Around Castello

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If Venice is shaped like a fish then Castello is its tail. But Castello's similarities with a fish end there. Rather than being the rear appendage of the city, at the peak of La Serenissima's power Castello was her heart and soul. The Castellani, as the inhabitants of this part of Venice are called, were the force behind the impressive machinery of the Venetian Arsenal. Centuries before Henry Ford, the assembly line was already in use at the Venetian Arsenal where, to the astonishment of kings and princes, a galley could be built from start to finish in less than a day. Today the Arsenal is an empty shell, but Castello's ties to the water continue unbroken. Castello offers the first glimpse of Venice to all those who approach her from the sea. Despite being the largest sestiere in Venice, Castello is the only one not touched by the Grand Canal; the closest it comes to it is from Rio del Fontego dei Tedeschi by Ponte de l'Olio (near the Rialto Bridge). But what Castello lacks in splendor it makes up in character. Some of the most beautiful Carpaccios and Bellinis have their permanent residence in Castello. Vivaldi called Castello home.

Because of its size, I've divided Castello into six smaller sections, each one encompassing several attractive areas. San Zaccaria is the section closest to Piazza San Marco. The church of San Zaccaria houses what I consider the most beautiful painting by Giovanni Bellini. San Giovanni in Bragora is the parish church where Vivaldi was baptized, close to the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, the home of some of the best Carpaccios in the city. In the area of Santa Maria Formosa, I have also included the church of San Lio and vicinity. Santi Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo) is at the northern edge of Castello, not too far from Santa Maria Formosa. The Arsenale is close to the Naval Museum (Museo Storico Navale) and the church of San Martino. The Giardini Pubblici, where the pavilions of the Venice Biennale are located, is the easternmost end of Castello. I have included in this area the church of San Pietro, the former cathedral of Venice, and the modern and lovely district of Sant' Elena.

Map of Venice

San Zaccaria

We start our walk behind the Basilica di San Marco at the Ponte de la Canonica. To get there, exit the Piazza by its northeastern corner, Calle de la Canonica. From Ponte de la Canonica you will have a view of the emblematic Bridge of Sighs (Arco dei Sospiri) that connects the Palazzo Ducale with the old prisons. Legend has it that the convicts, after being sentenced in the Palazzo Ducale, sighed upon seeing Venice from the bridge's windows on their way to their cells. However, this is likely a fabrication that we owe to Lord Byron. Once we cross Ponte de la Canonica, we are in Castello; to our right is the Convent of Sant' Apollonia, a jewel from the 12th-13th centuries and one of the few examples of Romanesque architecture remaining in Venice. The cloister is an oasis of tranquility in the middle of one of the most crowded areas of Venice, and is open to the public.

Bridge of Sighs and Ponte de la Canonica, behind

You can visit the Museo Diocesano di Venezia on the upper floors of the cloister. There is a small charge for a worthwhile visit that includes some Tintorettos and a collection of paintings from the former church of Sant' Andrea de la Zirada in Santa Croce.

As we exit the cloister, we take Rugheta Sant' Apollonia to our right. Soon we will pass Pasticceria Canonica (Castello 4323) where we can get one of their scrumptious creations. There is no better way to start a walk than munching on some delicious Venetian pastries.

The triangular campo where the bakery is located, Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo, is one of my favorites not only because of its character but also because of its excellent food. I made it a tradition that upon my arrival in Venice, my first meal is always in Trattoria Aciugheta (Castello 4357). Even though Aciugheta offers a menu turistico, which might make it look like a typical tourist trap, it is the real deal. The assortment of Venetian dishes, such as sarde in saor (sardines in vinegar sauce), seppie in umido (cuttlefish, usually prepared in its own ink) and pennette all'aciugheta (penne pasta with anchovy sauce), is superb. The service is very friendly, although it can be slow especially on weekends. In summertime, you can enjoy your dinner al fresco, in the campo, watching people walk by, and on cold winter nights, in its cozy interior in the company of locals. If you were to travel in time to the year 1720, chances are that on the same spot where you are having dinner you would meet Vivaldi coming out of his house at number 4358.

Part of the charm of this corner of Venice is that Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo is like an intimate theater. On one side are the cafes with their outdoor tables and the kiosks full of knickknacks and on the other, busy locals and relaxed tourists marching to and from San Marco, all enclosed in a small area. Before you leave the campo, visit Corte del Rosario at the end of the sotoportego across from Aciugheta. There you will see, perched up on the wall, a not-so-menacing beast half serpent and half dragon; both sides are joined by a double twist symbolizing two antagonistic but complementary cosmic elements: earth (the serpent) and air (the flying dragon). It dates from the 14th century.

As we leave the campo by Salizzada San Provolo, to our left is one of the oldest pharmacies in Venice, Al Lupo Coronato (The Crowned Wolf), dating from 1554 and to our right (and next to the bridge) is Trattoria Alla Rivetta da Lino. As you climb the bridge, you'd have to be made out of stone not to be tempted by the colorful cicheti (appetizers) displayed by the window. Alla Rivetta offers a selection of typical Venetian fare including an out-of-this-world polenta with seppie (cuttlefish). It is very popular with tourists and locals and is almost always packed. You may have to wait before you get served and you may be asked to share a table. If space is tight, the atmosphere is always cheerful.

Campo San Provolo

We cut across Campo San Provolo and go under the beautifully carved arch depicting the Virgin and Child between Saint John the Baptist and Saint Mark with Saint Zacharias above. In front of us is the elegant façade of San Zaccaria, all clad in polychrome marble and Istrian stone, a work by Antonio Gambello and Mauro Codussi, completed in 1515. We can read more about the church of San Zaccaria and its contents on Annie's fascinating posts.

The church was founded in the 9th century during the reign of Doge Giustiniano Participazio. It was reconstructed several times and in different styles. The campanile is one of the remains of the old Romanesque church from the 12th century. Accessible through the sacristy, the beautiful chapel of San Tarasio or the Golden Chapel, part of the old Gothic church from the 15th century, is undergoing renovation. Underneath the chapel is the crypt of the old Romanesque church where eight doges were buried. The floor of the original 9th-century church can be seen through an opening covered with glass.


