Around Cannaregio

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

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

Map of Venice

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

We make our way back to the church of San Giovanni Grisostomo. A beautiful Bellini, Saints Jerome, Christopher and Louis can be admired in one of the side altars. This is how Henry James describes the painting: "... one of the very few (Bellinis) in which there is no Virgin...a St. Jerome, in red dress, sitting aloft upon the rocks, with a landscape of extraordinary purity behind has a brilliant beauty, and the St. Jerome is a delightful old personage." The high altar boasts Sebastiano del Piombo's St. John Chrysostom and Six Saints. The three female saints to the left of San Giovanni Grisostomo are also described by James: "These ladies stand together on the left, holding in their hands little white caskets; two of them are in profile, but the foremost turns her face to the spectator. This face and figure are almost unique among the beautiful things of Venice, and they leave the susceptible observer with the impression of having made, or rather having missed, a strange, a dangerous, but most valuable, acquaintance." A magnificent marble altarpiece by Tullio Lombardo, The Coronation of the Virgin, graces another side altar. As we leave the church, we continue on the salizada in the opposite direction we came in. We cross the bridge over Rio de San Giovanni Grisostomo and cut across Campielli F. Corner and Riccardo Selvatico and come to the picturesque Sotoportego Falier where we make a left turn.

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

Campiello F. Corner
 Campiello Riccardo Selvatico

By the Santi Apostoli bridge, half on land and half on water, there is a shop that was already there in the year 1500 as shown in Jacopo de' Barbari's masterful rendering of Venice.

We cut across Campo Santi Apostoli and take Salizada del Pistor. We turn right at the third intersection, Rio Terà dei Franceschi. On the left-hand side is Cinema Giorgione, the last operating movie theater in Venice. We turn left on Rio Terà Santi Apostoli on the side of the theater, and then right at the second intersection, Rio Terà Barba Frutariol. We cross Ponte Giustinian into Calle de la Madona and walk to the end, Calle Morandi, where we turn right. At the end of Calle Morandi is Calle Varisco, the narrowest street in Venice, spanning only 53 cm. If you walk by the intersection of Calle Varisco and Calle Bandi, in the early morning you would be delighted with the sweet smell of orange-blossom water coming from the ovens of a nearby bakery. 

Campo Santi Apostoli from Sotoportego Falier
 Campo Santi Apostoli

Calle Varisco
 Pietà at Calle del Pestrin, off Varisco

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

Wellhead on Calle del Pestrin
 Fresh canoce

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

Sotoportego and Fondamenta  Widmann
Fondamenta and Ponte del Piovan

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

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

Santa Maria dei Miracoli
                          Santa Maria dei Miracoli

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

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

Palazzo Soranzo-Van Axel
Portal detail

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

We retrace our steps to the front of the church, Campo dei Miracoli, cross the bridge and take Corte dei Miracoli to Campiello Santa Maria Nova. We make a left turn at the first intersection and we will soon be in front of the church of San Canzian. We cross the bridge and then cut across Campiello de la Cason (Cason is an old term for prison) to Calle del Manager that takes us behind the church and campo of Santi Apostoli where Strada Nova begins. This street was opened in the second half of the XIX century. No other street in Venice is wider, longer or with less character. Still, many things along the way are worth seeing. For example, the view of Ca' da Mosto, one of the oldest palaces on the Grand Canal dating from the XI century, is unsurpassed from Ramo Dragan off the Strada Nova a few meters away from Campo Santi Apostoli.

Campo Santi Apostoli
Beginning of Strada Nova

 Shop on Strada Nova
Ca' da Mosto from Ramo Dragan

From Campo Santa Sofia the view of the Pescaria (Fish Market in the Rialto district) and the Fabriche Nove is superb, more so after a snowstorm.

