The Cannaregio sestiere (district) in Venice is characterized by a lot of authenticity and history, but it is often ignored by one-time tourists. If you like to take a closer look at the city, I strongly recommend you to visit it. You will be surprised by its beauty and the peace and quiet.
Cannaregio is the entrance gate to Venice for many visitors, when they arrive via Piazzale Roma or by train. The district covers a large area above Canal Grande, from the Santa Lucia train station to the Rio dei Mendicarti (next to the Ospedale).
In this post, I will guide you for a walk from Santa Lucia to the east side of Cannaregio, near Strada Nuova. Along the way, you will discover beautiful buildings, the Jewish Ghetto and fun places to stop for a drink or a meal. You will also encounter three local artisans, who will share with you their personal tips for their neighbourhood.
1. Santa Lucia
(Fondamenta Santa Lucia)
The construction of the first Santa Lucia train station started in 1860. It required the demolishment of the convent and the church of Santa Lucia. The station was therefore named after this former church. The current building in modernist style was designed by architect Angiolo Mazzoni in 1924. It took until 1943 before it was finished, with the cooperation of architect Virgilio Vallot. The train hall was only completed in 1952, based on the design of Paul Perilli.
The Venice Simplon Orient Express arrives in this station, making this location part of the most exclusive trip to Venice. If you then ride a gondola to your hotel, you could easily imagine being Peggy Guggenheim or Gabriele Channel returning to Venice. Oh, I would really love to make that journey once…
DID YOU KNOW? The Ponte dei Scalzi (the bridge of the barefoot monks) in front of the train station is one of the 4 bridges that cross Canal Grande. The other bridges are Rialto, Accademia and Calatrava (Ponte della Costituzione).
INSIDER TIP: Before you move on to the next part of the walk, stop for a coffee and a few cichetti at Cantina Aziende Agricole (Rio Terà Farsetti, Cannaregio 1847). This little bar is run by Roberto Berti and is mainly frequented by locals. There are a few seats, but most people are standing at the bar. I was lucky to find this place thanks to Valeria and Sebastian of Venezia Autentica, who I met there for the first time.
2. Jewish Ghetto
(Campo di Ghetto Nuovo)
Cannaregio is the home of the Jewish Ghetto in Venice. This area was originally the seat of a metal foundry (‘geti’ in Italian), before it became a residential area for Christians in the 15th century. In 1516, the Venetian authorities threw them out and forced all Jews to live there in confinement. During the day, the Jews were allowed to get outside to trade, as long as they wore a sign so they could be recognized. At night, they were obliged to stay within the gated part of the city. This was in fact the first ghetto in the world. In 1797, Napoleon’s army destroyed the ghetto’s gates and a liberty tree was planted in the centre of the main square. From that moment on, the Jews were allowed to live freely among Venetians.
DID YOU KNOW? The word ghetto is now commonly used, but the origins of the word go back to the location in the ‘geti’ in Cannaregio.
The main square has been renamed into ‘Campo di Ghetto Nuovo’. This large square has now several trees and lots of benches, where you can take a rest and enjoy the peace and quiet. It is also the location of the Jewish Museum and of the three oldest synagogues. You might not see them at first glance, as they can only be recognized by looking at the details of the houses. The Scuola Italiana (1575) has a small baroque dome and the inscription ‘Santa Comunità Italiana’. The Scuola Ganton (1531) is located next to it and has a small wooden dome. The Scuola Tedesca (1528) is the oldest synagogue in Venice and is part of the same building as the museum. You can see five large arched windows in the façade, of which three are bricked up.
Other synagogues are the Scuola Spagnola, in baroque style, and the Scuola Levantina, the most magnificent synagogue in Venice. These synagogues, known as ‘Scuole’, were constructed between the early-16th and mid-17th century. Each represented a different ethnic group. If you are interested, you can visit the synagogues with a guided tour organized by the Jewish Museum. More information can be found on their website.
INSIDER TIP: To celebrate the 500th anniversary of the ghetto, several events such as exhibitions, theatre, guided tours and workshops have been organized in 2016. The exhibition ‘Venice, the Jews and Europe’ in the Doge’s Apartment of the Palazzo Ducale can still be visited until November 13. The exhibition takes you on a fascinating journey through art, history and culture.
3. Local artisans
You will see many artisans in and around the Jewish Ghetto. Take your time to get to know them and to admire their work.
