Wandering around Venice, you notice several architectural details which define the typical Venetian style of buildings. These make the city easily recognizable on pictures.
Walking along Fondamenta delle Zattere from Punta della Dogana to the San Basilio terminal allows you to explore 9 of these features at your ease. In this post, I will give you some background information on each of these elements, as well as on the palazzos and other buildings where you can find them.
Street names: Fondamenta delle Zattere
Many streets in Venice are named after professions or trades which were active in that area. Examples are the Calle dei Forni where bread was baked in the ovens, Ruga degli Oresi for the goldsmiths near Rialto or Campiello del Remer for the artisans creating the forcole for the rowing boats.
This is also the case for ‘Zattere’, or ‘rafts’ in Italian. It refers to the rafts with timber which arrived here from the 16th until the 18th century. This explains why many gondola makers were located in this area, or around Fond. Nove where there was a second disembarkation place for wood. There used to be approx. 40 squeri at one point in time, of which only 4 still exist. The rafts came from the mountains via the Brenta river to Zattere. To avoid that empty rafts had to return upstream to collect a next load, the rafts were in fact part of the shipment and were dismantled for use by the gondola makers and other carpenters. They were entirely made from wood, even up to the strings which held the trunks of the raft together.
A first part of the Fond. Zattere was created in 1520, whereas the wider part dates from around 1800. It is divided in 5 sections: Fond. Zattere al Ponte Longo, Fond. Zattere ai Gesuati, Fond. Zattere ai Incurabili, Fond. Zattere allo Spirito Santo and Fond. Zattere ai Saloni.
INSIDER TIP: This information about the origins of Zattere is part of the introduction of the gondola making tour organized by Luisella Romeo of SeeVenice. I will write more about this process and my visit to the Tramontin squero in one of my next posts. Make sure to subscribe to my newsletter if you want to be informed.
Doors: Chiesa dello Spirito Santo
Fond. Zattere ai Saloni 401/404
Similar to the facades, the doors in Venice are often faded with stunning colour palettes due to the vanishing paint. Even though this patina is a sign of lack of maintenance, I like these a lot. I must have taken tons of pictures of these doors.
The door of the Chiesa dello Spirito Santo is a beautiful example. It looks as if no one touched the door in hundreds of years. The fact that the church is rarely open, makes it even more intriguing. The church and its Augustinian convent were founded in 1483 by Maria Caroldo. In 1506, the church was rebuilt to a design of Antonio Abbondi (known as Lo Scarpagnino) and the Scuola to the right of the church was added. At that time, the church did not face the Giudecca canal. When the Fond. Zattere was built in 1520, the old church’s apse was demolished and the facade was put on the side of the canal. This reconstruction was finished in 1524 by Giacomo de Bernardis, under Scarpagnino’s supervision.
DID YOU KNOW? The pontoon bridge for the Festa del Redentore connects the Chiesa dello Spirito Santo with the Redentore church on Giudecca (see also ‘Enjoy the Festa del Redentore with these insider tips’).
Bas-relief: woman with child
Corner of Fond. Zattere allo Spirito Santo and Fond. Bragadin
This stunning feature is probably the least Venetian of my list. However, I liked the sculpture of the woman with child on the wall of the villa so much I decided to add it anyway. I had passed it many times before I all of a sudden noticed it when standing still on the bridge to take a look in the huge garden.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any information about it. If you know more about it, please let me know so I can update this section. The wall surrounding the garden has a memory plaque for Joseph Brodsky (see also ‘Venetian grandeur at the San Michele cemetery’), but I couldn’t find a link between him and this specific villa.
Missing elements: swimming pool
Fond. Zattere ai Incurabili
Since its establishment in 421, Venice evolved a lot. The city expanded to approx. 415 km² and streets and houses were added. However, many buildings also disappeared over time. A well-known example is the San Geminiano church on Piazza San Marco (more info in ‘San Marco: 12 surprising facts about the Piazza of Venice’).
One of the most fascinating missing elements along Zattere is without any doubt the ‘Luigi Passoni’ swimming pool in the Giudecca canal. It was created by Filippo Corso in 1928 and has been used until the 1970s. Some of the older residents will certainly still have good memories to this. The only reminder to this unique place is the restaurant La Calcina (previously ‘La Piscina’) which gives you an indication where the swimming pool was located. If you want to know more about swimming in Venice, I suggest you read ‘When swimming in Venice was not a crime’ written by Luisella Romeo.
Mouths of truth: Don Orione Artigianelli
Fond. Zattere ai Gesuati 909/A
The ‘bocche dei leoni’ (lions’ mouths) are a legacy of the era of La Serenissima (see also ‘A short introduction to the complicated history of Venice’). These stone letterboxes, often carved in the shape of heads, were used to betray other citizens to the Council of Ten. Crimes could range from being an enemy of the state, over adultery to financial extravagance. Anonymous accusations were not accepted. The incriminating letters had to be signed, along with the signatures of two witnesses, before the Council of Ten would open an investigation. Napoleon ordered the destruction of the bocche dei leoni so there are only a few lion’s mouths left in Venice. You can find other examples at Palazzo Ducale and at the San Martino church in Castello.