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

The Ca' d'Oro (Golden House) is off Strada Nova just past Campo Santa Sofia. Now a museum, the house was built in the early XV century and it once boasted a gilded façade. By the beginning of the XIX century it had fallen into complete disrepair. It underwent a careless restoration that almost destroyed it but it was brought back to its previous glory, albeit without the glitter, by the intelligent restoration commissioned by Baron Giorgio Franchetti who donated it, along with a vast art collection, to the state in 1916. It is now, as it once was, one of the most beautiful buildings in Venice. It houses wonderful paintings by Carpaccio, Vivarini and Tintoretto and sculptures by Tullio Lombardo and Bernini among many others. The best time to admire the façade of Ca' d'Oro is after a rain, when the polychrome marbles deepen their colors. In the words of Horatio Brown, "There are two moments particularly favourable for an artist to take his walks in Venice. One is after a rain shower, when the old intonaco upon the walls has every tone brought out, and is vivid with colour ranging from grey through pale sea-green to red -the old Venetian red with which so many houses used to be stained. The other choice moment for a walk is in the early morning before the business of the day has begun."
Just past Ponte Novo San Felice is Calle del Traghetto. At the end of this street, by the Grand Canal, engraved in a massive column belonging to Palazzo Contarini-Pisani is a bas relief of a rat, unusual homage to a most despised animal, especially in a city where so many died because of the plague carried by this rodent.
The oldest pharmacy in Venice is also on the Strada Nova, Cannaregio 2233a, right across from the church of Santa Fosca. The old apothecary room decorated with majolica vases and beautifully carved walnut furniture can be admired from the room next door in the Farmacia Santa Fosca all'Ercole d'Oro.

View from the dock at the end of Calle del Traghetto    
Monument to the Rat
Oldest pharmacy in Venice

A couple of things are worth seeing in campo Santa Fosca. One is the statue of Fra Paolo Sarpi (1552-1625) a scientist and theologist who is credited with discovering the dilation of the iris and making the first map of the moon. However, he is better remembered in Venice as a patriot who stood against Rome in defense of his city when Pope Paul V excommunicated everyone in Venice. His arguments were so well founded that the Pope finally conceded to Venice. An attempt to assassinate him took place soon after, but Fra Paolo, as he was known, miraculously survived and recovered. His comment on the wounds received was "I recognized the style of Rome," making double reference to the style of the Roman Church and the stiletto knife used in the attack. He lived for another eighteen years in his Servite cloister.  
The other point of interest in Campo Santa Fosca is the bridge behind the statue. It is called Ponte Santa Fosca, but it was once known as Bridge of the War, Ponte della Guerra, because of the fist fights staged on this bridge between rival groups.  Marble footprints inlaid on the paving of the bridge indicate the initial positions for these fights.

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

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

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

Left: Behind the church of San Marcuola.

Grand Canal with Rio de S. Marcuola from Fontego dei Turchi
Palazzo Gritti-Dandolo and Ca' Memmo-Martinengo (behind)

Next to the church of San Marcuola is Ca' Memmo-Martinengo. Here is where Andrea Memmo, Procurator of Saint Mark, friend of Casanova, passionate lover of Giustiniana Wynne lived and died. His life and tumultuous affair with Giustiniana have been recently recounted in the wonderful book A Venetian Affair by Andrea di Robilant. We take Rio Terà del Cristo to the intersection of Rio Terà San Leonardo with Calle del Pistor and Rio Terà Farsetti and take the latter. At the first intersection on our left, we turn on Callesele. This street will take us to Calle Gheto Novissimo, one of the entrances to the Jewish Ghetto. The word ghetto derives from the Venetian word getar, meaning "to cast." The area was known as the geto at San Hieronimo (San Girolamo) because of the public foundries where primitive cannons were cast. A Senate decree of 1516 created the first Jewish ghetto, the Gheto Novo, forcing about seven hundred Jews already living in Venice to move to this location. The ghetto was entirely walled and closed at night; the Jews were allowed to move freely around the city only during the daytime. In 1541 the Gheto Vechio, separated from the Gheto Novo by a bridge, was created. There are still five synagogues, called Scuole, in the ghetto; three in the Gheto Novo: German, Italian and Canton, and two in the Gheto Vechio: Spanish and Levantine. Some of them can be visited through the Museo Ebraico located on the Campo de Gheto Novo. The synagogues are nondescript on the outside but lavishly decorated on the inside. They can be recognized from the street because their façades usually display five identical windows, representing the five books of the Torah.