Let’s first stop at the gallery of the American artist Tony Green. Since 1982, this artist annex musician divides his time between Venice and New Orleans. He paints and plays music in both places, which both inspire him to bring out the best. When the weather is nice, you can find him painting outside his gallery near the Scuola Spagnola. In the gallery, he exhibits his latest landscape paintings of Venice as well as other large canvases which he created at home. The gallery is only open in May, June, September and October. In the other months, you can admire his work on his website. If you would like a preview of his art, both the paintings and his music, click here to watch a video.
(Campo Ghetto Vecchio, Cannaregio 1145)
‘I love living in the Cannaregio sestiere of Venice as not only is it far from the maddening tourist throngs, but also has a tight sense of community to which I try to make a positive contribution. The Jewish museum with the tour of the synagogues is a must see (the Ghetto is celebrating its 500th anniversary this year). Afterwards, treat yourself to a delicious meal at the Upupa Restaurant located on the Campo Ghetto Nuovo.’
When you leave the ghetto by the iron bridge (Ponte de Ghetto Nuovo), you might be lucky and see the sandolista Chiara Curto and her sandolo. At first, you might think it’s a gondola, but there is a difference. A sandolo is lower and less curved. You can also recognize it due to the fact that a sandolo doesn’t have the typical ‘ferro’ (the high steel prow) which is on the front of a gondola. Both are typical Venetian vessels that are rowed in the ‘voga’ style (standing up), but a sandolo is rowed from inside the boat. Chiara is one of the two women in Venice that are qualified to do this job. She is very friendly and fluent in English. She is more than happy to share her extensive knowledge of Venice and the Jewish ghetto with you. Chiara has participated numerous times at the Regata Storica (more on this topic in my post ‘Don’t miss a thing from the Regata Storica‘), so you she can also tell you more about this tradition. Hence, if you want to rest your legs a bit and to learn more from a local (even though she was born in Genoa), why not take a tour in a sandolo on the Venetian canals? For more information on what it entails to be a gondolier or a sandolista, you can read my post ‘An insider’s story from the world of gondoliers‘.
(Ponte de Ghetto Nuovo)
‘Cannaregio is a very Venetian side of Venice. When you compare it with the other districts, it’s not crowded with people as is the centre of the city. Many Venetians are living here. Even though it’s full of history and nice things to see, it’s less known. You can really feel the city as it is the back side, the unknown heart. It is an authentic place. And you can also find some good restaurants.’
Finally, take a look at Plum Plum Creations, the small workshop of Arianna Sautariello on the Fondamenta degli Ormesini. This young Venetian artisan continues the ancient printmaking tradition in Venice. She started her shop to realize her passion for arts and design. She makes etches (copperplates, linocuts, litographs), paintings, drawings and photographs of the Venetian scenery. You can buy her work as a souvenir, but it’s especially interesting to watch her make these in the back of the shop. When I visited her, I watched her experimenting with a new etching, from cleaning the etch to the printing on wet paper. It was her first time doing this one in two colours, but it succeeded very well.
DID YOU KNOW? Since the 15th century, Venice has always been a wonderful place for printers. It was considered the ‘printing house of Europe’. Aldo Manuzio was one of the most famous printers, and his printing house became a true literary circle. The art of printing was officially recognized in Venice in 1469. If you’re interested in books and historical libraries, click here to read my post ‘7 authentic libraries that will amaze you in Venice’.
(Fondamenta degli Ormesini, Cannaregio 2681)
‘Cannaregio is much more than only the touristic part of Strada Nuova (the main street – always crowded). It is also the part of the city where many Venetians live their everyday life, so it’s easy to find neighbourhood stores, such as a bakery, butcher or greengrocery. If you deviate from the usual touristic itinerary, it’s very easy to find new and unexpected glimpses, and it is just here that you can find the true Venice.
So my advice is: if you go to Cannaregio, forget about Strada Nuova. Wander and get lost around the less known and famous small streets, especially around Madonna dell’Orto and Sant’Alvise. You won’t regret it!’
INSIDER TIP: You will find many bars and restaurants along the Fondamenta degli Ormesini. Take a seat outside, next to the canal, and enjoy the local atmosphere.
