There is more to Venice than Piazza San Marco of course. It is quite pleasant to explore the city on foot walking past the different alleyways (calle) and bridges.
Alleyways are labelled calle – a wide alleyway is called ‘calle larga’; a narrow one is called ‘calletta’. A ‘calle’ alongside a canal is called ‘fondamenta’. The narrowest calletta is Calle Varisco which is 53cm wide.
Below are some of little gems that you may discover as you walk away from St Mark’s square, towards Rialto Bridge…
Querini Stampalia Museum & Library
This building was a gift to Venice by Count Giovanni Querini Stampalia in 1869 – as part of his will. It was his ancestral 16th century mansion with elegant furnishing and paintings. When he gifted the house to the city, to be made into a museum, he had a condition that the library which is also housed in the building is made accessible to everyone till late hours. He wanted to have a place where people can share knowledge and exchange view points.
The library until today is opened till late and also during the holidays. It has more than 350,000 ancient and modern books. There is also a coffee bar and a small garden on the ground floor.
Chiesa S. Maria Formosa
The church, originally built in 639, was one of the earlier churches built in the lagoon. It was later rebuilt in 1492. Legend says that the church was built by Bishop St Magnus who had a vision of the Madonna commanding him to build a church at the location in her name. I didn’t go in here – was just passing through. One of the doors was supposed to have an ugly gargoyle head on top of it. I did not see that door – turns out it’s the Tower door. Look out for that when you pass through – quite unique – it is supposed to ward off evil spirits.
Libreria Acqua alta
This is a well known book store – you could almost miss the courtyard entry point on Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa.
Due to the constant flooding, the shop keeps its books in gondolas, canoes and bathtubs. The store’s name itself means Book Store in High Water. Some of the old books like old encyclopedias that are no longer saleable, are used as wall decorations and even stairs for the emergency exit.
There is no historical element etc to highlight here, the store’s owner’s creativity created a buzz that then become a quirky tourist spot loved by many tourists especially instagrammers.
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo
This is one of the biggest churches in Venice (some say Italy). It houses tombs of Doges (mostly), artists and members of the Venetian noble families. The outside is not as impressive as the inside – there is a small entrance fee for the church if you’re interested to go in.
The cathedral building built in 1430, is dedicated to two martyrs John and Paul (as per the church’s name) – who were executed in Rome in 362. There was a period of time, during the days of Napoleon, when the church was used as a military hospital, which resulted in many lost art works. One of the famous artist buried here is Giovanni Bellini.
As you walk around the city, you will notice these wells in the middle of squares and courtyards. This particular one near St Giovanni Basilica has the most elaborate Renaissance design. Venice lies on a swampland in a salty lagoon, so from the very beginning, the City came up with a solution to create ‘wells’ that will filter rainwater.
There are hundreds of wells around the city and back in the day to ensure that the water is not contaminated, the access to the wells were controlled and policed. Due to the growing population, the city also arranged for water to be supplied from River Brenta in the mainland brought into Venice by boats.
The wells are no longer in use, with the building of water mains and pipes bringing water directly from the mainland. These wells are now maintained for historical appreciation.
Talking about water supplies, I know first hand how it feels to queue to get pails/buckets of water for shower, washing and so on. My boarding school frequently had water interruptions, (can be days at one go) and us students had to be creative and find sources around the school area (we were located at the foot of a hill). It was not easy – thank goodness we live in days of modern technology!
Marco Polo's Home
The Polo Emilioni family lived not far from the Church of St Giovanni. You can see the square here is named as Corte del Milion – depicting the family name. The family home was destroyed in 1598, and in its place now is a theatre.
Ponte de Rialto
Not far from the Marco Polo’s house is the Ponte de Rialto – the oldest bridge in Venice. The bridge got its name from the Rialto market nearby. In its place, originally was a pontoon bridge that was then replaced with a wooden bridge due to heavy use. The bridge collapsed twice; after the second collapse in 1524, it was decided to rebuild the bridge in stone. The construction on the new bridge started in 1588 and was completed in 1591. There are shops on both sides of the bridge and three walkways.
Have a dessert!
Close to the bridge, you can find shops selling these yummy cannoli! Cannoli originated from Sicily – basically they are like cream puff pastry. Usually the filling is made from ricotta cheese.
Chiesa di San Salvador
The church didn’t look very interesting on the outside. But it does have very nice interiors. Its located at Campo Sal Savador, not too far from Rialto Bridge.
Venice is quite small – you can easily cover the above between 2.5 – 3 hours. This city is simply amazing and beautiful. I really enjoyed walking along the different alleyways and bridges. Beautiful scenes everywhere you go
Check out my other posts on Venice.