Remains of the 9th-century floor


Chapel of San Tarasio

Inside the church, a sarcophagus containing the body of Saint Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, is on the right wall. Giovanni Bellini's Madonna and Child with Saints Peter, Catherine, Jerome and Lucy, one of Venice's masterpieces, is on a left altar. Completed in 1505 when Bellini was 75, this painting is an optical illusion that brings a vista of Paradise here to Earth. Totally integrated with its surroundings, the columns and arch in the background are a continuation of the church's real columns and arch in the forefront (probably a work of Pietro Lombardo). The light in the painting cascades from the left, the side where the church's real windows are located. The Christ Child has a raised leg, a symbol of hope, ever so tenderly supported by the Virgin's hand. The saints are absorbed in meditation while the angel plays the viola. An ostrich egg, another symbol of hope and rebirth, hangs from the ceiling. Notice the painting's square top, Napoleon's signature of plunder. The painting was taken to Paris where, to make it fit its new location, the French mercilessly cut off the upper part. Don't let this distract your contemplation. Put a coin in the light box and enjoy. If you are lucky, as I was on a cold December morning after a snowstorm when the church was all empty, sacred music will be playing in the background. If you are not so lucky and no music is playing and you are not alone but rather surrounding by a crowd, look around and observe the parishioners. Many will enter the church and will head directly, and exclusively, to the Bellini. They will spend ten or fifteen minutes in contemplation and then leave without paying any attention to the rest of the church. For many, me included, going to see the Bellini is truly a religious experience. No trip to Venice is complete without a visit to San Zaccaria.

"Stand in front of the painting when the sun is quite high in the afternoon and you will see the genius of the location as well as the painting. Only one ray of the sun can enter the church through the clerestory windows across the nave, but as the sun moves the ray picks out each of the stunning robes of the saints and the Madonna in turn. The colors glow in succession, creating a magical theater of motion, art, and devout spirituality, all fused into one by the power of both Bellini and San Zaccaria." Theodore K. Rabb

Before you leave Campo San Zaccaria, look around you. The church in one corner, the headquarters of the Carabinieri in the other; between them and behind an iron fence, the 13th-century campanile and the remains of the old church; across from the church, the row of shops; in the middle of the campo, an elegant wellhead and if you look closely, another wellhead, charmingly decrepit and abandoned, tucked away behind the iron fence in the small garden. The whole space used to be part of the old convent of San Zaccaria, where the daughters of patrician families took refuge as Benedictine nuns. Since many of them were forced into the convent life by their parents, who could not afford to pay their dowries, San Zaccaria, like other convents in Venice, wasn't always a model of virtue. If you are lucky again, the bells of the church will begin to toll as you look around and ponder all this. If you are not, exit the campo by the opening towards the water. The shimmering expanse of the Bacino di San Marco awaits you.

Riva degli Schiavoni (Schiavoni is the term used by Venetians to refer to people from Dalmatia - Croatia - also known as Slavonia or Schiavonia) offers a magnificent view of the island of San Giorgio Maggiore with its monumental church, the work of Andrea Palladio. Behind you is the hotel Savoia e Jolanda. The hotel was remodeled not too long ago and offers great accommodations at a fraction of the cost of its more glorious cousin, the Danieli just across the bridge. The San Zaccaria vaporetto stop makes this a very busy and often congested area of Venice. One might be tempted to say that the best times to explore the Riva are either very early in the morning or late at night when most of the tourists and peddlers are gone and only the most determined visitors are out; however, a walk during the busiest times has its own charm. One never knows what is to be found.

San Giorgio Maggiore from Riva degli Schiavoni Unusual activities on Riva degli Schiavoni

We cross Ponte del Vin to take a closer look at the Danieli; we may even go to the bar on its top floor for a mid-afternoon snack or a drink and enjoy the sweeping view from La Salute to the Lido.

We cross Ponte del Vin one more time and take Calle del Vin all the way to its end in Campo San Provolo. We exit the campo through the east corner and will soon be on Fondamenta de l'Osmarin (osmarin means rosemary). Palazzo Priuli is on our left. A cozy and secluded hotel, Hotel Palazzo Priuli, operates on the first and second floors of the palazzo. The entrance to this magnificent 14th-century palazzo is on Calle Diavolo, at number 4979. Beautifully appointed, with a friendly staff and excellent buffet breakfast in a true Venetian piano nobile, this hotel is a treasure. I particularly enjoyed waking up to the voice of children on their way to school on Fondamenta de l'Osmarin and the sound of the boats moored by my window bumping against the canal walls.

I arrived at Palazzo Priuli in the wee hours of a freezing morning precariously stepping on new snow after a trip of more than 30 hours. Fifteen minutes before our arrival at the Marco Polo airport, I'd started to savor my imminent re-encounter with Venice after thirteen years of absence - I'd be there just in time for a walk along the Riva at sundown, I thought- when our captain informed us that because of bad weather our plane would, instead, land in Bologna. I checked my travel guide: three hours top to travel by bus or train from Bologna to Venice. I'd be there for dinner. Well...I didn't factor in the snow. When the bus pulled into the old Marco Polo terminal it was past 1:00 am. From there another bus took us to Piazzale Roma. On board a solitary night vaporetto, thirteen years and 10 hours later, I was again on the Grand Canal and Venice couldn't have been more magical. Covered in snow, and silent, she welcomed me.

Palazzo Priuli
Ponte dei Carmini on Fondamenta de l'Osmarin
  Fondamenta de l'Osmarin, Ponte Diavolo

We cross Ponte del Diavolo, walk by the entrance to the hotel and turn left at the end; we are now in Campo San Severo. We walk along Fondamenta San Severo at the end of which is an interesting building with a three-light Gothic window walled up and the remaining arches cut by two new, rectangular, windows. What motivates people to commit such architectural assassinations and leave a trail of evidence in their wake? Are the contours of the windows left behind a scream for help to future generations of architects?

End of Fdm. San Severo
Rio de San Severo
  On Rio de San Severo

Before the end of Fondamenta San Severo is Borgoloco San Lorenzo, where two wellheads can be admired. The one in the foreground, in pink Verona marble, dates from the 13th century; the other one, in white Istrian stone, from the 13th-14th centuries. The word borgoloco is found a few times on the map of Venice. Besides Borgoloco San Lorenzo there is Borgoloco P. Molmenti on an island between Santa Maria Formosa and Santa Marina. There is also Ponte Borgoloco, that we'll find later, off Campo Santa Maria Formosa. The origin and meaning of the word borgoloco has been the subject of conjecture. Some authors think that borgoloco may have originally referred to a "place of lodging," because of the phrase "tegnir uno a loco e foco" (to provide a place to sleep and a fire) used to describe the inns found nearby. The association seems obscure. However, the connection with the roots: borgo, meaning village and loco, meaning place, seems obscure as well.

