Sestiere Castello

This is an excerpt from the book “Venice and the Veneto

Gondolas – Photo © James Lawson
Gondolas – Photo © James Lawson

Cathedral of San Pietro di Castello

For many centuries the cathedral was under the authority of the Patriarch of Grado. In 1451 Venice obtained its own patriarch. hence the church became cathedral. As a result of the dignities that were suppressed by Napoleon in 1807, San Marco (Saint Mark’s) became the new cathedral and instead of just being a chapel of the Doge’s it became the seat of the Patriarch.

The first occasion of Palladio’s intervention in the Lagoon capital was the design of the new façade for the church of San Pietro in Castello, patriarchal cathedral of Venice. Palladio probably obtained this prestigious commission thanks to Daniele and Marcantonio Barbaro, who are recorded as the guarantors of the contract with the masons in January 1558. The death of the patron, the Patriarch Vincenzo Diedo, caused works to halt two years after they had begun, but they would resume at the end of the century under the direction of Franceso Smeraldi. The present façade, therefore, does not follow Palladio’s project exactly, but is faithful to its essential lines, in particular the fundamental theme of the intersection of a major order (corresponding to the nave) and a minor one (corresponding to the aisles), successfully realized at San Francesco della Vigna a few years later.

Antico Arsenale (Old Arsenal)

It can be recognized by its terracotta walls and squares towers. From the thirteenth century it was an essential part of the life of the republic.

According to tradition the Arsenal of Venice was founded in 1104; it has been enlarged over the centuries, coming to occupy a large part of the northeast area of the city.

The term Arsenale is a corruption of the Arab word darsina’a – a house of industry – and for centuries it was the largest in the world with over 16.000 employees at its peak when there were hundreds of galley ships in its basins, ready for war.

On the wall to the right of the entranceway is a bust depicting Dante Alighieri, recalling a visit the poet made to Venice in 1321. Still mainly closed to tourism, the Arsenale is sometimes used for notably important exhibitions and trade fairs.

Photo © Silvia Massetti
Photo © Silvia Massetti

Church of San Francesco della Vigna

It was built on a vineyard donated to the Franciscans by Marco Ziani, the son of the Doge Pietro in 1253. That is why it is still called san Francesco della Vigna (vigna meaning vineyard). The church was rebuilt to a design by Jacopo Sansovino, although the elegant façade is by Palladio.

Planned by J. Sansovino and built in the 1st half of the 16th century, this church has an elegant facade realized on a design by Andrea Palladio and a series of three cloisters.

In the interior, precious paintings including works by D. Tintoretto, J. Palma il Giovane, and G. Bellini.

After the unfortunate debut at San Pietro di Castello, it was yet again very probably Daniele Barbaro who favored this commission to Palladio, by convincing the Patriarch of Aquileia, Giovanni Grimaldi, to entrust him the façade of San Francesco della Vigna. The choice of Palladio was, in fact, especially significant because it sidelined Jacopo Sansovino, who had built the church thirty years earlier (and also prepared designs for its façade). Palladio thus became a tangible alternative, supported by the most culturally advanced section of the Venetian aristocracy, to the now ageing protagonist of the architectural renovation of Piazza San Marco.

In 1563 Giovanni Grimani, a man of sophisticated tastes and a refined collector of Roman antiquities, had undergone an insidious trial for heresy. Absolved from the charges, he transformed the construction of the façade of San Francesco into an occasion for private self-celebration. From Leon Battista Alberti onwards, Renaissance architects had applied themselves to the difficult task of adapting the façade of a single-volume building, that is the ancient temple, to the nave-and-aisles plan of Christian churches.

With the façade of the church of San Francesco della Vigna, Palladio offered his first concrete response to the problem, after the unfortunately only project obligation of San Pietro di Castello. Since the nave, covered by a great pediment, and the aisles, covered by two half-pediments, were projected onto one plane, the compositional problem became one of organically linking the two systems and the modular relationship between two orders, of which the larger was employed to support the main pediment and the lesser the two half-pediments. The solution achieved by Palladio is brilliant, even if it constrained him to setting both orders on the same high basement.
The architect would skillfully overcome this latter difficulty on the façade of the Redentore by placing a great staircase before the façade’s central section.

Historical Naval Museum

Its exibits relate the naval history of the Venetian Republic.

