Castello District - Sestiere Castello, Venice
VAPORETTO - SAN ZACCARIA / SAN MARCO (VALLARESSO)
Crossing over Ponte della Paglia, having taken your photo of The Bridge of Sighs, you arrive onto Riva degli Schiavoni - The Dalmations Quay.
(We have left San Marco sestieri (one of the 6 neighbourhoods of Venice) and are now in Castello sestieri - If You're ever unsure where You are in Venice, the street signs also name the Sestieri - and Yellow signs point to San Marco, Rialto Bridge and other main landmarks)
The name comes from Schiavone-the Italian word for Slav, which in Venice was linked to the word slave. Slave trading was a common occurance in the early life of the city. Most slaves arrived from Dalmatian coastal towns.
Many of these Slavs were Christian, or converted to the faith, so by the 11th century, the slave trade in Venice ended.
The quayside, became the location where merchant ships from the ports of the Mediterranean, Adriatic, and further afield unloaded their goods. Food was sold from their boats, or booths set up along the quayside. There were also quite a few inns just beyond the bridge.
In ancient times, the Riva degli Schiavoni was partly walled-as a defense from invasion.
It was such an important transit port, that the area had to be widened , as it was only the width of its bridges. It was paved in 1324, then widened between 1780-82 by the architect Tommaso Temanza, to accommodate the increasingly busy trade.
Apparently a white stone border marks the original boundary. Canaletto's drawings of the Riva during the 1740's and 1750s show an area busy with gondolas, barges and sailing boats.
The Riva has been one of Venices highly desired addresses, with Petrarch in 1362 (No. 4145) and Henry James (No 4161) residing here. The Hotel Danieli (No 4196) has boasted Dickens, Proust, Wagner and Ruskin as guests. Today it welcomes guests willing to part with 700 Euros for its cheaper rooms - 900 Euro with a lagoon view!
Nowadays, this popular promenade still continues its trading history, although this time through the many gift shops and souvenir stalls.
There are also Exchange bureaus, and snack stalls, and You'll no doubt encounter a multitude of street entertainers along your stroll.
This is a pleasant area to stroll at dusk, as the sun sets over the water.
For those preferring a longer walk, and to see some of Venice's less visited areas, with views across the water -
The Riva stretches along the Bacino di San Marco from the Ducal Palace to the Rio Ca'di Dio near the Arsenale Vaporetto stop. Here, the promenade changes its name to Riva Ca' di Dio, until the bridge crossing the Rio dell' Arsenale. The section in front of the Naval museum is The Riva S Biagio, crossing the next bridge you are then on Riva dei Sette Martiri, which is a longer promenade, stretching to near the Giardini Vaporetto stop. Continuing in front of the Giardini Pubblici along the Viale del Giardini Pubblici, then crossing the bridge, you'll find yourself in Sant' Elena at the easternmost end of Venice.
VAPORETTO - SAN ZACCARIA
Retracing your steps along the Riva degli Schiavoni, look for the Hotel Danieli. This is the largest and possibly one of the most famous hotels in Venice, and one of the top hotels in the world.
Originally built as a Palace for the ducal Dandolo family in the 14th century, it became a hotel in 1822, named after its owner Joseph Da Niel. Newer wings were added in the 1940's Apparently its opulent interior is crammed with marble, stained glass, crystal chandeliers, silk covered walls, gilt mirrors and oriental carpets. It also has the uninterrupted view over the lagoon - but this comes with the accompanying noise from the pavement below!
Between the 2 buildings of the hotel is a narrow street, Calle delle Rasse. Walking along here, you'll see many fish restaurants, bars and shops. When I visited at Christmas, small twinkling white lights decorated the street.
This street was originally a hive of industry- Rasse (Rascia or Rassa) was a black strong canvas- like material, (or a woolen cloth) that was used to cover the gondolas, to protect their ornate furnishings and fabrics. It originated in Servia (Rascia)
So manufacturing, selling and sewing of this material took place all along the street, and led to its name.