Borgoloco San Lorenzo

San Giovanni in Bragora

We begin our walk on Fondamenta San Lorenzo, which can be reached from the end of Fondamenta San Severo by taking Calle Larga San Lorenzo or Borgoloco San Lorenzo. The deconsecrated church of San Lorenzo is on the other side of the canal. Marco Polo was buried in this church but his remains were apparently lost. We walk along the fondamenta to Ponte Lion and stand in the middle of the bridge looking north towards the church of San Lorenzo. We are standing on the same spot used as the vantage point by Gentile Bellini (Giovanni's older brother) for his Miracle of the Cross at the Bridge of San Lorenzo. What is truly remarkable about this painting is that many of the buildings are still recognizable after 500 years. Sometime between 1370 and 1382, during the annual procession when the relic of the True Cross was carried from the Scuola di San Giovanni Evangelista to the church of San Lorenzo, the reliquary fell into the waters of Rio San Lorenzo. Priests and commoners dived into the water (notice the black man on the right who is just about to jump) but the reliquary floated and was rescued by the Grand Guardian of the Scuola, Andrea Vendramin. Gentile Bellini transported the scene to the end of the 15th century and painted Catarina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, kneeling in the forefront and probably himself and his brother Giovanni, both in black togas, kneeling behind the two men wearing red ones. This exquisitely crafted painting can be admired at the Accademia Galleries.

We walk down Fondamenta San Lorenzo to the double bridge, Ponte de l'Osmarin and Ponte dei Greci, from where we have a close view of the leaning bell tower of San Giorgio dei Greci, a Greek Orthodox church. The Museum of Icons of the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies is on the second floor of the adjacent building. Both church and museum are worth a visit.

San Giorgio dei Greci from Ponte Lion
Ponti de l'Osmarin and dei Greci

Hellenic Institute for Byzantine and Post-Byzantine Studies,
from Fondamenta de l'Osmarin
San Giorgio dei Greci, garden

We exit by Calle della Madonna next to Ponte dei Greci to Salizada dei Greci that will take us to Ponte Sant' Antonin.

We turn left on the fondamenta and walk towards its the end at the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. Vittorio Carpaccio was commissioned to do a cycle of paintings depicting moments in the lives of the scuola's tutelary saints: George, Jerome and Tryphon. The paintings were originally on the upper floor of the scuola but were later moved to their current location on the lower floor. Three of my all time favorite paintings are here: Saint George and the Dragon, Saint Jerome and the Lion and Saint Augustine in His Study. Few other artists let us peek into their souls as much as Carpaccio does. When we look at any of his paintings, we perceive his beliefs, we are puzzled by his idiosyncrasies, we marvel at his sense of humor.

Carpaccio is a master of color and detail. His paintings, among the most inventive of the early Renaissance, are full of whimsical and humorous elements. Take, for example, the friars in Saint Jerome and the Lion running away in panic from a lion that seems rather tame; notice that the friar in the forefront seems to have a wooden leg. Or take the body parts scattered on the ground in the dragon's lair in Saint George and the Dragon. Far from gruesome, the scene invites the viewer in. Or take the small Maltese dog next to Saint Augustine, who seems to participate in his master's trance. Drawings in the British Museum show that Carpaccio first intended to paint a cat instead of a dog. The change couldn't have been more appropriate.

As we exit the scuola we turn left and we will see at the end of the corte, the church and convent of San Giovanni de Malta. It belonged to the Templars and after the order was suppressed in the early 1300s, it passed to the Knights of Malta.  I find the sign on the church's door, which I saw on one of my trips to Venice, very revealing of the Venetian sense of place.

"This court is not your dog's bathroom"

We retrace our steps to the church of Sant' Antonin and take the salizada on the side of the church. This will lead us to Campo Bandiera e Moro o de la Bragora (the term bragora has an unclear origin, but probably means market) where the church of San Giovanni Battista in Bragora is located. The church houses a remarkable collection of paintings by Vivarini, Jacobello del Fiore and Cima da Conegliano. Antonio Vivaldi was born near this church on March 4, 1678. That day an earthquake shook Venice, literally. Or should I say musically? He was baptized in this church as the plaque shown below indicates. Campo de la Bragora was renamed Bandiera e Moro in honor of the Venetian patriots, brothers Attilio and Emilio Bandiera and Domenico Moro, who fought against the Austrians for the Italian unification and who were captured and shot in 1844.

San Giovanni in Bragora

We exit the campo via Calle del Dose which takes us to Riva degli Schiavoni. To the left, at number 4134, is the house where the Austrian mathematician and physicist Christian Doppler, known for the Doppler effect and the Doppler radar, died in 1853. In 1852, he had moved to Venice, then part of the Austrian Empire, in search of a better climate that would improve his health. He is buried on Venice's cemetery island of San Michele, between Venice and Murano. We now walk in the opposite direction towards Ponte del Sepolcro. Across the bridge is the church of Santa Maria de la Visitazione, better known as La Pietà or Vivaldi's church, as you may see advertised everywhere in Venice. Curiously, the church that we see today was built after Vivaldi's death. Most of Vivaldi's professional career took place at Ospedale della Pietà, across from the church, now housing the Metropole Hotel.

Riva degli Schiavoni with the church of La Pietà
Doppler's tomb in San Michele

The Ospedale della Pietà was one of Venice's orphanages for girls. For many years, Vivaldi was the maestro de' concerto of its renowned girls' orchestra. After his death, Vivaldi was forgotten for almost 200 years until the rediscovery of his works in the 20th century - a process in which the violinist Olga Rudge, Ezra Pound's companion and long-time Venice resident, was instrumental. Vivaldi's work is played almost every night at La Pietà. To my surprise and delight, the night I was there they played not just Vivaldi's famous Four Seasons but the 'Five Seasons'. At the end the maestro added one of Piazzolla's Four Seasons in Buenos Aires. An unexpected gift for somebody like me, born in Argentina.

On the side wall of the church of La Pietà is a tablet from the 16th century written in no kind terms. It asks God to send a bolt of malediction and excommunication against those who abandoned their children at the Ospedale della Pietà.

Across from La Pietà, on the side wall of the Metropole Hotel, the foundling's wheel from the Ospedale della Pietà can still be seen. Foundling's wheels were used in medieval Europe to leave, anonymously and in safe places, unwanted newborns to be cared for.

Santa Maria Formosa

We begin our walk near the Rialto Bridge at Campo San Bartolomeo behind Goldoni's back, still in the sestiere of San Marco. We take Sotoportego de la Bissa, which soon becomes Calle de la Bissa. A few yards before the bridge, to our right, is Bar Nuovo, a bar, cafe and restaurant with a warm atmosphere, good food and friendly service. As we cross the bridge, Ponte Sant' Antonio, we stop and take a look at the building to our right, across the canal: Palazzo Gussoni with its richly carved white marble façade, attributed to the Lombardo workshop. Once we cross the bridge we are in the sestiere of Castello. We continue on Calle al Ponte Sant' Antonio. It will take us to Campo San Lio. The church of San Lio (San Leone) will be in front of us. It is worth a visit; among its treasures, it contains an exquisitely designed chapel dedicated to the Madonna Addolorata by Pietro Lombardo and assistants. Canaletto's tomb is not too far away.

