From the Fondamenta Nuove to the Biennale
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Fondamenta Nuove · Palazzo Dona · San Canciano · Santa Maria dei Miracoli · Palazzo Soranzo · Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo · Scuola Grande di San Marco · Santi Giovanni e Paolo · Barbaria delle Tole · Palazzo Morosini · Palazzo Muazzo · Palazzo Gradenigo · Campo Santa Giustina · San Francesco della Vigna · Campo della Celestia · Salizzada and Campo delle Gatte · San Giorgio degli Schiavoni · San Giorgio dei Greci · San Giovanni in Bragora · Campo San Martino · Arsenal · Campo San Biagio · Museo Storico Navale · Via Garibaldi · Giardini Pubblici · Viale Garibaldi · Biennale

Click here to view a map of the walk
Green numbers below correspond to numbers on the map

The area where the first inhabitants of the sestiere of Castello settled was the island of San Pietro; known as Olivolo, this constituted the original religious nucleus of the city. The name "Castello" derives from the existence in Late Antiquity of a fortress on this small island. The sestiere is, however, the largest in Venice, comprising important residential districts, especially towards Rialto and San Marco; a large area occupied by the Arsenal, where the ships of the Venetian Republic were built; and a working-class area extending out into the lagoon on its seaward side, with the most recent additions to the city.

This route begins at the Fondamenta Nuove, 1 a major 16C town-planning scheme that established the northern limits of the city. Due to this position, exposing it to the northerly winds, it has always been only an area of passage without the crowds and cafes of the Zattere. In addition to the splendid view towards the islands of San Michele and Murano, here it is possible to admire the elegance of a most austere palace that the doge Leonardo Donà built here at the beginning of the 17C as a reaction against the ostentation of the period. This is the Palazzo Donà dalle Rose; 2 still belonging to the same family, it is one of the few patrician residences in this area mainly occupied by workshops and warehouses. Take Calle della Vida and, following the signs for Rialto, proceed through the maze of narrow calli with their picturesque names - Botteri (coopers), Cordoni (ropes), Fumo (smoke) - as far as the church of San Canciano, 3 dedicated to two brothers and their sister martyred in Aquileia c. 304. Altered in the 18C, the building still has a splendid campanile, rebuilt in 1532. From the bridge on the other side of Campo Santa Maria Nova, there Santi Giovanni and Paolois a view of one of the first examples of Renaissance architecture in Venice, the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli 4 This detached building, completed by Pietro Lombardo in 1489 and elegantly faced with polychrome marble, was built to house a painting of the Madonna, executed in 1408, which is still in situ. Next to the church is the Late-Gothic Palazzo Soranzo Van Axel, 5 dating from 1473, which has two entrances -one from the canal and the other from the street. Turn left after the church into Calle Castelli, which becoming Calle delle Erbe, leads to Campo San Zanipolo, 6 (the name is a contraction of "Santi Giovanni e Paolo"). This area has always had strong religious and charitable links, as is attested in this campo by the monastery and basilica of Santi Giovanni and Paolo, and the Scuola Grande di San Marco, 7 now a hospital. In the middle of the campo is the equestrian monument to Bartolomeo Colleoni, sculpted by Andrea Verrocchio in the late 15C. The reason why the statue is sited here is curious. Colleoni, a Bergamasque condottiere in the service of Venice, left all his possessions to the Venetian Republic, providing a monument to him was erected in front of St Mark's Cathedral. As this was unacceptable, the Senate shrewdly decreed that the monument should be placed in front of the Scuola di San Marco. Work on the latter was started in 1489 by Pietro Lombardo and his sons after the previous building had been destroyed by fire. Because of differences between the architects and the confraternity, Mario Codussi was brought in to design the upper part of the façade. The scuola provided succor to the sick until 1815; after the building had been partially demolished. Many of the works of art it formerly contained are now in the Gallerie dell'Accademia.


Place Name

Place-names in Venice are very picturesque. Often they are very down-to-earth, referring to the trade practiced in the calle or by the rio in question. Still today it is possible to find traces of these old crafts. As far as the names of saints are concerned, Venice differs from other Italian cities in that they comprise many from the Eastern tradition, as well as figures from the Old Testament, another Byzantine custom.