Doge Vitale Michiel 1 was murdered by Marco Cassuolo at the entrance to this Calle on September 13th 1102, while he was on his way to pay his traditional annual visit to the nearby church of San Zaccaria.
Cassuolo, was caught, after attempting to hide in one of the nearby houses at the Calles entrance, and hung.
These houses were then destroyed. They were rebuilt, but not permitted to be constructed in stone. They were then destroyed to enable the extension of the Hotel Danieli.
Apparently, Doge Vitale Michiel 11 was also murdered near this Calle, again on his way to San Zaccaria on 27th March 1172 - an Easter visit!! Hmmmm....
Don't worry, the worst that is likely to happen today is that you'll be accosted by street entertainers along this route!!!
Scuole, played a major role in Venezia. One of these is the Scuola Grande di San Marco with a marvellous southern façade. Maybe some of you know this building from Canaletto’s painting SS Giovanni e Paolo and the Scuola di San Marco of 1725, which is on exhibit in Dresden’s Gallery of Old Masters. Looking at this painting is fascinating, as it could have been made in todays’ time. Not much has changed, except the clothes of the people of course. However, the magnificent façade cannot be seen in the painting. But it is of a similar style as Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli and some palazzos along Canal Grande (Palazzi Dario and Manzoni for example). Similar as with the Byzantine ornaments, once I have seen this style, I started to see parts of it all over Venezia. he portal has beautiful decoration as well, scenes of San Marco's life.
Only later I learnt that it is indeed of a similar school, Pietro Lombardi and family have also started the work on Scuola San Marco’s façade. It was finished later by Mauro Coducci around 1500. What I mean in decoration are these polychrome dark red and dark green marble discs surrounded by elaborate circles as in photo 1. But the most intriguing is the symmetrical perspective of the façade’s entrance portal decorations. If you stand at one end of the campo and look at the building, the two arches flanking the portal look very much three-dimensional (photo 3 or 5): the lion seems to step out of the arch and the arches’ vault seems to vanish into the rear. But the closer you walk towards it, the more the illusion becomes obvious: these details are worked out in relief and partly in trompe d’œil style (see photos 1 and 2).
Oh, I almost forgot to write that this magnificent building is Venezia’s Ospedale Civile (main hospital) now. Some of the scuola’s magnificent interior can be visited Mondays to Fridays in the morning, this now through the southern entrance.
Of all the campos I saw and stayed in Venezia, Campo San Zanipolo was my favourite. Haha, easy enough, as I lived just around the corner (when staying in the appartment). I still don’t know what it was with this campo, maybe that the hospital is situated here and that the people often stop by in the cafes, restaurants and bàcari during their hospital visits ? And of course there is the church San Zanipolo with mass service. Consequently, on weekends the campo is full with real Veneziano life – just perfect. Now this campo has another advantage: by now it is the only place in Venezia, where the most famous pasticceria of all has a shop: Rosa Salva. They make the best sweets on the planet and their coffee smells…. divine !
The campo’s importance is indicated by the very nice and elaborate well (photo 1) and the famous equestrian sculpture of Bartolomeo Colleoni (photos 2 and 3). This sculpture is famous in several respects: it is one of the first bronze sculptures of that size, and even John Ruskin believed that there is no more glorious work of sculpture in this world. Then, you might ask how does a horse get into a town dominated by canales ? There is an interesting and funny story behind this. Colleoni was one of Venezia’s most famous leaders of armed forces on terra firma back in mid 15th century. In his testament he promised to donate a large sum to Venezia, if he would get immortality with a monument in front of San Marco. Now La Serenissima could not accept a foreigner from Bergamo, despite his triumphs for the city, standing in front of the Basilica of San Marco. But … smart as the Venezianos have always been – the testament did not specifically say “basilica”, so his statue was placed in front of San Marco, but the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Testament fulfilled, the city had the legal right to claim the money :-)
VAPORETTO - SAN ZACCARIA
On the Riva degli Schiavoni is this impressive statue to Vittorio Emanuele 11, who was the first king of the united Italy.