Campo San Lio, at the crossroads between San Marco, Castello and Cannaregio, is always bustling with activity but hasn't changed much over the centuries: the building where the pub L'Olandese Volante is located looks almost the same as in the painting by Giovanni Mansueti from 1494, Miracle of the Relic of the Holy Cross at Campo San Lio displayed at the Accademia Galleries. Across from the church is a pharmacy with an impressive glass mural depicting an old chemical laboratory. Next to the pharmacy, a mask and costume shop. In front of the church, a tempting frutariol (fruitseller).

We leave Campo San Lio by Salizada San Lio, a shopping artery that caters more to locals than tourists. This area has some of the oldest houses in Venice dating from the 13th century, such as those right next to the church and the adjacent sotoportego, Castello 5662-5672. We continue to the end of the salizada where Calle al Ponte de la Guerra becomes Calle de le Bande. At that intersection there is another Il Papiro store (there is also one in San Marco). If your espresso machine doesn't brew the perfect cappuccino, the corner store is the place to buy an authentic Italian coffee maker.

Lamp shade from Il Papiro
                                 Lamp shade, detail

We make a right turn on Calle al Ponte de la Guerra and, after a few yards, turn left on Casseleria. At the next intersection we make a right turn followed by a left turn on Calle al Ponte de l'Anzolo. This will take us exactly to Ponte de l'Anzolo (Bridge of the Angel), so called because of the sculpture on the façade of Palazzo Soranzo (also called the Angel's House, Castello 4419). According to legend, a pet monkey kept at the palazzo was possessed by the devil. During an exorcism the monkey flew through the wall of the building leaving behind a big hole that the owner promptly got covered with the shrine of the angel to prevent the devil from coming back.

Palazzo Soranzo from P. de l'Anzolo
                            Palazzo Soranzo, detail

We cross the bridge and return momentarily to the sestiere of San Marco. We make a left turn on Ramo de l'Anzolo that takes us to Ponte del Remedio. From this bridge we have a different panorama of Ponte and Fondamenta de l'Anzolo and an unexpected view of the Bridge of Sighs separated from us by three other bridges.

We continue on Calle del Remedio to Ramo del Remedio, a charming street with three little bridges that lead to private residences; at the end is Campiello Querini Stampalia. The Museum and Foundation Querini Stampalia will be on our right. 

Campiello Querini Stampalia
Ramo del Remedio

Interior of the Foundation Querini Stampalia

Mario Botta, the same architect who designed the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, was in charge of the latest ground-floor renovation of the museum. The beautiful and modernistic gardens were designed by Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa. The building itself, marrying 18th-century architecture with modern style elements, is worth the visit. But if this is not enough to tempt you, let's add that the museum houses a large collection of Venetian paintings including the enigmatic Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Giovanni Bellini, and many by Pietro Longhi and Gabriel Bella, depicting Venetian customs and activities of the 18th century.

Campo Santa Maria Formosa
                          Church of Santa Maria Formosa

We cut across Campiello Querini Stampalia, go under the sotoportego and we will be in elegant Campo Santa Maria Formosa. The church of Santa Maria Formosa was rebuilt by Mauro Codussi at the end of the 15th century. Its interior is divided into square sections separated by low columns and arches, which give the church a human dimension. It contains two amazing paintings, Santa Barbara by Palma il Vecchio, and Madonna della Misericordia by Bartolomeo Vivarini. During a recent visit on a cold December afternoon, the church was completely packed and several priests, all dressed in white, were celebrating mass in the Coptic rite.

We walk around the campanile and on the canal side, above the doorway, we will see a grotesque sculpture that inspired John Ruskin to say: "A head - huge, inhuman, monstrous, leering in bestial degradation." As usual, Ruskin took it too seriously. These grotesque sculptures, called scacciadiavoli or scare-demons, were used to keep bad spirits away. Other scacciadiavoli can be found at the base of the bell-towers of San Trovaso, in Dorsoduro, and San Giovanni Elemosinario, in San Polo. In medical terms, the face on the wall of Santa Maria Formosa seems to represent somebody who suffered from neurofibromatosis. Campo Santa Maria Formosa is the perfect place to unwind, sit down, have a cup of coffee, read a book, engage in conversation or just watch people walk by.

Campo Santa Maria Formosa
Campo Santa Maria Formosa

Fondamenta dei Preti
  Ponte del Paradiso

We leave the campo by the canal side, Fondamenta dei Preti. Before we reach Ponte del Paradiso, we will see on our right an old funerary urn inserted in the corner of a building and, across the canal - Rio del Pestrin-, a beautifully decaying façade pierced by Gothic windows. Vivaldi used to live in this building at number 5879. Right across from the entrance to the building is Ponte del Paradiso topped by a Gothic arch and a relief of the Madonna della Misericordia. Calle del Paradiso is one of the most  charming corners of Venice. It showcases the true commercial spirit of Venice amidst a medieval ambiance. If we take Calle del Paradiso, we will end up back in Salizada San Lio. This detour is worth taking if you are interested in buying books about Venice. Libreria Editrice Filippi will be on our left, just before we reach the Salizada.

Gothic window
                          For many years Vivaldi lived here

Rio del Pestrin from Ponte dei Preti
Roman funerary urn by Ponte dei Preti

For generations, the bookstore and publishing house Filippi has specialized on Venetian themes. It carries a large selection of new titles as well as old books that are difficult to find elsewhere. Its owners will welcome you and will make you feel at home.

We retrace our steps but before we leave Calle del Paradiso, we should take a look at one of its most distinctive features: the wooden barbacane that protrude from the walls at the second-floor level. This architectural element, very common in Venice, was used to increase the living space without obstructing the pedestrian traffic.  

We cross Ponte del Paradiso again and walk alongside the canal, Fondamenta del Dose, that leads to Calle del Dose and Calle de Borgoloco where we turn right. This will take us to Ponte Borgoloco. Its wrought iron railing is said to represent an acronym for Viva (long live) Vittorio Emanuele. Vittorio Emanuele, King of Italy, visited Venice in 1866 when the bridge underwent its last reconstruction.

We retrace our steps, cross Ponte Marcello and we will soon be in Campo Santa Marina.

Campo Santa Marina is one of the few campi in Venice named after a saint and without a church. The church of Santa Marina stood at numbers 6067 and 6068 but was demolished in 1820. It is visible in Jacopo de' Barbari's map. Across from the Hotel Santa Marina is Pasticceria Didovich (Castello 5909) where you will find a fantastic assortment of pastries plus some delicious vegetable tarts called salatine. Giovanni Bellini lived in the parish of Santa Marina. He died on November 29, 1516 and was buried, alongside his brother Gentile, in the Scuola de Sant' Orsola, next to the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

de' Barbari's view of campi San Lio, Santa Maria Formosa, Santa Marina and Santi Giovanni e Paolo

We exit Campo Santa Marina by Calle del Frutariol and make a right turn at Calle de la Malvasia.  We continue on Calle del Pistor where, just before crossing the bridge (Ponte del Pistor), the excellent bakery Ponte delle Paste is located. After crossing the bridge the street will take us back to Campo San Lio.