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

As the population of the ghetto increased, so did the demand for housing, which resulted in the construction of taller and taller buildings, like the seven-story apartment house still standing today in the Gheto Novo. At the beginning of the XVIII century the Officers of the Republic posted a stone tablet in the middle of the Gheto Vechio warning Jews who had converted to Christianity not to enter the private houses of other Jews or suffer the consequences (whip, prison, galleys). The carving of the lion of Saint Mark on top of the tablet was removed, presumably by the Jews, at the fall of the Republic in 1797. No more than 200 Jews live in the ghetto today but the place still retains many of its old traditions; there are regular services at the synagogues and bookstores, crafts stores, bakeries and kosher restaurants cater to the local and international Jewish community. One of my favorite stores is Shalom da Venezia that specializes in Jewish art, Cannaregio 1219.

Catholics vs. Jews, chess version
A menorah from Shalom Venezia
Fondamenta de Cannaregio near the ghetto

We exit the ghetto through the sotoportego at the end of Calle del Ramo Gheto Vechio that leads to Fondamenta de Cannaregio. We turn left, cross the bridge with the four obelisks, Ponte de le Guglie, and continue straight ahead to Campo San Geremia. The church of San Geremia and Santa Lucia will be on our left. Santa Lucia, virgin and martyr, was originally from Siracusa, Sicily. She is the patroness of gondoliers and eye doctors. Legend has it that she plucked her eyes out and presented them to her suitor who in a fit of rage had denounced her to the authorities for being a Christian when she refused his proposal so she could consecrate her life to God. Her feast day is December 13, the winter solstice in the old Julian Calendar. Since her name Lucia means "light", one may wonder whether it is a coincidence or not that her day fell on the shortest day of the year that always brings the promise of the renewal of light. Dressed in red and wearing a mask, her body is on display inside a crystal casket in the church.

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

From the church we take Lista di Spagna that leads us to the third bridge on the Grand Canal, Ponte dei Scalzi (scalzi meaning "barefoot") which takes its name from the church nearby. A few steps away is the Ferrovia or Stazione Santa Lucia. Here is where the old church of Santa Lucia once stood, until it was demolished to make room for the train station.

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

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

Below: Details about the Calatrava bridge.

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

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

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

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

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

Campo and Ponte S. Alvise
Rio dei Riformati

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

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

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

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

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

 Madonna de l'Orto from Fondamenta dei Mori
San Cristoforo

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

We go back to Rio de la Madonna de l'Orto where we can admire the Palazzo Mastelli or del Cammello (because of a relief of a camel, carrying a huge load, on its façade). One canal down, on Rio de la Sensa by Campo dei Mori there is a building with a water gate displaying some typical Venetian ironwork. The same intricate lace-like design can be admired in a metal ruler from the Peggy Guggenheim collection (2001).

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

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

At the end of Calle Larga we make a left turn on Fondamenta de la Misericordia and walk along the canal. We are about to leave this part of Cannaregio where the canals are impossibly straight and the atmosphere quaint and unhurried, but before we do, we should take a look at Palazzo Lezze with its strange
alchemical carvings.

We cross Ponte de la Misericordia, next to the Scuola Nova della Misericordia, the next bridge is the romantic Ponte Chiodo, the only remaining bridge in Venice without parapet. We turn right on Fondamenta San Felice that will take us back to Strada Nova and the end of our tour of Cannaregio.