The monument was created by the Roman sculpter, Ettore Ferrari. It was inaugurated on 1st May 1887, and illustrates the ripping off of the chains of Austrian dominance. It depicts Vittorio on horseback on a stone plinth. Below are lions and dragons.
Between the statue and the next bridge is Pensione Wilder (No 4161), where Henry James completed 'Portrait of A Lady' in 1887
I can't repeat it enough, but Venice is so much more than St Mark's Square! Of course, you need to see that if you're in Venice, just don't limit yourself to that area.
My favourite area was Castello. In and around the Via Garibaldi, it is so quiet and you see harldy any tourists. Laundry drying outside, elder people taking a rest on one of the benches, ... : this is my kind of Venice!
As already mentioned, I write about my tours through Venezia not for the ones who plant to visit the city once and race through the neuralgic spots, but for those who take their time, want to see more of the charming spots and intend to come back one day. Or simply for those who want to read about the many treasures La Serenissima holds.
Now follow me on my walks through sestiere Castello, which was my favourite area and still is, now half a year later, as I am writing about it. Maybe as this felt more like the real Venezia for me, with many witnesses of her glorious past, even in tiny details. I didn’t see many other tourists there, except at Arsenale and Isola di San Pietro.
The following tips will be about Castello, the sights and places I found charming and interesting during my walks. For a better overview, I made a screenshot of GoogleMaps again and marked the walks with a blue line. Oh, I should mention that the walks started in the northwest and from there clockwise with this little detour to Isola di San Pietro in the east.
In addition, I add a GoogleEarth Screenshot of backstreet Castello in case you want to find the fish scale of Venezia’s old days as a Republic.
When I approached Venezia from the northern side, first I was mislead by a belltower which I thought was the Campanile, but it wasn’t. It was the campanile of chiesa San Franceso della Vigna, in Castellos northeast. I never heard of this church before but my walk through Castello’s north lead me there. I was amazed by its façade, which looks a bit like a greek temple (see photo in the link below; somehow I forgot to take a photo of the whole façade), Palladio’s first work in Venezia. This church has a quite interesting story. Legends say that San Marco (St. Mark the Evangelist, Venezia’s patron saint) once landed here in a stormy night and an angel appeared and greeted him with the words Pax tibi Marce Evangelista meus (peace with you, o Mark, my Evangelist), which we all know from the countless depictions of San Marco lion – it is written on the book he holds in his paws. Once a vinyard stood here, hence the name “della vigna”.
Inside, it is filled with rich artwork, as I have read: Veronese paintings, a madonna by Giovanni Bellini and relief work of Pietro Lombardo. I didn’t go inside in May (obviously didn’t make my homework properly), so I cannot say anthing about opening times. It is not included in the Chorus Pass.
But if you go, you should also look at the cloister in the north of the church. It is said to to be overgrown with plants and tendrils, and given the view on GoogleEarth it must indeed look nice. It seems that there is still a vineyard and a garden (Google Earth) but it is not accessible from the outside.
Next to the church is a building which is easily been overlooked, but all fans of the TV series of Donna Leon’s Commissario Brunetti will immediately recognise it as the Questura, where he works. But this is another story, for the off path section (and not yet done).
L’Arsenale’s entrance portal is said to be the first Renaissance building in Venezia. Built by Antonio Gambello in 1460, it is indeed a very pompous one. To demonstrate Venezia’s naval power and justify evangelist San Marco to be the city’s patron, lions have been brought here from all over the mediterrean world (Piräus, Greece, to be precise) and are now flanking the portal. The one at the left has a very interesting and mysterious carving: it is said to be runic inscriptions made by Nordic mercenaries who had been hired in 11th century to support the rulers in the Piräus war (photo 3, it is on the left lions’s left side). The portal itself is really gorgeous and I highly recommend first to step back and look at it from a bit far away – to take in all the details it has. It looks indeed like a triumph arch with the Marco lion on top (note that his book is closed, a signal that L’Arsenale has been built for preparing wars or at least defending the city). Around the fenced stairs statues of mythology gods are grouped: I identified Neptun (photo 4), Fortuna with the cornucopia (in the travelogue), Iustitia, Minerva and for the others I am not sure (oh my, school has been some time ago…). And another statue is here which reminds us that L’Arsenale was even model for a classical piece of literature – Dante has it in mind when he wrote his Divina Commedia (Divine Comedy): his statue is to the right side of the entrance portal (photo 5).
