If, as written by Tiziano Scarpa in his book, you try to imagine Venice as shaped as a fish, sestiere Castello – considered its soul, where the local people still live – would be its tail.As promised in my last post, I will dedicate an ad hoc itinerary to every sestiere (District) of Venice , with all the curiosities and tips that I’ve collected over the years.
I chose to begin from the largest and most characteristic, the one located at the eastern end of the city: Castello.
Try to walk there, even if the journey can be long if you come from Piazzale Roma car parks and bus station or from Santa Lucia train station.
Despite the big effort, you will be rewarded by the wonders you will gradually discover along the way.
For those who wish to save some energy instead, I suggest arriving at Castello by water bus (vaporetto) no. 2 from Piazzale Roma or from Santa Lucia train station, getting off at S. ZACCARIA stop.
The itinerary is to be considered as a daily one, especially if you want to see everything calmly and… remember to wear comfy shoes and be always ready to look up, as Venice offers enchanting views at all times!
SESTIERE CASTELLO IN VENICE: RIVA DEGLI SCHIAVONI
Among the longest city banks, it separates the sestiere San Marco and the sestiere Castello.
Very crowded in every season, Riva degli Schiavoni is the crossroads of most tourist flows.
Starting from Ponte (bridge) della Paglia – from which you can have an excellent view of the most famous Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) – our itinerary proceeds with our back to Saint Mark’s Square, towards Giardini della Biennale.
Amongst the glamourous hotels overlooking the Riva, worth mentioning are the Danieli Hotel – where celebrities such as Wagner, Goethe and Charles Dickens stayed, among others – and the eclectic Metropole Hotel which boasts a one Michelin star restaurant and a charming garden bar.
CHURCH OF SAN ZACCARIA AND CHURCH OF SAN GIORGIO DEI GRECI
An imposing church dating back to the fourteenth century, San Zaccaria is named after St John The Baptist’s father.
Inside are buried several doges and, among other works, you can admire the altarpiece Madonna in trono col Bambino e santi by Giovanni Bellini.
San Giorgio dei Greci is the most ancient and historic Orthodox religious building in the West, rich in mosaics and icons.
Outside stands out its leaning bell tower, always super-photographed.
BIENNALE GARDENS AND SANT’ ELENA ISLAND
Built in 1807 by order of Napoleon Bonaparte, the Gardens, green lung of the city, have a double soul.
Relatively quiet area where to escape especially during the sultry summer days, it completely transforms itself every two years with the International Biennial Art Exhibition’s buzz.
On the other hand, the nearby area of Sant’ Elena, fulfils its quietness at all times.
After visiting the homonymous church and the cloister, sit on one of the benches of Parco delle Rimembranze, from where you will have a postcard view of the Bacino of San Marco.
SAN GIUSEPPE CHURCH AND VIA GARIBALDI
After a little rest, we head towards the church of San Giuseppe.
Here, we can admire Il senatore Bon in preghiera dinanzi all’arcangelo Michele che scaccia Lucifero (Senator Bon in prayer before archangel Michael who expels Lucifer) by Tintoretto, some frescoes by Jacopo Palma il Giovane and L’Adorazione dei pastori e San Girolamo (The Adoration of the Shepherds and Saint Jerome) by Paolo Veronese.
Going back you will come across one of my favourites spot in Venice: la Serra dei Giardini.
I’ve already told you here how much I love this place, but I couldn’t help mentioning it once again and suggesting it even this time 😊
After recharging your energies at Serra dei Giardini, stroll down to via Garibaldi.
Sestiere Castello’s soul where you can still feel the true authenticity of the city, this street was once place of every sort of goods smuggling.
I suggest you to come here during the aperitif time.
Sit at one of the many bars with outdoor tables, order a tipycal cicheto and an ombra to drink and enjoy the Venetian life flow.
At one end of Via Garibaldi, towards Riva Sette Martiri, you will find a peculiar building whose shape resembles the bow of a vessel.
It’s Casa di Giovanni e Sebastiano Caboto, the house of two famous explorers who discovered Canada.
SESTIERE CASTELLO IN VENICE: SAN PIETRO ISLAND
Crossing by the bridge that connects San Pietro Island to the rest of the sestiere, you enter a true oasis of peace.
At the center of the tree-lined Campo (square) just in front stands the ancient cathedral of Venice, the Basilica di San Pietro di Castello, and the white Istrian stone leaning bell tower.
Original Palladian architecture, the church has a fifty-four metres imposing dome (only four metres less than the Michelangelo’s cupolone in Rome).
Inside there is St Peter’s Throne, whose backrest was made from an ancient Islamic funerary stelae with engraved verses of the Qur’an.
Curiosity: if you look closely at the centre of the Campo you will notice a white stone standing out among the others.
According to popular legend, this was the exact point where the Doge met the Patriarch, halfway between the church and the shore, to satisfy both spiritual and temporal authority.
CAMPO RUGA AND SOTOPÒRTEGO ZURLIN
Crossing back the bridge, Campo Ruga – one of the most picturesque city’s neighborhoods – definitely deserves a stop.
Here, where the air is filled with the scent of washing lines in the sun, I suggest you observe the joyful locals’ daily life.
If you like, you can also go through the Sotopòrtego Zurlin, the lowest porch of the city to which the story of a ghost is associated.
In fact, legend has it, that here, during a cold rainy day in 1929, a girl managed to get a doctor’s attention begging him to help her seriously ill mother.
