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Venice Guide

While many foundations in Venice are built on reclaimed land its reputation is firmly entrenched in history and romance. Even a discount hotel in Venice allows easy access by foot or vaporetti (water taxi) to all the main attractions. The city is divided into six sestieri (areas) with the Grand Canal flowing through its center. The weather is fairly moderate as you would expect from an area this close to the sea. While it rains all year round spring and autumn are the least crowded months making it slightly easier to find availability in a Venice hotel.

The Venice Carnival is held 40 days before Easter and the Redentore Regatta takes place on the Grand Canal in July. Venetian cuisine is based on seafood served with polenta. Popular dishes are Risotto nero (rice coloured with cuttlefish ink) and Risi e bisi (rice and bean) soup. You can expect vegetables side dishes such as the famous fondi di carciofo (artichokes ends) and radicchio alla trevigiana (Trevisian style chicory).

The number 1 Vaporetti runs along the Grand Canal and this is a great place to start your exploration of the Venice sestieri.

Cannaregio sestiere

The northernmost region also has the largest population. It stretches from the Santa Lucia railway station to the Rialto bridge.

Eat in the Fondamenta Misercordia and then visit:

The Ghetto – This is the background to Shakespeares’ The Merchant of Venice. In 1516, Venice joined the rest of Europe in discrimination and

the Council of Trent decreed that all Jews were to be confined on a small island in Canareggio. The area took its name from the local iron works and the word Ghetto (italian for foundry) has since become a common name for Jewish enclaves around the world.

Madonna dell’Orto – It is ironic that the original church was dedicated to Saint Christopher. Today the patron saint of travellers might marvel at the lack of tourists in this area of Venice. In the fifteenth century, following the discovery in a nearby vegetable garden of a statue of the Virgin that was said to have miraculous powers, it was rebuilt and dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Inside there are great works by Tintoretto, who was one of the parishioners, including the famous painting “Presentation of Mary in the Temple” and “The Universal Judgement”. Tintoretto’s tomb is on the right of the presbytery.Other noteworthy churches in this sestieri are Santa Maria dei Miracoli and Sant'Alvise.

Campo dei Mori – In 1112 the three Mastelli brothers took refuge in Venice. (Mori refers to the Peloponnese Morea from where the silk merchants hale) The square is named after the stone statues of the three ‘Mori’, sculpted on the walls. Behind “Campo dei Mori”, overlooking thenamesake river, there is the building "camel", considered the home of Otello.

Palazzo Santa Sofia - One of the oldest palazzos it has always been known as the Ca’dÓro (golden house). Built for the Contarini family between 1428 and 1430 its last owner Baron Giorgio Franchetti bequethed it to the state and it is a public gallery today. San Polo sestiereOne of the oldest parts of the city, this is named for the Church of San Polo and is the smallest of the sestieri.In days gone by the Campo San Polo has hosted bullfights and masked balls, today it is one of the most popular Carnival venues. It is also used for open air screenings and concerts during the Venice Film festival.

The Rialto Bridge – Until the ninth century this was the only link between the two banks of the Grand Canal. It was first built in wood and later in stone. A competition was held to design a new bridge in the sixteenth century and illustrious names like Michelangelo, Palladio and Sansovino took part. The competition was won, however, by the talented Antonio Da Ponte. The bridge is constantly packed throughout the day with crowds of people manoeuvring their way between the souvenir shops, distracted by the constant activity on the Grand Canal.

The Rialto Markets – At sunrise, heavy lead barges unload their crates of fruits and vegetables on the quay alongside the Grand Canal. With lanes and squares named for their produce Venetians have been coming to the Erberia (fruit and vegetable market) for centuries to buy fresh red chicory from Treviso and asparagus and small artichokes from the Islands of Sant’Erasmo and Vignole. The bustling fish market nearby offers sole, sardines, skates, cuttlefish, crabs, molluscs and much more. This characteristic, lively market closes around midday.

The Frari church – Home to Titian masterpieces.

Dorsoduro sestiere (including the Giudecca and Isola Sacca Fisola)

Italian for “high ridge” this is an area of relatively high and stable land to the south. The Zattere quay provides a window on this scenic sestieri that contains most of Venice’s university and a very lively night life.

The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Basilica of St Mary of Health/ Salvation), is a main landmark and popularly known simply as the Salute.

The Galleria del’Accademia - One of Italy's most popular art museums. It has 24 rooms in 3 historic buildings.

Campo Santa Margherita – This square teems with life, especially in the morning when the market is in full swing. It is flanked by houses from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries and is the centre of the western part of Dorsoduro. Unusual shops, market stalls, fish stalls, herbalists, bakeries and cafés offer a glimpse of typical Venetian life. 

Ca’ Rezzonico – This is one of the most splendid palaces in Venice, built in Baroque style and richly furnished. It is also one of the few open to the public. Construction of the palace began in 1667 by Baldassarre Longhena and it was then bought by the Rezzonico family while still incomplete. The first great banquet took place there in 1758. Since 1934 the palace has housed the Museum of Seventeenth Century Venice.

The Academy Galleries – three buildings that once belonged to the Church, house the largest collection of Venetian art in existence. They offer a complete range of works from the Venetian School, from the Byzantine Middle Ages to the Renaissance and from the Baroque to the Rococo. The main highlights are Carpaccio’s “The Legend of St. Ursula”, “The Coronation of the Virgin” by Veneziano and Giorgione’s “The Tempest”.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection – The small idiosyncratic collection includes works by famous American modernists and Italian futurists such as Picasso, Dali and Jackson Pollock.

Santa Croce sestierie

This area has an active night life.

Taverno da Baffo in Campo Sant Agostin is trendy and la Zucca is famoustly expensive. It is a quiet area consisting of a medieval eastern side and a modern reclaimed western block.