Canal Grande – Photo © Silvia Massetti
Canal Grande – Photo © Silvia Massetti

Church of San Giovanni in Bragora

It stands in the campo of the same name which is surrounded by old palazzi. The church was originally built in the eighth century and was founded by San Magno, the bishop of Oderzo. The inside of the church is still in the form of a Basilica, and has three naves and a Gothic trussed ceiling. Dating originally from the 8th century, the church was rebuilt in the 15th and it is notable for its works of art by artists such as A.Vivarini, J.Palma il Giovane, and Cima da Conegliano.

A plaque commemorates the baptism here of the musician Antonio Vivaldi in 1678.

Church of Visitazione o della Pieta’

It was thus called because it is near the old orphanage of Calle della Pieta’. It was rebuilt in the eighteenth century by Giorgio Massari.

School and church San Giorgio dei Greci

In 1526 the Greek Community in Venice was second only to that of the Jews, and obtained permission from the Patriarch to hold Greek Orthodox services. In 1539 they built the church of San Nicolo’ in the style favored by Sansovino and the nearby school of San Nicolo’. This houses a collection of liturgical art and precious Byzantine icons. A part of the collection is housed in the Istituto Ellenico di Studi Bizantini e Post-Bizantini.

Built in 1539 after the Orthodox community had obtained independence from the Patriarch, on a plan by the architect Sante Lomardo, the church features a single nave interior with a hemispheric central cupola.

To the back is an iconostasis – customary in the Greek Orthodox rite – richly decorated in marble and paintings of the Greek-Byzantine school.

Next to the church, in a building by B. Longhena – the Hall of the Confraternity of St Nicholas of the Greeks – is a collection of Greek icons and works by Greek and Venetian painters.

These two edifices indicate the high standing of the Greek community that had already been established here in the 11th century (only the Jewish community was more numerous).

Church of San Zaccaria

Originally, there was a Benedictine nunnery next to it (which was then suppressed by the Napoleonic edicts). The nunnery was reserved for young Patrician novices, even if they had no vocation. As it belonged to the Benedictine order the rules were fairly lax. The church was founded in the ninth and was renovated several times in different architectural styles that can still be seen today. The bell tower dates back to the ninth century. The most important work was carried out in 1458 and culminated in the impressive façade by Codussi. An early period church reconstructed in the 16th century, it has a fine Renaissance facade by Codussi who also partly altered the architecture.

The interior is of the greatest interest as Gothic elements blend with the new Renaissance forms, resulting in a grand and solemnly elegant use of space.

Gondola – Photo © Silvia Massetti
Gondola – Photo © Silvia Massetti

Church of Santa Maria Formosa

Legend has it that San Magno ordered it to be built. It was rebuilt in the eleventh century and was then rebuilt on the previous foundations in 1492, although the original layout in the shape of a Greek cross was maintained. The church is in one of the finest of Venice’s campi. It is surrounded by private palazzi from different periods, as can be seen from architectural styles of their façades. Rebuilt on a project by M. Codussi in the 2nd half of the 15thC, the church has a baroque bell tower and two main façades.

In the interior are paintings by the school of G. Bellini, a triptych by B. Vivarini and a splendid polyptych by J. Palma il Vecchio which portrays St Barbara, patron saint of the Artillerymen Guild.
In the past, in fact, the church was the premises of the Arts and Crafts Guild.

Palace Querini Stampalia

In Renaissance style, the palace houses ancient furnishings and paintings of great value and a sizeable library. Situated in a fine Renaissance Palace, the Picture gallery belonging to the Conte Querini Stampalia contains numerous rooms painted by Venetian artists from the 14th, 15th, 16th centuries. The restoration of the ground floor and of the palace garden is by the architect Carlo Scarpa, who worked here from 1959 to 1963.

Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo

Built in 1368, a fine Gothic building with a basilica and 5 Gothic apses. it is Venice’s Pantheon because it holds the tombs of twenty-five doges, great commanders and famous men of the Venetian Republic, whose remains are housed in fine tombs. In addition, a large polyptych by Giovanni Bellini decorates the altar by Vincenzo Ferrer, and an altar-piece by Lorenzo Lotto displays the alms of Saint Anthony. Consecrated in the 1st half of the 15thC, the church of Saints John and Paul features a series of Gothic arches while the rather later portal has touches of the Renaissance style.

The architectural features of the apse are of great interest; while the interior has numerous works of art including a Polyptych by G. Bellini and a canvas by L. Lotto.
The funerary monuments of doges and illustrious personages are interesting and make San Giovanni e Paolo the pantheon of the history of Venice.

After the Basilica of St Mark, in point of fact, this was considered the official church for the public life of the Serenissima, as the Venetian Republic was known, and the bodies of the Doges were brought here after the lying-in-state and the public funeral rites.

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