Campo Santa Marina
                         Campo Santa Marina

Real canoce
                         Marzipan canoce at "Didovich"

From Campo San Lio we take Calle de la Fava that will lead us to the church of Santa Maria de la Fava, arguably the only church in the world named after a legume. How the church got its name is, like all things Venetian, shrouded in mystery and the subject of controversy. Most likely the name derives from the vendors of fava beans who brought their barges and their business to the bridge opposite the church. In 1496, when the church first opened as an oratory dedicated to a miraculous image of the Madonna, the bridge was already known as Ponte de la Fava and the church as Santa Maria del Ponte de la Fava. Marin Sanudo, the chronicler of Venice, wrote in his diary on December 16, 1497, that because of an outbreak of the plague, the Senate had asked the Pope to postpone his annual Christmas pardon and to close the popular churches of  "Madonna di Miracoli, San Zuan Crisostomo, San Fantin, and Santa Maria dil Ponte di la Fava" so as to avoid the congregation of people and the spread of the disease. The church was rebuilt in the first half of the 18th century. Among its works of art, Giambattista Tiepolo's Education of the Virgin, is the most remarkable. The official name of the church is Santa Maria della Consolazione.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo

We begin our walk in Campo Santa Marina which we exit by Calle and Ponte del Cristo. From Ponte del Cristo the dreamlike view is quintessential Venetian. As we cross the bridge we enter Cannaregio. We turn right on Ponte de le Erbe. The next bridge is Ponte Rosso from where we have a great view of Rio dei Mendicanti and the Scuola di San Marco. From this bridge, we can also see the last numbers of the sestieri of Cannaregio and Castello.

Scuola Grande di San Marco and church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Rio dei Mendicanti from Ponte Rosso

Hidden from view and to the right is the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo.) This church is consecrated to Saints John and Paul, two brothers, two soldiers and two martyrs from the 4th century. Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo is the perfect spot to sit down for a drink or a cup of coffee. Rosa Salva, a Venetian institution that offers delicious pastries and savory treats, is conveniently located just across from the side door of the church.

Campo and church Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Impressive stained-glass windows, a rarity in Venice, grace the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo considered the Venetian Pantheon because many doges are entombed here. The inlaid polychrome marble floors are simply stunning.

This church is a  treasure trove of art and architectural details. The chapel of the Rosary, accessible through a door at the end of the left transept is well worth visiting. The beautifully carved wood panels, end of 17th century, were originally from the Scuola della Carità. They are the work of Giacomo Piazzetta and depict scenes from the life of Christ and Mary. The chapel was damaged by fire in 1867 and restored to its former glory in the 20th century. The church houses many works by Pietro, Antonio and Tullio Lombardo and a rare nine-panel painting by Giovanni Bellini, Saint Vincent Ferrer, that contains a poignant Saint Sebastian. The former Scuola di Sant' Orsola, for which Carpaccio's Saint Ursula cycle was originally painted (now at the Accademia), stood next to the apse of the church. The Bellini brothers, Gentile and Giovanni, were buried in this small scuola. The remains of the Venetian patriots, brothers Attilio and Emilio Bandiera, and Domenico Moro rest in this church, near the entrance.

Gentile (left) and Giovanni Bellini (right) and between them a white-haired man. Detail from Gentile Bellini's Procession in the Piazza San Marco.

Tombs of the Bandiera brothers and Domenico Moro

The beautifully sculpted wellhead in the middle of the campo was moved here in 1825 from its original location in the sestiere of San Marco. At the base, a Latin inscription reads: "Mira silex mirusque latex qui flumina vincit" which can be more literarily than literally translated as: "Wonderful stone and even more wonderful this water, that surpasses that of the rivers."

The equestrian statue in the middle of the campo was designed by Andrea Verrocchio and shows the mercenary captain, condottiere, Bartolomeo Colleoni who victoriously commanded the Venetian land forces for many years. In his will he left most of his fortune to the Venetian state on condition that a monument be erected in his honor in front of San Marco. His wish was granted, almost. The statue was erected in front of San Marco, the Scuola not the Basilica as he had intended. It should be noted that the Venetian abhorred the cult of personality. In the ten centuries of the Venetian Republic no public figure had a statue erected anywhere in the city, much less in Piazza San Marco.

The Scuola di San Marco today houses the Civic Hospital. Its façade, a work of Pietro Lombardo and Mauro Codussi, was recently restored. Get close to the main door and admire the amazing trompe l'oeil.

On the main doorjamb, a few inches from the floor, there is a small drawing, etched in the stone, of a man with a turban carrying a heart in his left hand. A terrible story is associated with this etching. According to legend, a handsome young man, the son of a prosperous Levantine merchant and a Venetian mother, lived with his father on the Island of Giudecca but often visited his Christian mother who lived in this area of Castello. He dressed in the Turkish fashion, like his father, but unlike him had a hard time fitting into society, feeling rejected by both the Jewish and the Christian communities. Perhaps as a result of this inner conflict, perhaps because he was just plain rotten, he mistreated his mother to the point of violently beating her. But she always forgave him. One night, he got completely out of control, stabbed her and ripped her heart from her chest. As he ran away in horror, carrying the heart in his left hand, he tripped on the steps of Ponte Cavallo, in front of the scuola, and fell to the ground. Then he heard the voice of his mother coming from the heart and asking: "Did you hurt yourself, my son?" In desperation, the young man ran to the edge of the lagoon and drowned himself. A beggar, a stonecutter by trade, who used to spend the nights by the door of the scuola, witnessed the incident and made the etching that we see today.

As Venetian as the legend sounds, I believe this is a dressed-up, local color-added, European tale. I heard the same story, minus the turban and the scuola, from my mother's lips as a kid growing up in Argentina. In turn, my mother probably heard it from her Piedmontese grandmother. My guess is that a story so impossibly gruesome is hard to forget and likely to spread. Despite all, Venice must be the only place in the world with a graffito of it.

We walk to the Fondamente Nuove, the northern edge of the city, by the side of the hospital. From there we'll have a splendid view of the lagoon and the cemetery island of San Michele, the resting place of many personalities: Igor Stravinsky, Ezra Pound, Sergei Diaghilev, Joseph Brodsky and Christian Doppler, among many others. It was precisely Joseph Brodsky who in his brilliant Venetian reflection "Watermark" wrote the following words about this corner of Venice:

"I remember one day -the day I had to leave after a month here alone. I had just had lunch in some small trattoria on the remotest part of the Fondamente Nuove, grilled fish and half a bottle of wine. With that inside, I set out for the place I was staying, to collect my bags and catch the vaporetto. I walked a quarter of a mile along the Fondamente Nuove, a small moving dot in that gigantic watercolor, and then turned right by the hospital of San Giovanni e Paolo. The day was warm, sunny, the sky blue, all lovely. And with my back to the Fondamente and San Michele, hugging the wall of the hospital, almost rubbing it with my left shoulder and squinting at the sun, I suddenly felt: I am a cat. A cat that has just had fish. Had anyone addressed me at that moment, I would have meowed. I was absolutely, animally happy."