L’Arsenale has 2 entrances – depending on how the people entered: Ingresso di Terra (land entrance), which is this entrance portal and Ingresso di Mare (water entrance), which is just next to it, the only way the ships could leave the building station. And this is where we walk next.
If you are like me – and you like old industrial sites then this “next step” is one of the most cruel ones in Venezia: it is not allowed to enter the grounds of L’Arsenale and to view and visit the old dockyards. I tried my best but the guard at the entrance smiles and shook his head when I asked. So the only possibility is to walk on the wooden bridge in front of ingresso di mare and bring a good tele lens with you. At least you get a small glimpse of this gorgeous institution. The buildings are still there, at least the walls (but they look quite restored, at least the ones near the entrance) and partly overgrown by shrubs. Nowadays a wooden bridge connects the two guarding towers – in the past, there was a portcullis to close the entrance and maybe also prevent unloyal workers to bring valuables out of the site.
But even if we cannot go inside, we can get a brief impression and an idea about the immense size is through GoogleEarth. Or another good website is the one of Thetis (see below – website). This is a maritime development institution and has moved into some buildings in the northeastern part of the site. They have renovated some buildings and it is fascinating to read about their restoration phase. They also have a map with the several building phases of historic L’Arsenale.
Well, it is not exactly true that we cannot enter the site. During Biennale, some buildings are used as exhibition halls. This is mainly the Cordiere in the eastern part of L’Arsenale. Maybe one day :-)
I don’t claim “copyright” for this tip title, this entirely Christine(j)’s credit for her description of is your pretzel big enough in Heidelberg.
When I was walking from L’Arsenale to Isola di San Pietro, I wanted to find out what is in the backstreets and so I took the little street behind Museo Storico Navale (Campo della Tana). This leads along the very much unapproachable walls of la Cordiere, L’Arsenale’s ropemaker’s complex and then onto Fondamenta della Tana, which is a very quiet part of the city. While I was absorbing this seren atmosphere, I suddenly saw a sign at a house at the end of this street (photo 1) and it immediately reminded me of Christine’s description of the pretzel sign in Heidelberg. Back home I found out that it is indeed a similar sign, meant as a scale to assure that no customer gets betrayed when shopping. This one of course is for fish and shows the minimal length for the different fishes. In Venezia’s glorious past, when the area around L’Arsenale was a hustle and bustle of people going to or coming from work, Fondamenta della Tana was alive with fishermen who sold their fish here. It is said that there are similar signs at Campo Margherita and Rialto, but I didn’t look for them. Next time .-)
Other old measurement standards are in Dornoch (Scotland), cloth size (by Joan, @scotishvisitor), Speyer (Germany), general measuring device and in Norcia, measuring grain.
La Donna Partigiana. That’s her official name. She is one of the most intriguing statues in the world, and one of the best hidden. In high tide this forlorn statue is submerged under the dark green waters of the lagoon. In low tide and sunlight she looks like a large piece of metal seaweed lying on stone steps. Look closer. You will see the shape of a body of a woman. This is a monument to the women killed fighting in WWII. Very few statues were ever erected to women who died during the world wide conflict of WWII. And no statue tells this story of secrecy and sadness better than this.
VAPORETTO - SAN ZACARRIA or ARSENALE
Popular with local children and teenagers. I understand that this fair is only open December and January.
About half a dozen rides, including dodgem cars, side stalls such as a rifle range/hook a duck/ hoola hoops - with the chance to win bottles of whiskey. money etc- but more likely to be a tacky keyring!
