Castello is largest district of Venice’s six districts. Once called Olivolo, it was the center of ecclesiastical power of Venice. Nowadays it’s a quiet, authentic neighborhood well off the tourist track; its public gardens provide a welcome green respite from the crowds.
Start your tour at the bridge called Ponte Cadene, past the Arsenale along the waterfront. On the left you can see the start of (1) Via Garibaldi, created in 1808 by filling in a part of a canal and the city’s widest street. Bear right and walk down the waterfront on (2) Riva dei Sette Martiri, street of the seven martyrs, named after partisans executed by German troops during World War II. On the left are two picturesque buildings whose large arches usually frame lines of laundry drying in the sun. Glancing to the right, you’ll see the islands of San Servolo, formerly an insane asylum, and San Lazzaro degli Armeni, home to Armenian monks and the Lido.
Cross the next bridge. To the right the walkway continues with the name Riva dei Partigiani. Instead, bear left and enter the (3) Giardini Pubblici, the public gardens, created by Napoleon, who also demolished several churches and monasteries in the act; the arched doorway to the church of Sant’Antonio (on the left, along the canal) is all that remains of those buildings. The pleasant walking area and playground abuts the (4) gardens of Biennale, the international contemporary art exposition which takes place every other year (www.labiennale.org).
Turn onto Rio Terra San Giuseppe, another filled-in canal, and left again onto Campo San Giuseppe, where there is a covered well with carved reliefs showing St. Anthony, St. Augustine, and St. Joseph. Continue to the (5) church of Sant’Isepo, Venetian for St. Giuseppe (Castello 784). Inside, the first altar on the left depicts the 1571 naval Battle of Lepanto, source of civic pride for centuries.
Leaving Sant’Isepo, turn right and cross the bridge, then turn left and walk along the canal until you reach (6) Viale Garibaldi, a peaceful, tree-lined esplanade dotted with benches and frequented by families. Crowning the end of the Viale is the monument to (7) Giuseppe Garibaldi, the Italian military hero; the murky pond beneath is full of turtles and fish, to the delight of local children.
Exit Viale Garibaldi, turn right onto Via Garibaldi, and continue along the left-hand side to the canal. At the start of the canal is (8) a popular produce boat where residents buy fruit and vegetables.
Continue alongside the canal to the long bridge (9) Ponte di Quintavalle. The wooden bridge is about 50 yards (45 meters) long, and affords postcard views onto the wide (10) Canale di San Pietro, with its rows of moored boats, boatyards, and colorful houses, many with fishing nets hanging outside.
Cross the bridge to the island of San Pietro (sometimes called San Piero). Head north and keep going until you come to the grassy campo and (11) church of San Pietro de Castello (Castello 70), once the official church of Venice. Although possibly dating from the seventh century, the church’s facade was designed by Palladio in the 16th century when the building was rebuilt and rededicated to St. Peter. The (12) bell tower is a Renaissance construction. Inside the church is the so-called (13) throne of St. Peter, supposedly used by the saint in Antioch; the marble seat has a backrest made from a Muslim burial stone and is decorated with Arabic motifs and verses from the Koran. The (14) high altar was built by Baldassare Longhena.
If you’d rather not backtrack all the way, there’s a vaporetto stop on the island. Walk back to the Fondamenta di Quintavale, pass the bridge, and turn right. The stop is about 150 yards (137 meters) ahead.
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