We return to Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo and exit it by the side of the church, Salizada San Zanipolo, and turn right on Corte Veniera. This will take us to Fondamenta dei Felzi. From the beautiful iron bridge, Ponte dei Consafelzi, we will have the perfect view of a most remarkable building, Palazzo Tetta, that cuts the canal in two like a ship cuts the waters of the ocean. As you face the palazzo, look up to your right where you will see an unusual chimney that, for a moment, will make you forget that you are in Venice and will take you to the Far East. As I was wandering in this area of Venice some years ago, I saw a handwritten sign posted on a front door that read "Si pregano i signori 'Animali' di lasciare libera la porta dall' inmondizia (loosely translated as: "We beg the animal gentlemen to keep the door free of garbage." Like the one at the church of San Giovanni de Malta mentioned earlier, this sign was one of many that I saw scattered in different corners of the city and I couldn't help but think that for a republic to survive for a thousand years, diplomacy must be ingrained in its citizens' DNA.

Palazzo Tetta on Rio de S. Giovanni Laterano, left, and
Rio de la Tetta, right

We take Calle Bragadin o del Pinelli that ends at Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa where we turn left. You will soon be on Fondamenta and Ponte Tetta. Unlike its more famous cousin, Ponte delle Tette (in the sestiere of San Polo) named after the flashy-fleshy merchandise displayed by the local prostitutes, the 'Tetta' of this remote part of Castello refers to the noble family Tetta who had their residence in the palazzo around the corner. After crossing Ponte de l'Ospedaleto we will be on Calle de l'Ospedaleto that will take us to Barbaria de le Tole. To our left is the ornate façade of the church of Santa Maria dei Derelitti or 'de l'Ospedaleto' (a work by Longhena). This church, like Vivaldi's La Pietà, has a long and distinguished musical tradition.

The area around Rio de San Giovanni Laterano seems like a very remote part of Venice, but don't let the absence of tourists fool you. From antique dealers to marble artisans, they all have their shops here, especially on Barbaria de le Tole that soon becomes Calle del Cafetier, at the end of which is Campo de Santa Giustina or de Barbaria. In this campo there is a small free-standing building, the Oratorio Beata Vergine Addolorata, one of the few of its kind remaining in Venice.

Rio de S. Giovanni Laterano
                          Ponte Capello on Rio de la Tetta

We take Calle Zon and after crossing the bridge, Ponte Santa Giustina, we reach the fondamenta of the same name. To our right is the scenic Campo Santa Giustina. The church and convent of Santa Giustina closed in 1810. Today the building houses the Liceo Scientifico.

We retrace our steps on Fondamenta Santa Giustina and take Calle San Francesco de la Vigna, at the end of which we will see half the façade of the church of San Francesco de la Vigna designed by Andrea Palladio.

San Francesco de la Vigna
San Francesco de la Vigna, cloister

The church was built using the number three, a reference to the Holy Trinity, as an important design element. The interior has the splendid painting by Antonio Falier da Negroponte, Madonna and Child, a stunning transition piece between the Gothic and the Renaissance styles, as well as other works by Giorgione, Vivarini and Giovanni Bellini. The vineyards after which the church is named are unfortunately closed to the public, but the cloister is open.

In the background, the bell tower of the church of San Francesco de la Vigna

We exit the area by the side of the church, Campo de la Confraternita, where I once saw a graffiti that said:


(Occupy the vacant houses. Block the evictions. Housing is a right.) And I couldn't help but think how strange that in a place with so many vacant houses, housing could still be a problem. We follow the street Corte drio la Chiesa and after a few turns and bends we will be in Campo de la Celestia, one of the few campi in Venice that actually has grass.

This area of Venice, behind the Arsenale, has a number of blocks with relatively new apartment buildings. In a small corner of the campo I once saw a ten-year old girl selling her treasures all lovingly arranged on the pavement stones: a postcard, a comb, a pencil, a transparent plastic purse shaped like a heart with a vibrant red rim and red handles. I couldn't help but think that for a republic to survive for a thousand years, entrepreneurship must have been ingrained in its citizens' DNA. I should have put my inhibitions aside and bought that purse.

From Campo de la Celestia we take Fondamenta del Cristo and cross Ponte del Suffragio o del Cristo and we will be in lovely Campo Santa Ternita (Holy Trinity). The church of Santa Ternita was destroyed in 1832. This campo invites us to sit down and enjoy the intimate setting: the campanile, the chimneys, the beautiful wellhead, the two bridges, the sound of running water, the color-coordinated laundry hanging from the windows, and the old ladies peeking from their balconies decorated with wooden flowers. This is Venice at her best.

We exit Campo Santa Ternita from the opposite side we came in, cross the bridge and take Calle Donà that leads us to Calle Magno were we make a right turn. A few yards away is the Sotoportego de l'Anzolo with a beautiful sculpture of an angel flanked by two hedgehogs (riccio in Italian), the crest of the Rizzo family.

We reach Campo dei do Pozzi (Campo of the Two Wellheads) that, despite its name, has only one. However, it must have had two wellheads centuries ago, as suggested by the relief on the remaining wellhead.

The relief of the three angels represents the Holy Trinity (a common iconographic symbol in Eastern Christianity), a reference to the nonextant church of Santa Ternita. A relief of Saint Martin is shown on the opposite side, a reference to the nearby church of San Martino. The wellhead, in Istrian stone, dates from  the 16th century.

Some scenes from the movie Bread and Tulips were shot in this campo. We exit the campo by Calle del Forno that takes us to Calle dei Scudi where we turn left. After a few yards we turn right on Calle de l'Arco that will lead us to Salizada and Campo Sant' Antonin.


We start our walk on Riva degli Schiavoni by Ponte de la Ca' di Dio. We cross the next bridge, Ponte de l'Arsenal, and turn left on the fondamenta. The little grassy area, under the shade of the trees, is very inviting for a break in the heat of summer, and offers a postcard view in the dead of winter.

A few years ago, the day before the Regata Storica, held the first Sunday in September, on Rio de l'Arsenal I had a close view of some of the magnificent boats that would be on parade the next day, as many of them were moored overnight in this area of Venice.

