UNUSUAL VENICE: 10 THINGS TO DO AND SEE

unusual and secret Venice tour

10 things to do and see to discover an unusual Venice

Venice conquers the hearts of anyone who visits it, every corner is magical and offers unique emotions. In this article we have collected 10 things to do and see to discover an unusual Venice. Many alternative itineraries and unusual destinations to get to know the hidden and most authentic side of the lagoon city.

FRIVIOUS AND VICIOUS VENICE

An alternative way to visit Venice is to retrace the places of perdition and the customs of the most transgressive and vicious period of the Serenissima, the eighteenth century. Among these, there are certainly the casinos, places linked to Venice nightlife, where gambling was practiced, dance parties, literary evenings and love encounters were held. Often the players were nobles, whose faces were hidden behind the typical bauta mask which allowed them to hide their identity.

Casinos and ridotti were really popular, so much so that in the last years of Serenissima there were over 130 of them. Like many activities, this too was regulated by the Council of Ten which tried to maintain order but also to profit from it.

Some of these places can still be visited today. Among these we find the Casino degli Spiriti, Casino Venier, Casino Contarini, Casino Dandolo and Casino del Commercio.

Another activity went hand in hand with gambling, that of courtesans and legalized prostitution. In Venice there was a real red light district. We are talking about “Rio Terà de le carampane”, whose toponym is linked to the oldest profession in the world. In this area, once upon a time, there were the houses of Mr. Rampani, used as a hospice for old prostitutes, now retired. In Venetian “cà” means “house”, and so from that moment, the term “carampana” indicated an old and dowdy woman.

Venezia insolita cosa fare e vedere Ponte delle tette

Another place linked to this profession is the “Bridge of Tits”, located near one of the numerous brothels in the red light district of the city. The toponym derives from the fact that prostitutes, looking out of the windows towards the bridge below, used to lure passers-by by showing them their exposed breasts.

We cannot talk about the libertine side of Venice without mentioning the most famous Dongiovanni in history, born in the lagoon city, Giacomo Casanova. Even today it is possible to see his birthplace, in Calle Malipiero, where he was born on 2nd April 1725, or even the places he frequented during his childhood and those that were the scene of his adventures such as San Moisè Ridotto, where he loved to challenge fate, Campo San Maurizio, where his great friend and poet Giorgio Baffo lived and Piombi, the famous prisons of Palazzo Ducale, where he was imprisoned on charges of magic, libertinism, freemasonry and contempt of institutions.

A singular way to discover a very intimate Venice up close, as frivolous and vicious as it is intriguing.

CRIMINAL VENICE

Another alternative itinerary leads to discover the most secret and dark side of Venice, a world made of witches, alchemists, ghosts and atrocious murderers and where even today it is said that disturbing presences lurk. There are many crime cases involving the inhabitants of Venice and whose procedural documents are still preserved today in the State Archives. From Zanmaria Millevoi, the murderous tailor of Contrada di San Mattio, to the woman burned in her home in Chiovere di San Girolamo or even Giovan Battista Bombonati, the Vicenza hairdresser who devised the spirit pot scam. There are many places linked to these crime events which often also involved the clergy.

The Republic of Venice often used truly cruel methods and very severe punishments with these murderers and criminals.

For example, if you look at the facade of the Ducal Palace, two red columns stand out in the whiteness of the loggia. According to some sources, the two red columns were the place from which Doge witnessed the capital executions, other research, however, maintains that the executions took place between these two columns. Furthermore, in the attic of the Ducal Palace there are “Piombi”, an ancient prison whose name derives from the material with which the roof was built. The prisoners were locked up here by will of the Council of Ten, because they were accused of political crimes or because they were awaiting trial.

Another place linked to criminal Venice is a statue located near the Rialto Bridge and known as the Hunchback of Rialto. It depicts a bent man holding the ladder on his shoulders to reach the “banishment stone”. It is a column from which the announcements were read, with which laws and sentences were made public. At the same time, to acquire legal validity, the proclamations and laws of the State were also read from the proclamation stone placed in Piazza San Marco.

Retracing these places and the stories of these singular characters is certainly a way to discover many interesting and curious, albeit bloody, details of life in Venice a few centuries ago.

