundred of exotic species. It decayed over the years but it has been restored almost to its former glory by the Boscolo family at the beginning of the 21st century. An ice-house or ice-grotto, built to keep fresh food during the summer months, can still be admired in the garden, along with a loggia that opens to the north lagoon, benches and statues.


From Fondamenta Madonna de l'Orto, not too far from the church, we can admire Palazzo Mastelli or del Cammello (because of a relief of a camel, carrying a huge load, on its façade). We go back to Rio de la Sensa by Campo dei Mori where there is a building with a water gate displaying some typical Venetian ironwork. The same intricate lace-like design, which is rather common in Venice I must add, can be admired in a metal ruler from the Peggy Guggenheim collection. Add one more item to your list of things to find as you walk around the city, and try to keep track of how many times and where you see this design. You'd be surprised.

Rio de la Madonna de l'Orto with Palazzo Mastelli
Detail of Palazzo Mastelli

Before we leave the area, we cross Ponte dei Mori and walk a few steps down Calle Larga. On the wall, by the number 2554, right across from a small tabernacle there is an inconspicuous and worn out tablet that reads "BESTEMMIE NON PIU E DATE GLORIA A DIO" (Curse no more and give glory to God) and one cannot help but wonder what possessed the installer of the tablet to put up such a commandment in this remote corner of Venice; a gang of unruly teenagers?

At the end of Calle Larga we make a left turn on Fondamenta de la Misericordia and walk along the canal. We are about to leave this part of Cannaregio where the canals are impossibly straight and the atmosphere quaint and unhurried, but before we do, we momentarily cross Rio de la Misericordia by Ponte de San Marziale and reach Campo San Marziale with the church of the same name that, most likely, would be closed. The view from the bridge, Ponte Zancani, on Rio del Trapolin is very picturesque in summer and winter. Ponte Zancani is named after an 18th-century greengrocer, Giovanni Zancan. My guess is that not many cities in the world have bridges named after greengrocers.

Rio del Trapolin
Rio del Trapolin

We return to Fondamenta de la Misericordia and walk south to the end. Before we reach it, Palazzo Lezze will be on our left. Its strange alchemical carvings on the façade are worth noticing.

Next to Palazzo Lezze is the Scuola Nuova della Misericordia, now an exhibition hall that can be visited during the Venice Biennale. Across the rio is the Scuola Vecchia della Misericordia, a Gothic building from the middle of the 15th century. Its façade once displayed a magnificent relief of the Madonna della Misericordia now in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The beautiful campo, Campo de l'Abazia, still shows the herring-bone brick paving that was once very common in Venice and is now almost extinct. The vera da pozzo is from the 14th century and it once stood in the grounds of the Scuola Nuova della Misericordia. It was then moved to the nearby Corte Nova and finally moved to Campo de l'Abazia at the beginning of the 20th century. It shows reliefs of kneeling friars holding the emblem of the scuola, SMV, with a crown on top. SMV stands for Santa Maria Valverde, another name for the Madonna della Misericordia that makes reference to the old name of the island where the scuola stands. Next to the scuola is the church of Santa Maria Valverde.

Scuola Nuova della Misericordia
Scuola Vecchia della Misericordia

We cross the stone bridge, Ponte de la Misericordia, next to the Scuola Nuova della Misericordia. We soon come across the romantic Ponte Chiodo, the only remaining bridge in Venice without a balustrade. We turn right on Fondamenta San Felice and we cross the next bridge, Ponte Racheta. Several scenes from the movie Summertime with Katharine Hepburn were filmed around these two bridges, Ponte Chiodo and Ponte Racheta. We walk under the sotoportego and we'll reach Calle de la Racheta where we turn left. Racheta makes reference to the very popular racquetball courts that, centuries ago, used to be in this area.

Ponte Racheta
Ponte Chiodo

We soon reach Ponte Molin that takes us across Rio de Santa Catarina into Fondamenta Santa Catarina where we turn right. The name soon changes to Fondamenta Zen because of the palace (in fact three palaces) built by the Zen family in the 16th century. The story of the Zen brothers, notorious 14th-century navigators, who reached the coasts of the New World before Columbus, is investigated and absorbingly told in Irresistible North by Andrea di Robilant, the author of A Venetian Affair mentioned earlier. At the end of the Fondamenta we reach Campo dei Gesuiti. To the left is the church of Santa Maria Assunta, better known as the church of the Gesuiti (Jesuits) and to the right is Ponte dei Gesuiti that we now cross.