When you’re walking around Cannaregio from mid May until the end of November, you will have an additional opportunity to visit several palazzos. These palazzos open especially for the Biennale and host exhibitions from countries which don’t have a pavilion in Giardini or Arsenale and from collateral events. On your way to the next stop of the walk, Palazzo Zen (Gesuiti, Cannaregio 4924), the ex-chiesa di Santa Catarina (Cannaregio 4941), Palazzo Flangini (Cannaregio 252) and Santa Maria delle Misericordia (Campo de l’Abazia, Cannaregio 3548) often participate to this. This allows you to kill 2 birds with 1 stone: you can visit the exhibition while admiring at the same time the original setting, or you can limit your visit to the palazzo itself if you’re not interested in the exhibition. You don’t need a Biennale ticket to enter and the entrance is usually free. Check on the website of La Biennale to see which palazzos are participating this year and what are the opening times. If you want to find out more about the Biennale pavilions, make sure to browse my Biennale section as well.
The Scuola Grande della Misericordia is one of the 7 scuole grandi in Venice. These religious confraternities played an important role in the social history of La Serenissima. The construction of the original seat of the Scuola Vechia della Misericordia was started in 1308. It was expanded several times and finally reconstructed as ‘scuola nuova’ from 1532 onwards. The famous architect and sculptor Jacopo Sansovino was in charge of the whole project. He referred to the layout of Roman basilicas, while maintaining the traditional model of the Venetian scuole. The interiors were richly decorated with works of Veronese, Zanchi, Lazzarini, Pellegrini, and last but not least Domenico Tintoretto, son of the famous Jacopo. The building was inaugurated in 1583 by Doge Nicolò da Ponte, but the completion of the works continued for another two hundred years.
Since the beginning of the 19th century, the Scuola has been used as military lodgings, as a warehouse, and as the seat for the State Archives. In 1914, the Costantino Reyer Sports Club transformed it into a sports centre. The first floor became the official basketball court of the Venetian team Reyer, who hosted its games at this location until the early ’80s. It has recently been renovated and can now be rented for events, exhibitions or private meetings. If you want to visit it, check on their website if there is a public event ongoing which you can attend. You can see additional pictures and read more on the scuole grandi in my post ‘The scuole grandi combine social history and art’.
(Fondamenta Misericordia, Cannaregio 3599)
INSIDER TIP: Before you continue, you can stop at the Fondamenta della Misericordia. There are several charming terraces of bars and restaurants along the canal.
Now continue in the direction of the Strada Nuova, where you can visit a few more palazzos that take part in the Biennale event: Palazzo Mora (Cannaregio 3659), Palazzo Fontana (Cannaregio 3829) and Palazzo Michiel (Cannaregio 4391).
6. Ca d’Oro
In the Strada Nuova shopping street, you will also find Ca‘ d’Oro. This beautiful palazzo in late gothic style was built for procurator Marino Contarini in 1434. He didn’t name it after his own family name, as was customary. He gave it the name ‘Ca d’Oro’ (house of gold) after the golden decoration on the façade. Even though the palazzo is based in Cannaregio, this façade can only be admired from (the other side of) Canal Grande, so you will have to go to the San Polo sestiere for this. But before doing that, a visit is certainly worth it.
Ca’ d’Oro hosts the important art collection of Baron Giorgio Franchetti (1865-1927), who donated his collections and the building to the Italian state. The collection includes furniture, paintings, medals, tapestries, bronzes and sculptures. It also contains Renaissance works from suppressed or demolished religious buildings and collections from the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Archaeological Museum.
Depending on the tide of the water, you might be able to visit the inner courtyard next to Canal Grande. It has an impressive floor with an ancient marble mosaic made by Baron Franchetti himself. There is also an original well in pink marble, sculpted by Bartolomeo Bon in 1427. The ashes of Baron Franchetti are buried under the floor of the courtyard.
DID YOU KNOW? The Russian prince Alexander Troubetzkoi gave this palazzo as a present to the famous ballerina Maria Taglioni. She sold several decorative elements, such as the marble well. Luckily for us, the next owner traced these pieces back in Paris and re-acquired them.
(Strada Nuova, Cannaregio 3932)
Now that you have walked all day around Cannaregio, it’s time for a spritz or for one last discovery in the area: the glass mosaic furnace of Orsoni (more info in my post ‘Three thousand and one colours of mosaics in Venice‘). Afterwards, if you still have energy and time, cross the bridge in the direction of Ospedale and start your discovery of the Castello sestiere. You can find some interesting treasures in my post ‘Castello: Mark these hidden gems on your Venice map’.
Enjoy your walk!
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