Rio de l'Arsenal before Regata Storica

Rio de l'Arsenal before Regata Storica

Rio de l'Arsenal before Regata Storica
Regata Storica

The Museo Storico Navale, on the corner of the riva and the fondamenta, a few steps away from Ponte de l'Arsenal, is worth the visit. Organized in three main floors, the museum offers a panoramic and detailed view of the maritime history of Venice from its beginnings to the modern era. One of its highlights is a scaled-down reproduction of the ceremonial barge, the Bucintoro (a word that may derive from burcio, a type of Venetian ship and d'oro, golden), which was dismantled and burnt after the fall of Venice in the hands of Napoleon. It is said that 400 mules were used by the French soldiers to carry away the gold recovered from the ship. Recently, the Fondazione Bucintoro has undertaken the construction of a new Bucintoro at the Arsenal. Some of the boats on display on the upper floors of the museum are so big that the façade of the building had to be demolished to get them in. This museum is a true gem; there is so much to see that you should plan a visit in the early morning. The museum is closed in the afternoon.

As we exit the museum we turn right on the fondamenta and walk almost to the end where we cross Ponte de l'Arsenal or del Paradiso to Campo de l'Arsenal. In this picturesque campo we can admire the entrance to the Arsenal, which for many centuries was the engine behind Venice's power. Here is where the Venetian ships were built as early as in the 12th century. The assembly line was an integral part of the Arsenal's operation centuries before Henry Ford, credited with inventing it, put it to use for automobile manufacture in the USA. The word Arsenal (Arsenal in Venetian, Arsenale in Italian) is derived from the Arabic word Dar al Sina'a, which means workshop. From Venice, the word has passed into most European languages with a slightly different meaning.

Unmistakable symbols of Venice, several lions guard the entrance to the Arsenal. The most curious one is the lion on the west side of the entrance. It was part of the spoils of war brought by Doge Morosini in 1687 from Piraeus (the port of Athens). It has some Runic symbols engraved on its shoulder, probably the work of a Norse soldier fighting for the Byzantine emperor in the 11th century.

Left: The real thing at the Arsenal. Above: Copy at the Port of Piraeus

Dante visited the Arsenal on two occasions, in 1306 and 1321. The impression that the place made on him must have been very strong as the Canto XXI of his Inferno testifies. A marble plaque on the side of the main portal commemorates this.

As in the Arsenal of the Venetians, in winter, the sticky pitch for smearing their unsound vessels is boiling, because they cannot go to sea, and, instead thereof, one builds him a new bark, and one caulks the sides of that which hath made many a voyage; one hammers at the prow, and one at the stern; another makes oars, and another twists the cordage; and one the foresail and the mainsail patches,—so, not by fire, but by divine art, a thick pitch was boiling there below, which belimed the bank on every side. I saw it, but saw not in it aught but the bubbles which the boiling raised, and all of it swelling up and again sinking compressed.

If it's open, Bar Arsenale is the perfect place to sit down and unwind while taking in the view. If not, we will continue on Fondamenta de Fazza l'Arsenal that will lead us to Campo San Martino and the homonymous church.

On our way to the church, we will pass to our right the beautiful Ponte del Purgatorio and the not so beautiful Ponte de l'Inferno.

Ponte del Purgatorio

Ponte de l'Inferno

Saint Martin of Tours is a cosmopolitan saint, a true son of the Roman Empire. Born in 316 in Sabaria (modern Szombathely in Hungary, near the Austrian border), he was educated in Pavia, present-day Italy, and became a soldier in the Roman Army. Drawn to Christianity, the newly proclaimed legal religion of the Empire, from his youth, Martin was forced by his father to join the Roman army as a way to dissuade him from entering the religious life. In what became the most famous incident of his life, at the age of 21 he gave half of his cape to a shivering beggar he encountered at the gates of Amiens in France. He kept the other half because it belonged to the Roman Army. The relics of the cape were guarded in France by a custodian called capellanus, a term from which the words chaplain and chapel derive. The feast of Saint Martin is celebrated on November 11th. In Venice, a traditional cookie in the shape of a horse with a rider wearing a cape is baked for this occasion. The church of San Martin (Venetian) or San Martino (Italian) was built in 1550 by Sansovino. Among its works of arts, there are beautiful pieces by Tullio Lombardo and the ceiling fresco by Domenico Bruni and Jacopo Guarana, a remarkable trompe l'oeil.

Campo San Martin

San Martin giving his cape to a beggar
(marble plaque next to the church)

Ponte Storto and church of San Martin from Fdm. del Tintor

Campo San Martin

On the façade of the church of San Martin there is one of the few remaining bocche di leone used by the people for anonymous denunciations. Another one can still be seen outside the church of Santa Maria della Visitazione on the Zattere, in Dorsoduro, and another one in the Doge's Palace. A stone's-throw away from Campo San Martin, on Calle del Pestrin off Fondamenta del Tintor, is the emblematic restaurant Corte Sconta. One of the best places in town to enjoy Venetian food.


We begin our walk at Ponte de l'Arsenal. We walk on Riva San Biagio past the Museo Storico Navale and the church of San Biagio. As we cross the next bridge, Ponte de la Veneta Marina or de le Cadene, the wide Via Garibaldi will be on our left. Giovanni Caboto, the New World explorer credited with discovering Canada while at the service of King Henry VII of England, and his son Sebastiano Caboto, explorer of South America, lived in the corner house (Castello 1642).

Via Garibaldi
Caboto lived here

Via Garibaldi was built on a filled-in canal in the Napoleonic period. Today, it is not only the commercial hub of this part of Castello, but also the gateway to the Giardini Pubblici. We will walk to the end of it. Midway and on our left we will see Corte Nova. This quaint corte, with its two wellheads, was already depicted in de' Barbari's view of Venice of 1500. Little has changed since then, but you will notice that the gates at each end of the corte have been removed. Both wellheads date from the first half of the 14th century. One is in Istrian stone, and the other, more ornate, in pink Verona marble.

Further up Via Garibaldi and across from the church of San Francesco di Paola, we'll find Il Nuovo Galeon, a great place to have fresh and perfectly cooked seafood and succulent pastas in a friendly atmosphere. The last time I was there, I got looks of horror and amazement from my British neighbors as I savored a delicious seppie in umido col nero (cuttlefish swimming in its own ink).

We walk to the end of Via Garibaldi where the canal begins (Rio de Sant' Anna) and take the fondamenta on the left of the canal, Fondamenta S. Gioachin. This is a very colorful area of Venice that exudes local character. We make a left turn at the end of the fondamenta on Calle drio el Forner that will take us to Fondamenta del Forner. We cross Ponte Rielo and ahead of us is Calle Ruga where we turn left; after crossing the campo, the street becomes Salizada Streta. At the intersection with Calle Larga de Castello we turn right. This takes us to the long bridge of San Piero and to the Campo and Church of San Piero (San Pietro di Castello in Italian).