Ponte Molin and Fondamenta Santa Catarina
Fondamenta Zen

Ponte dei Gesuiti

The street takes us to Fondamenta dei Sartori (sartori means tailors). At number 4338 there is a relief of the Madonna and Child, Saints Barbara and Homobonus (Sant' Omobon), the patron saint of tailors, holding big scissors. In his left hand he holds a sack of money that he would give to the poor. Homobonus (literally meaning "good man") was a prosperous garment maker who worked so he could help the poor. Lately, he has also become the patron saint of business people. The plaque, from 1511, reminds us of the location of a hospice for poor tailors.

Fondamenta dei Sartori
Fondamenta dei Sartori

The beautiful Ponte dei Sartori, originally made of stone, was rebuilt in iron in 1867. We do not cross the bridge, but rather retrace our steps by taking Salizada Seriman. Palazzo Seriman with a graceful Gothic arch from the 15th century is on our right.

Palazzo Seriman and the church of the Gesuiti beyond the bridge

We cross Ponte dei Gesuiti and head towards the church with its Baroque façade. In the interior there are works by Tintoretto, Titian and Palma il Giovane. Perhaps the most astounding feature of the church's interior is the baldacchino over the main altar, with twisted columns à la Saint Peter's in the Vatican, but on a more modest scale. Everywhere carved marble imitates damask drapery so well that you almost have to touch it to find out that it's not real fabric. You can read more about this church (and many others) in the wonderful blog Churches in Venice. As we exit the church, we turn right and walk towards the Fondamente Nove. The view of the north lagoon with the island of San Michele is breathtaking.

The Fondamente Nove were built in the second half of the 16th century. Ponte Donà, rebuilt in 1827, joins two sections of the fondamente. This part of Venice was renowned for the quality of the air. Many patrician families and prominent citizens had their residences in the area.

Here Ponte Donà is viewed from Ponte de l'Aquavita on Rio dei Gesuiti. Palazzo Donà dalle Rose, built by Doge Leonardo Donà  at the beginning of the 17th century, is to the right of the bridge. A very personal and seemingly biased account about being a tenant in this palazzo is told by Paula Weideger in her Venetian Dreaming. After we cross the bridge, we'll see in front of us Ponte de la Panada. We do not cross it, we instead turn right on Calle de le Tre Crose.

Ponti de la Panada and dei Mendicanti on Fondamente Nove

Due to the proximity to the cemetery on the island of San Michele, many marble dealers and carvers have their workshops in this area. At the end of the calle we make a left turn and we will soon be in front of Titian's house. Titian was a very successful painter in his lifetime and could afford a house in one of Venice's prime locations. When he moved into this house in 1531, before the construction of the Fondamente Nove, what is now the entrance would have been the back with an outstanding view of the lagoon and the islands of San Michele and San Cristoforo. The most illustrious individuals who visited or lived in Venice for the most part of the 16th century visited Titian's house, among them Sansovino, Aretino and King Henry III of France.

Titian's house
Feiffer marble workshop

A drawing from around 1583 by the Dutch artist Dirk Barendzs, depicts A Venetian Wedding in what could have been Titian's house with a sweeping view of the lagoon and the Dolomites, Titian's birthplace.

We now exit this area by the long and narrow Calle del Fumo. We soon reach Calle del Pestrin and Campiello Widmann, on which we have been before at the beginning of our tour. We take Calle Widmann to the end, Fondamenta Widmann, where we turn left. On our left we will see Rio Terà dei Biri o del Parsemolo (parsley). This filled-in canal gives name to the whole area between the back of the church of San Canzian and the Fondamente Nove, known as Biri or Birri. The name apparently derives from the word Bierum, used to describe a river that powered a gristmill.

Clear evidence that this is a filled-in canal is found in the walled-in low arch (incidentally, low arches indicative of a filled-in canal can also be seen in Rio Terà Gesuati by Campo Sant' Agnese in Dorsoduro.) We continue to Ponte and Fondamenta del Piovan.

Sotoportego and Fondamenta  Widmann
Fondamenta and Ponte del Piovan

A few steps away is Campo Santa Maria Nova, once again, and my favorite bar, Bar Ai Miracoli. It's time for a spritz!