This walk starts at the edge of the Castello district and continues into Cannaregio, offering a glance at some of the city’s loveliest churches, large and small, a peek into history, and even an urban legend.
Begin at the church of (1) Santi Giovanni e Paolo (Castello 6401), also called San Zanipolo by the Venetians. The Dominican order received the land for the church from Doge Jacopo Tiepolo and construction began in 1246. After nearly 200 years of construction, the Gothic building was finally consecrated in 1430. The grand church is the burial place of many Venetian heroes, including Tiepolo, and contains works by Veronese, Pietro Lombardo, Giovanni Bellini, and others.
Leave the church through the main doors and pause at the facade of what was the (2) Scuola Grande di San Marco, now a hospital. The confraternity building was constructed by Lombardo and Mauro Codussi after a fire destroyed the previous scuola (school) in 1485. The elaborate marble trompe l’oeil panels depict scenes from the life of St. Mark; notice the 15th-century graffiti by the entrance panels.
Turn around and approach the (3) Monumento a Colleoni. This is the monument to the mercenary soldier Bartolomeo Colleoni, who commanded Venetian land forces for two decades. When he died, he left his sizable estate to the Republic on the condition that it place a statue of him in front of St. Mark’s. However, by law no statue could be erected in Piazza San Marco, so the Senate approved the monument in front of the Scuola Grande di San Marco, not quite what he had in mind.
Cross the scenic bridge closest to the Scuola Grande di San Marco called (4) Ponte Cavallo, after the Colleoni statue (cavallo means “horse”). Note the bas relief of the Annunciation on the house to the right of the bridge attributed by some to Giusto Le Court. The canal below is Rio dei Mendicanti, named after the Dominicans.
Continue down Calle Larga Giacinto Gallina, once a divided street with separate names for each direction. At the second bridge, look to the right for a glimpse of the Palazzo Widmann, the facade of which was probably designed by Longhena.
Walk along the canal and you will come to the Renaissance “jewel box” church of (5) Santa Maria dei Miracoli (Cannaregio 6075), tucked in among buildings and alongside a canal. This marble-clad church was built by Lombardo to house a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary with child. Save Venice completed a massive ten-year restoration project in 1998, so the small church gleams. Inside is more colored marble, sculptures, a ceiling with portraits of 50 patriarchs and prophets, and of course the miraculous Madonna, said to have resuscitated a drowned man, among other feats.
Once outside the church, return to the bridge and walk straight ahead to Campo Santa Maria Nova. Midway down the campo, turn left and enter the Campiello Santa Maria Nova to admire the (6) Palazzo Bembo-Boldù (Cannaregio 5999), with its large windows and interesting architecture.
Head left out of the Campiello and walk a few moments to the church of (7) San Canciano (Cannaregio 5532), which was founded in the 14th century but was burned, rebuilt, and redone over succeeding centuries. Many visitors are familiar with the church as John Singer Sargent painted three women outside the building in his well-known “Leaving Church, Campo San Canciano, Venice,” circa1882.
Leave the church and walk to the next bridge, Ponte San Genzian or Giustinian. On the right is (8) an old double-sided iron hook, which according to urban legend brings good luck; though origins of the hook are unclear, the surrounding marble is worn down from the hands of centuries of passing Venetians.
Keep walking down the narrow street until you come to the (9) Campiello del Cason. Cason means “prison,” and this little square was once the site of the prison for the district of Cannaregio. The eighth Doge of Venice, Agnello Participazio (who ruled circa 811-827), lived on the square before the prison was built.
The street zigzags after the campiello; head straight, then make a quick right and a fast left onto Calle del Manganer. The street takes its name from a nearby workshop of a silk and wool maker from the 18th century. Pass through Campo Drio la Chiesa, bearing left to reach the front of the (10) Church Santi Apostoli. The church was rebuilt in the 18th century and contains Tiepolo’s “Communion of St. Lucy.”
Beyond Santi Apostoli is (11) Strada Nova, a wide street built under Austrian rule, which destroyed all buildings in its path. It’s now a commercial street popular with travelers and residents, who pack the strada during their Sunday afternoon walks.
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