Rio de Sant 'Anna
Rielo and Ponte Rielo

Fondamenta del Forner and P. Rielo
Fdm. San Gioachin

San Piero de Castello was Venice's cathedral until 1807. Its remote location is testimony to the distance that for centuries separated the political power, centered around San Marco, and the Vatican. The citizens of La Serenissima always felt that they were Venetians first and then Christians ("veneziani, poi cristiani.")

The free-standing campanile is very easy to recognize from a distance, not only because is slightly leaning but also because it is the only one totally clad in white Istrian stone, a work of Mauro Codussi from the end of 15th century.

I visited the church on a Sunday morning in the middle of Communion, at the end of the 10 o'clock Mass. The church was packed like the end of the world was imminent. Respectfully, I left and sat outside in the beautiful campo, under the trees. After several days of carrying my photographic equipment around town for hours on end, my back had reacted with unbearable pain; the hard wooden benches on Campo San Piero were not helping. Fifteen minutes passed and hearing intense clapping inside, but seeing no one coming out of the church, I decided to go in again. A priest was speaking but I couldn't fully understand what he was saying. I must have taken ten steps inside the church when several folks gave me a look that paralyzed me in my tracks. Trying to find a surface to lean on to alleviate my backache, I gave two more steps to position myself next to a column and got the same look again, this time accompanied by a loud shush. I felt that I had violated some ancient and mysterious rule. I couldn't deny, after all, that I was a tourist like a million others. I was embarrassed and a little perplexed by such unexpected reaction; Venetians are a very polite and tolerant people. I later learned, through fliers posted all around this area of Castello, that the parishioners were honoring and giving thanks to Don Gabriele for seven and a half years of ministry. I couldn't help but think how typical Venetian the whole incident was. The parishioners didn't stop me when I walked in in the middle of Communion but they objected when I dared to walk during the priest's farewell. Veneziani, poi cristiani.

During my wait outside the church I got my reward. A Maltese dog like the one in Saint Augustine in His Study was lying next to me. I felt Carpaccio's ghost sitting on my shoulder.

In the middle of the walkway that leads to the main entrance to the church, a white stone stands out from the rest. This is the place where, according to protocol, the Patriarch would welcome the Doge when he visited the church. Not one inch to spare!

We leave the campo by Calle drio el Campanile that takes us to Fondamenta and Ponte de Quintavale. After crossing the bridge, we will be on Rio de Sant' Anna again.

We walk along the fondamenta to the entrance to the Giardini Pubblici with its monument to Giuseppe Garibaldi. The gardens were established at the beginning of the 19th century, during Napoleon's rule, part on reclaimed marshland and part on well-established areas. Many historic buildings were demolished to make way for the gardens. The Giardini host the Venice Biennale in several pavilions, each one sponsored by a different country from Austria to Venezuela, just to mention two.

"Galaxy Forming along Filaments, like Droplets along the Strands of a Spider's Web,"
by Tomás Saraceno, Venice Biennale, 2009.

From the Giardini we have one of the most beautiful panoramic views of Venice's skyline. No photo can capture the view, especially at sunset when the black silhouettes of La Salute and San Marco contrast against a crimson sky. Perhaps this is one of those instances when a few words can say more than a thousand pictures; especially when they are George Sand's:

"The sun had already set behind the hills of Vicenza. Great purple clouds were passing over the Venetian sky. The tower of San Marco, the dome of Santa Maria and the nursery-garden of spires and steeples rising from every corner of the city stood out as black needles against the sparkling horizon. The sky turned by subtle gradations from cherry red to cobalt blue while the water, smooth and clear as a mirror, faithfully reproduced its infinite iridescence; it lay like a vast sheen of copper below the city. Never have I seen Venice more beautiful and enchanted. Its black silhouette, cast between the sky and the glowing waters as on to a sea of fire, seemed to be one of those sublime architectural aberrations the poet of the Apocalypse must have seen floating on the shores of Patmos as he dreamt of the New Jerusalem and likened it in its beauty to a newly wed bride." George Sand, 'Lettres d'un Voyageur.'

Inside the Giardini we take Paludo San Antonio which will lead us to the district of Sant' Elena. This is one of the newest areas of Venice. Contrary to what many people, Venetians and travel-book writers included, may say, this is an enchanting area of Venice. Granted that there are no impressive palazzi or works of art to admire, but Sant' Elena is only a short vaporetto ride away from all that, while its residents have the luxury of enjoying a lush and quiet surrounding, away from the mass of tourists. As you walk on Viale Quattro Novembre on a sunny summer afternoon, underneath the refreshing tree canopy, you can enjoy the spectacular view of the Bacino di San Marco on one side, framed by a backdrop of distant islands, and on the other, amid unpretentious but pleasing architecture, the many little gardens with rosebushes and oleanders in bloom.

We make a left turn on Viale Piave. This takes us to Ponte Sant' Elena and to the austere church of Sant' Elena.


Many places around the world are named after Saint Helena, Constantine the Great's mother and the godmother of Christianity, but this tiny area of Venice is the real deal. Forget the Saint Helens of volcanic proportions or the Saint Helenas of Napoleonic and Napa-Valley fame, the unassuming church of Sant' Elena, almost falling off the map of Venice, is the only place that deserves to be called such, as it houses the relics of the saint. Her remains are displayed in a glass sarcophagus in one of the side chapels to the right of the entrance. Dressed in a golden gown she wears a mask and slippers. As I sat all by myself in the deserted church in front of her relics, I felt 1500 years of history condensed in one spot, as I pondered how one single woman could have so dramatically changed the faith, and in so doing, the fate of the Western world.

The picture below is the right bottom corner of de' Barbari's map. Below the Subsolanus wind, barely discernible is only half of the façade of Sant' Elena, indicating the lack of importance of this peripheral area. The island was cut off from the rest of Venice.

The church, originally founded in 1175, underwent many transformations. It was deconsecrated by the French and reopened more than a century later in 1929. Its campanile, demolished when the church was closed, was rebuilt in 1958.

We leave the church and after crossing the beautiful Parco delle Rimembranze, we go back to the Riva. In front of the Giardini is the monument to the Partigiana, a moving bronze at water level created by artist Augusto Murer in the 1960s to honor the Venetian women of the resistance who fell during World War II.

We cross Ponte San Domenego and take Riva dei Sette Martiri (named after seven Venetians shot by the Nazis) on our way back to San Marco. To our right are the twin entrances to La Marinarezza, a housing project first built in 1335.

 From Ponte de San Domenego

Casa della Marinarezza

During the winter month, the Riva hosts an amusement park. The rides used to be closer to San Marco and now are closer to the Giardini. It's the perfect place for a lively stroll on a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Summer or Winter, sunny or cloudy, one thing is certain, this area of Venice is always delightful.

This completes our tour of Castello.