I always find it slightly amusing watching adults desperately trying to win something of less value than the amount of money that they've forked out, in the idea that 'THIS TIME' I'll get it!
An assortment of foodstalls selling the usual fairground fodder - candy floss, hot dogs, burgers, hot and cold drinks, including small bottles of wine.
UPDATE- DECEMBER 08 - The fair had expanded in size since my last visit, though Christmas Eve/ Day some stalls/ rides were closed at night.
We started to walk behind La Pieta church to explore Castello. First we saw the church S.Giovanni Batista in Bragova (pic 1) at campo Bandiera e Moro. It was the place where Vivaldi was baptized and he was lived at one of the houses of this campo. The campo has an interesting background because it is named after 2 brothers and one friend that were executed for betrayal to British government. They are buried in the church. The church looks very old and probably is as many guidebooks say that its from 8th century but it was rebuilt in 1475. The interior is very simple but you can see some nice paintings like A.Vivarini’s Resurrected Christ(1498) and Baptism of Christ in Jordan by Cima da Conegliano (1492), a magnificent bright painting. The church is dedicated to St John the Baptist of course but the word Bragora reminded me of the greek word Agora which is the market place.
Then we got lost in almost isolated alleys(pic 2) with names like calle de la Madonna, we came across many dead ends and many old people too! After a big circle we returned to the south part of Castello to see San Giorgio dei Greci (pic 3), a greek church that dates back from 1536 but the most impressive thing to see here in the bell tower that looks like Piza’s tower (it seems the lake will destroy it sooner or later). If you go inside you will notice that the seating places are different for male and females, something very common in Greece and you can also see some typical Byzantine paintings. The orthodox service takes place on Sunday morning. Next to the church is the Scuola di San Nicolo dei Greci that houses the Museo di Icone of the Greek Institute. It is open 9.00-17.00 but it was closed when we passed by. The greek community(mainly merchants and artists) came after 15th century and based around this area.
We took a look at Palazzo Priuli(pic4), a beautiful gothic palace that houses a luxury hotel. It used to have some great fresoces on the façade but they are gone although you can still admire the nice windows.
Last but not least we visited San Zaccaria church (pic 5). It is based on Campo San Zaccaria and the sun tried to kill us but hopefully the near by café saved us. The architecture of this church is a mix of neogothic and renaissance style. It was first built on 9th century and rebuilt in 1515. There was a Benedictine nuunery next to the church that were supposed to show provocative behaviour because most of the nunneries came from high class families! There are many beautiful paintings inside but don’t miss Madonna and Child With Saints (1505) by Giovanni Bellini(1430-1516). Yes, he was old when he made this but what a masterpiece.
If you walk past the Palazzo Ducale heading for the Castello area, you'll find yourself on the Riva degli Schiavoni which, together with Piazza San Marco, has for a very long time been one of Venice's most popular high-scale tourist areas. Even if you don't plan on staying at one of the Riva's upscale hotels or have dinner at one of the rather expensive restaurants, it's still fun to go on a lazy stroll in the evening and take in all the sights and atmosphere.
From the Ponte della Paglia, you can first admire the "Bridge of Sighs", which was built at the beginning of the 17th century to connect the Palazzo Ducale with the new prisons. Although it sounds and looks quite romantic, the "Ponte dei Sospiri" actually got its name from the prisoners' laments as they made their was across the bridge and into the prison. Another point of interest on the Riva degli Schiavoni is Hotel Danieli, an upscale hotel established in a 14th century palazzo that has attracted many famous guests throughout the years, including authors such as Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens as well as composers such as Claude Debussy and Richard Wagner - it's definitely worth going inside to take a look at the gorgeous lobby area! Another hotel with a literary connection on the Riva degli Schiavoni that was of interest to me is the Pensione Wildner, where Henry James resided in 1881 as he was putting the final touch to his famous novel "The Portrait of a Lady".