After treating the old lady, the doctor completely lost track of the girl who apparently had been dead for some time.
Believe it or not, I invite you to get through the tiny Calle (alley) – even if at first the feeling will not be the best especially for those who are a bit claustrophobic like me.
Nevertheless, at the end of it you will reach a private court full of flowers and the show is guaranteed! (please be aware to treat this place with utmost respect!)
SESTIERE CASTELLO IN VENICE: THE ARSENALE
Once one of the major European shipyards, is currently a cultural events venue.
Over the centuries, the Arsenale was the heart of the Venetian naval industry, employing more than five thousand workers and pioneering the concept of factory on assembly lines.
The father of the Italian language, Dante Alighieri was so impressed and fascinated by this place that he wrote a passage of the Divine Comedy about it.
The Arsenale extends over a large area of the city and its ancient majesty is still particularly evident at its entrance, – la Porta di Terra – where you can admire the four lions and the two turrets
If you are a history enthusiast, I also recommend visiting the Naval Historical Museum, the most important of its kind in Italy.
CAMPO BANDIERA E MORO OR DELLA BRAGORA AND THE SOTOPÒRTEGO DEI PRETI
Campo Bandiera e Moro, where San Giovanni in Bragora church was edified and Antonio Vivaldi was baptized, always gives me a nice feeling of peacefulness.
It is never crowded and I enjoy seating on one of its benches reading a book, with its beautiful historic buildings as a backdrop.
Romantic stop: the Sotopòrtego dei Preti, a covered passage where you will find a reddish heart-shaped stone among the wooden beams, a memory of an unfortunate love between a fisherman and a mermaid.
Legend has it, that by touching the heart your love wish will come true within one year…
Well, there’s no harm in trying, is there?
For a sweet break, nearby you will find Pasticceria alla Bragora, where you can taste mouth-watering traditional pastries.
CAMPO SAN FRANCESCO DELLA VIGNA AND THE SOTOPÒRTEGO DE LA CORTE NOVA
One of the most extensive and peaceful fields of Venice, Campo San Francesco della Vigna was named after the vineyards which stood there until 1200.
Unmissable the church, designed by Jacopo Sansovino with a facade by Palladio, with its beautiful cloister and garden.
We then continue towards Calle Zorzi, until we reach another porch, sotopòrtego de la Corte Nova, where there are two paintings dedicated to the Saints and the Madonna that, it is said, protected the local residents by the 1630 plague.
In the exact spot where the plague was eradicated, there is a red stone which is said to bring misfortunes and bad luck to whoever steps on it, so… watch out!
SESTIERE CASTELLO IN VENICE: CORTE DELL’ARTE
Inside a 15th century’s courtyard, this former antique shop has been turned from a couple months in a creative space.
Indoors you will be able to find made in Italy unique pieces, artistic installations and interesting craft classes.
CAMPO SANTI GIOVANNI E PAOLO
Among the largest in Venice, this Campo hosts the majestic Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo – 25 doges burial place and with a Veronese decorated ceiling -, the equestrian monument dedicated to Bartolomeo Colleoni and the Scuola Grande di San Marco, now the city Civil Hospital’s entrance.
Treat yourself at Rosa Salva, a historic bar with outdoor tables, excellent tramezzini (traditional triangular sandwiches).
SESTIERE CASTELLO IN VENICE: ACQUA ALTA BOOKSHOP
Getting in here means diving into… a sea of books!
Nothing, in what is considered one of the most beautiful bookshops in the all world, is ordinary.
There is no digital cataloguing of the books that, divided by subject, are often contained in ancient bath tubs, obsolete vessels and, obviously, a gondola.
Everything, inside the Libreria Acqua Alta looks like a treasure hunt.
After admiring the original staircase created with old volumes and the picturesque emergency exit with the canal view, with – a lot – of patience you may be able to find local art and history rare books, black and white Venice postcards and unique illustrations.
Oh and… Waiting for you, between one shelf and the other, there are the real hosts of the house: the well known bookshop’s cats, happy to receive everyone’s cuddles.
The Acqua Alta bookshop is a magical corner of sestiere Castello in Venice that I absolutely recommend to visit and where, it should be remembered, after having enjoyed its spectacular nature, it would be nice not to take just a few pictures.
What was once the palace of one of the most important Venetian noble families, the Grimani, is now a museum where you can admire extraordinary Renaissance frescoes, statues and decors.
Do not miss the hymn to nature of the Sala ai Fogliami’s decorations, the adorned staircase and the Roman-style courtyard.
CAMPO SANTA MARIA FORMOSA
Surrounded by historical buildings such as Palazzo Vitturi, Palazzo Priuli, Palazzo Donà e Palazzo Malipiero Trevisan – an ancient literary salon with an international flavour – is one of the most charming Campo in Venice.
Well worth a visit are the church Santa Maria Formosa (with works by Giambattista Tiepolo and Jacopo Palma il Vecchio) and the Fondazione Querini Stampalia where you will find a beautiful library, an interesting house museum and a ravishing garden restored by Carlo Scarpa in 1949.
Only a few minutes away from Campo Santa Maria Formosa you will find Paradiso (Paradise) bridge, that joins two different buildings and from which you can notice l’Arco del Paradiso, an archway from the 16th century that depicts the Madonna.
My itinerary dedicated to Sestiere Castello terminates here, I look forward to your comments or suggestions… in the meantime… enjoy Venice!