The façade of the basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, 8 on the other hand, is incomplete: nonetheless, the Gothic Structure of the church harmonizes with the portal designed by Bartolomeo Bon (1459-61), marking the transition between the Gothic and Renaissance styles. Built by the Dominicans from 1246 onwards, this church, together with the adjoining monastery, has always housed the Order of Friar Preachers. Its size, comparable to that of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (with which it shares the appellation "pantheon of the Venetian nobility"), is offset by the bold thrust of its lines, both inside and outside. Its five polygonal apses are particularly remarkable. Beyond the basilica, in Salizzada Santi Giovanni e Paolo, stands the small church of Santa Maria dei Derelitti (or of the Ospedaletto), dating from 1672. Built by Baldassare Longhena, who was responsible for the overelaborated two-tiered façade, it forms part of a charitable institution that has undergone various transformations over the centuries. After the church is the Calle Barbaria de le Tole. 9 Its name comes from the wood that was stored and sawn here (tole), while barbaria may derive from the uncouthness of the mountain-men who cut up the wood.

The Patriarchate of Venice

It is now certain that one of the first nuclei of Venice was in the Castello area, on the island of San Pietro, formerly known as Olivolo. From 775 to 1451, this important diocese was under the Patriarchate of Grado. Subsequently, it acquired patriarchal status, which it kept until 1807, when the patriarchate was moved to St. Mark's, until then the doge's chapel.

From the calle (which then becomes Calle del Caffettier) there is access to a series of fascinating palaces: Palazzo Morosini, 10 with a courtyard in International Gothic style and a 16C outside staircase; Palazzo Muazzo, 11 with access from the canal; Palazzo Gradenigo, 12 a 17C building with a private bridge and decorated internally with 18C stuccoes. In the campo over the bridge at the end of Calle Zen is the former church of Santa Giustina, 13 rebuilt between 1636 and 1640 to commemorate the victory over the Turks at Lepanto on St. Justina's Day (7 October) 1571, with an incomplete façade by Longhena; it now houses a secondary school.

From the campo, Calle del Tedeum leads into Calle San Francesco, proclaiming the presence of another Franciscan community in the city in addition to the monastery at the Frari. It comprised Capuchins or Friars Minor, who, in the second half of the 13C built the church and monastery of San Francesco della Vigna 14 in this deserted area. Dating from 1534, the present church was designed by Jacopo Sansovino, although the harmonious façade is by Andrea Palladio (1572). Next to the church stands the Palazzo Gritti (or della Nunziatura), a Renaissance building built by the doge Andrea Gritti (or della Nunziatura), a Renaissance building linked in the 19C to the convent of the pinzochere (Franciscan tertiaries) by a walkway on columns. Beyond the church Calle del Cimitero leads to Campo della Celestia, 15 where there is the Palladian façade of a former Cistercian convent. At the end of the campo, turn right at the bridge across the rio and, after Campo Santa Ternità, proceed to Calle dell'Olio. At the end of this is Salizzada delle Gatte, 16 leading to Campiello Ugo Foscolo, where, at no. 3224, the celebrated poet after whom the small campo is named lived as an adolescent until 1797.

On the right, Campo delle Gatte gives access to Calle dei Furlani, leading to the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. 17 This scuola dates from 1551, although other confraternities formed by sailors and craftsmen from Dalmatia ("Schiavoni") had existed in Venice for a hundred years before. In fact, the famous cycle of paintings by Vittore Carpaccio, Scenes from the Life of St. George, still in situ in the lower hall, dates from 1507, and was previously housed in the old premises near Sant'Antonin.


From the scuola, take Fondamenta dei Furlani and, at the end, turn right into Salizzada dei Greci, which takes its name from another foreign community, the Greeks. Present in Venice since the 9C, they came in droves after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, becoming the largest foreign community in the city after the Jews. In 1526 the community became independent of the Patriarch and, from then on has practiced the Greek Orthodox rite in the church of San Giorgio, 18 built in 1539-61. The nearby Scuola di San Nicolò houses a collection of religious art.

San Giovanni in Bragora Take Calle Boselli and turn left into Calle dietro la Pietà, which leads to Campo San Giovanni in Bragora. 19 Probably founded in the 8C, the present church dates from the early 16C, with a façade reflecting the transition between the Gothic and Renaissance style. A plaque commemorates the baptism of the Antonio Vivaldi here in 1678. After restoration, the interior has recovered its Gothic aspect; there are paintings by such artists as Vivarini and Cima da Conegliano. At the end of Calle Crosera turn left into Calle Erizzo, which leads into Campo San Martino. 20 The present church here, designed by Sansovino, dates from 1540, when the Arsenal was already very important. Next to it is the former Scuola di San Martino, premises of the confraternity of caulkers. The feast-day of St. Martin of Tours (11 November) is celebrated in Venice with various popular traditions (cakes and songs).