The Piazzale Roma is the only area of the city where cars are permitted. Visit the:

Cà Pesaro – Housing the Venice Museum of Modern Art it faces onto the Grand Canal.

Fondaco dei Turchi – also on the Grand Canal housing the Museum of Natural History.

San Marco sestiere (including San Giorgio Maggiore)

This is the heart of Venice and includes many of the most famous views. The St. Mark’s area has been the heart of Venetian life since the birth of the Republic. Dominated by the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale (The Doge’s Palace) it is the only real square in Venice as the others are defined as ‘campi’; St. Mark’s was described by Napoleon as “the most elegant drawing room in Europe”. This is the most visited part of Venice (the most expensive). The square is also home to important churches, three theatres (including La Fenice), luxury stores and restaurants.

St. Mark’s Basilica – It is built in the shape of a Greek cross, with five enormous cupolas, it was consecrated in 832 AD to house the body of St. Mark. It was destroyed twice and rebuilt over the following centuries making it a perfect blend between Eastern and Western architecture. It became the Cathedral of Venice in 1807. Its most striking features are the mosaics on the facade and the famous Horses of St. Mark (replicas of the original golden bronzes which are now kept inside the basilica). Inside, the treasure of the Basilica includes precious spoils from Constantinople and Italian works of art.

The Doge’s Palace – dates back to the ninth century. It was originally a fortified castle, destroyed by a series of fires and then rebuilt in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. It is masterpiece of Gothic architecture, both lively and elegant. It is built from marble from Verona over arches of Istrian stone, similar to lacework with a portico supported by columns. Inside the Palace, don’t miss the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (The Higher Council Hall), Sala del Collegio and the Prisons (connected to the palace by the famous “Bridge of Sighs”.

The Belltower – The original tower, which was completed in 1173, acted as a lighthouse for sailors on the Lagoon. In the Middle Ages, however, it was used for a torture cage inside which offenders were imprisoned and left to die. It collapsed in 1902, but thanks to large donations in following years, it was rebuilt and inaugurated on 25th April (St. Mark’s Day) 1912.

Harry’s bar – Founded by Giuseppe Cipriani it is a modern legend that have been host to celebrities such as Ernest Hemingway and Woody Allen. It claims credit for the invention of Bellini and Carpaccio. Classic Venetian dishes are served at prime prices. The famous Martini cocktail has been reinvented for Hemingway with different proportion. Put one third of dry Martini in the shaker with ice, shake, threw only the dry Martini off to maintain the Martini aroma on ice, than add one third of Beefeater Gin, shake and serve....

Castello Sestiere (including San Pietro di Castello and Sant'Elena)

The largest of the sestieri it stretches from St Marks to Canareggion in the west and Sant’Elena in the east. The Arsenale was the largest naval complex in Europe. Napoleon planned the Bienniale Gardens. Boats for Murano and Burano Islands leave from here at the Fondamenta Nove.

Riva degli Schiavoni – This “promenade” along the southern quay of Castello takes its name from the merchants of Dalmatia (Schiavonia) who moored their boats there. Works by Canaletto from the 1740s and ‘50s show the area swarming with gondolas, sailing boats and barges and it is still a mooring place for boats today. This lively quay with its stalls thronged with people is the first, fascinating glimpse of city life that greets the eye of those who arrive in Venice via water. It also has a great view of San Giorgio Maggiore.

Important churches in this sestieri include:

La Pietà – The La Pietà Church dates back to the fifteenth century and was originally an orphanage. It was rebuilt between 1745 and 1760 by Giorgio Massari. The Church had a famous choir, for which Vivaldi wrote oratorios, cantatas and vocal arrangements.

San Zaccaria – This church, situated in a quiet square not far from Riva degli Schiavoni, features resplendent Gothic and classical Renaissance architecture. It was founded in the ninth century and completely restored between 1444 and 1515. A masterpiece can be found inside -- Virgin Enthroned with Child and Saints by Giovanni Bellini. The underground crypt houses the remains of eight of the city’s doges.

Also San Giorgio dei Greci and Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo.

Shopping in Venice

The brightly lit and well-stocked store windows cannot fail to capture your attention as you stroll through the narrow streets of Venice. Since the Middle Ages, Le Mercerie, which links St. Mark’s Square to the Rialto, has been the main shopping street. It is made up of a maze of noisy, narrow streets with small workshops and boutiques and, to the west of St. Mark’s, it is full of interesting and unusual shops. From the Square to the Ponte dell’Accademia (Bridge of the Academy) there are high quality stores, while souvenirs and presents can be bought north of Campo Santo Stefano. Less expensive shops are located towards Campo San Paolo, beyond the Grand Canal.The city boasts a wide variety of products and a strong tradition of glass and lace craftsmanship. It also offers high quality fashion, antiques, leather goods, jewellery and marbled paper.The leading names in fashion can all to be found near St. Mark’s Square: Armani, Laura Biagiotti, Missoni and Valentino all have boutiques near the square.

Venice is also famous for its elegant silk, printed velvet and sumptuous brocades. Some of the most admired fabrics are the fine pleated silks invented by Fortuny. There are a wealth of elegant shops specialising in modern furnishings and household items along the large boulevard viale of the Lido.The most beautiful jewellery shops are under the colonnade of St. Mark’s Square.Via Baldassarre Galuppi is the main street of the Island of Burano where you can take a break to sample some fresh fish outdoors, as well as shopping for lace and linens. On the island of Murano you can buy blown glass directly from the workshops with furnaces and showrooms.The symbol of Venice, the mask, is sold all over the city. There are cheap, mass-produced masks, but also real craftsman-made masterpieces. You’ll find some delightful examples in Castello at the Laboratorio Artigianale Maschere (Artisan Mask-Making Workshop).