The inscription on the bocca dei leoni at the entrance of the Don Orione Artigianelli monastery says ‘Dncie contra la sanita per il sestier de oss drvo’. The monastery was built in 1423 by the Gesuati. In 1669, they were replaced by the Dominicans, who built the church of Santa Maria Del Rosario. It became an orphanage in 1815. This was subsequently run by the Municipality of Venice, by the Somaschi Fathers and finally by the Congregation of Charity before Don Orione acquired the entire property in 1923. He continued its work of helping orphans and children with hard family conditions. Don Orione was beatified for his charity work in 1980.
It is now a conference and event center which often hosts exhibitions related to the Biennale. This year, you can visit the Antigua and Barbuda pavilion in the monastery, as well as ‘The Death of James Lee Byars’ in the Santa Maria de la Visitazione church.
INSIDER TIP: Next to the monastery, you can also find the small thrift shop of the parish where second-hand clothes are sold.
Arches: Calle Frati Dorsoduro
Fond. Zattere al Ponte Longo 921A-922
Venice is an artificial island built on millions of wooden poles. They support the houses and bridges and have to endure the constant pressure from the currents. On top of that, many of the 2,650 calle are very narrow which makes the houses almost touch each other. To support and strengthen the construction on the poles and to avoid buildings from collapsing, you will therefore often see bracing arches between houses. There are some very nicely decorated ones around Venice.
An example along Zattere can be found above the Calle Frati Dorsoduro, where multiple arches support the neighbouring houses. It’s next to Gelati Nico, so you can’t miss it.
Doorknobs: Palazzo Clary
Fond. Zattere al Ponte Longo 1397
Doorknobs can be found in a large variety in Venice. There are of course lions, but there are also plenty of heads which are often sculpted to resemble the owners or famous people. These became popular in Venice from 1546 onwards, when Jacopo Sansovino was asked to design a new door for the sacristy of the Basilica di San Marco. He surprised everyone with a huge bronze door with 6 heads as decoration. You can read more about this in my post ‘Knocking on beautiful doors in Venice’.
The front door of Palazzo Clary is ideal to admire a mix of different styles of doorknobs. You can also see the Clary name on the round doorbell below the other bells. Palazzo Clary was built in the 17th century. In the middle of the 19th century, the palazzo was acquired by the Clary-Aldringen family. A fire severely damaged the building in the 1920s, but the old forms were restored. There are still some Clary family members living in the palazzo.
INSIDER TIP: Stop for a spritz or a coffee at the terrace of El Chioschetto. The kiosk is frequented by locals, by students from the Ca’Foscari University in front of it and by tourists.
Facades: Palazzo Molin
Fondamenta Zattere Al Ponte Longo 1412
The most recognizable Venetian facades often have yellow, red and brownish colours, are faded by the sun and time and miss pieces of paint. On Burano and Mazzorbo however, the facades are painted in bright colours (see my post ‘Don’t forget Mazzorbo and Torcello when visiting Burano’).
One of the most remarkable facades on Zattere is the one of Palazzo Molin. You can easily recognize it from the huge mosaic sign in blue and gold which says ‘Adriatica’. The palazzo used to be the residence of Giovanni Stucky, from where he had a perfect view on his mill on Giudecca (more info in ‘Giudecca: A peaceful island with 10 remarkable buildings’). He sold it to the shipping company L’Adriatica di Navigazione in 1937. In 1938, the company bought the neighbouring palazzo Palazzo Nuovo to enlarge its headquarters. The company owned a fleet of 32 ships which could be recognized by the San Marco lion on the red and white chimney. They shipped goods and passengers between Italy, Yugoslavia, Albania, Greece, Egypt and Turkey. After the acquisition of L’Adriatica by Tirrenia in 2004, the palazzo has been used as an exhibition and event location. Earlier this year, hotel Palazzo Experimental opened its doors in Palazzo Molin. It has a beautiful terrace in the back garden with a view on the Rio del Ognissanti. The former Palazzo Nuovo is now hotel Palazzo Veneziano.
INSIDER TIP: Zattere is a real ice cream heaven with 3 delicious ice cream shops. Head a bit further to Gelateria Al Sole (Fond. Zattere 1472), which sells ice cream with happiness.
Name plaques: Luigi Nono
Fondamenta Zattere Al Ponte Longo 1487
There are plenty of name plaques spread across Venice. Often they refer to famous Venetians such as Casanova, or to foreigners who stayed in the city for a longer period.
At the end of Zattere, I discovered the beautiful house with 2 name plaques with the same name ‘Luigi Nono’, but with different years of birth and death. This intrigued me, so I decided to search for some information on them. Luigi Nono (1924-1990) was an Italian avant-garde composer of classical music. His music was often inspired by politics. He received the Großer Kunstpreis Berlin in March 1990, a few months before he died in this palazzo on Zattere. He was buried at the San Michele cemetery. His grandfather, also called Luigi Nono (1850-1918) was a well-known painter. At young age, he entered the Accademia of Venice. However, at the age of 20, he went to Polcenigo in the Friulian countryside where he refined his style of landscape paintings. He later returned to paintings of everyday life, which would be the most influential of his career.
I hope this article makes it clear that visiting Venice is much more than only a quick look at the palazzos and canals. The small details make it much more interesting and will ensure you will never completely understand Venice. It’s therefore the perfect excuse to return again and again. If you want to continue your discovery, you can continue the walk of ‘Dorsoduro: An amazing tour of intriguing architecture‘ which also passes by Zattere.