Public Gardens in Venice

It was Napoleon who created the best-known open spaces in Venice by means of wholesale demolition of the pre-existing buildings. An important scheme was the Giardini Reali, near San Marco, intended to provide a view of the Bacino di San Marco from the Procuratie Nuove when they became the royal residence in 1807. The Granai Terranova, the largest warehouse in Europe, dating from the 14C, was demolished to make way for the gardens. The other large open space from the Napoleonic era, the Giardini Pubblici in the Castello district, was the result not only of demolition, but also of the reclamation of marshland, making the area more salubrious.

Modern Venice

The presence of the Biennale in the Giardini Pubblici has led to the construction of outstanding examples of modern architecture in this area. Commissioned by the participating countries to design the pavilions, famous architects have created some of the few modern buildings in the city.

Just beyond the church is the magnificent portal of the Arsenal. 21 Built in 1460, it marks the true beginning of the Renaissance in Venice and is part of the program of confirmation and consolidation of its power with which the city intended to counteract the decline of Constantinople. The lions from Piraeus and Delos symbolize the supremacy of Venice over the Adriatic. The bust of Dante commemorates his visit to the city, mentioned in Inferno (canto 21). Unfortunately, it is not possible to visit the Arsenal but a view of it may be obtained from the vaporetto that passes through its main canal (nearest stop Tana Celestia).

Cross the Rio dell'Arsenale and turn right; at the end of the fondamenta, in Campo San Biagio 22, stands the church of San Biagio founded in 1052, but rebuilt in the mid-18C (the façade is incomplete). To cater for sailors from the East, services in this church were held alternately with the Latin and Byzantine rites before San Giorgio dei Greci was built. Next to the church, an austere building that was formerly a naval granary and ship's biscuit warehouse has housed the Museo Storico Navale (Naval History Museum) 23 since 1961. On the Riva di San Biagio there is a splendid view of the Canale di San Marco and the lagoon including, just opposite, the island of San Giorgio with its Palladian church, the islands of San Clemente and San Lazzaro, and, in the distance, the Lido. After the bridge on the left, an unusually wide street opens up. This is Via Garibaldi 24,the result of an urban renewal scheme involving the partial covering of the Rio di Castello. This busy street through a working-class district leads to the island of San Pietro, where the old cathedral of Olivolo is located. Towards the end of the street, on the right, stands the gate of the Giardini Pubblici; 25 the only extensive park in Venice, it was created in the Napoleonic period. The gate was designed by Giannantonio Selva, while the gardens, originally Italian, were transformed in the 19C into English gardens. Viale Garibaldi 26 leads through the gardens, with their remaining greenhouses, to the lagoon shore. Further changes took place with the construction of the Biennale 27 buildings, which cover a large part of the area. Founded in 1895 on the initiative of the mayor of Venice, the Biennale is a leading international art show. Many of the pavilions of the participating countries are splendid examples of modern architecture.

This route ends on the Riva dei Partigiani, where there are the Giardini Biennale and Biennale 28 vaporetto stops.


Although St. Mark's Square is the best-known of Venice's tourist attractions, the whole city is, in fact, an indivisible whole, consisting of well-known places and others of lesser renown: splendid palaces, humble working-class houses, narrow lanes and large squares. If, however, they fail to wander away from the well-trodden tourist routes, visitors will find it difficult to fully appreciate the way of life, the history and traditions of this remarkable city; and it will be impossible for them to understand why, after so many centuries, it has maintained its unique character. Thus these unconventional walking tours through the lesser-known areas of the city are intended, above all, to allow visitors to discover the "real" Venice, but without wishing to supplant the innumerable opportunities for more detailed tours of places of interest that are to be found all over the city. In order to simplify matters, the tours start and finish at points served by public transport. Moreover, they describe what is visible to the visitor from the street, square or waterside walk, without - apart from a few exceptional cases - dwelling on the features of interest inside the buildings mentioned. Thus, this publication is not in any way intended to replace the more complete guides to Venice.

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