CONTARINI PALACE AND BOVOLO STAIRCASE

This palace, located near Campo Manin, experienced the vicissitudes of many owners who followed one another over five centuries of history. It is a “Fontego house” of evident late-Gothic taste. Towards the end of the fifteenth century the building was equipped with a truly unique spiral staircase, still known today as “Scala del Bovolo”. The name derives from the Venetian term “bovolo” which means “snail”. It was built at the behest of Pietro Contarini, scion belonging to the powerful Contarini family of San Paternian branch which, in the fourteenth century, had been able to boast the high honor of having given a doge to the Serenissima, Andrea Contarini.

MARCO POLO’S VENICE

Venice has also given birth to great travellers. Among these, certainly the best known is Marco Polo. Even today, in the lagoon city, you can see the places that were frequented by the famous traveler. Walking through the streets of Cannaregio district, near S. Giovanni Crisostomo church, you reach “Corte del Milion” and the house where Marco Polo lived. Nowadays, the structure houses Malibran Theater. During restoration work, several objects that belonged to Polo family were found.

Another place linked to the figure of Marco Polo and his profession as a merchant is the Rialto market, where an entire area called “Erbarìa” represented the place from where herbs, spices and other products arrived from the East and rest of the world.

THE FLAVORS OF VENICE

You cannot visit Venice without knowing its food and wine delicacies. And one way to start is definitely to go to bacari. Bacaro is a typical Venetian tavern, where you can taste the so-called “ombre”, i.e. glasses of wine, accompanied by a vast choice of “cicchetti”, tasty appetizers such as mozzarella in carrozza, crostini, meatballs and other tasty food.

Those with a sweet tooth cannot miss the numerous typical Venetian desserts such as bussolai, frittelle, galani and fugassa, to be tasted in one of the many historic pastry shops. The origins of the pastry-making tradition of Venice are very ancient and date back to the 15th century when Scuola degli Scaleteri was founded, a sort of arts and crafts guild that brought together pastry chefs.

BRIDGE OF FISTS

We can undoubtedly say that bridges constitute the soul of Venice. Suffice it to say that the 121 islands of the historic center are connected by 436 bridges!

Many of these contain truly particular stories such as the Bridge of Fists. The name of this bridge derives from an ancient Venetian custom: the war of fists. From September to Christmas, the inhabitants of the city belonging to two enemy factions, Castellani and Nicolotti, challenged each other with fists on the bridges of Venice, which at the time were all without parapets on the sides. Footprints are still visible on the ground of the bridge, signs that indicated to the two rivals where to position themselves.

Venezia insolita cosa fare e vedere Ponte dei pugni
Venezia insolita cosa fare e vedere Ponte dei pugni orma

STATE ARCHIVES

State Archives of Venice preserve a truly precious heritage that allows you to discover very interesting aspects of the city’s past.

It was established by the Austrian government in 1815 with the name of the Venetian General Archive. The State Archives are located in the former convent complex of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and houses 70 kilometers of shelves full of documents that concern the entire history of the Republic of Venice but also archives of religious and lay corporations. It also preserves the documents of the governments and offices that followed in the city after the fall of the Serenissima, cadastral documents and private archives.

A place that preserves a heritage of inestimable value that concerns the history of Venice and beyond.

CARLO GOLDONI’S VENICE

Great artists were also born in Venice. Among the most famous we certainly find Carlo Goldoni, one of the fathers of modern comedy, born in the lagoon city on 25th February 1707.

The model of Commedia dell’Arte was born in the sixteenth century and consisted of a plot on which the masks improvised a show while remaining faithful to the stereotyped character of their character. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, it no longer responded to the tastes of contemporary society. It was at this point that Goldoni entered the scene and progressively eliminated masks to create realistic characters with whom especially the middle classes could identify.

So why not discover an unusual Venice by following in the footsteps of the well-known writer? Let’s start from his birthplace, where he lived until the age of twelve, Palazzo Centani. Today Carlo Goldoni’s house is a museum, essentially set up in three rooms where it is possible to learn about the playwright’s life and theatrical works. In a side room there is an eighteenth-century puppet theatre, original of the time.

We continue our journey to discover Goldoni’s Venice by reaching Rialto Bridge. In Campo San Bartolomeo, there is a bronze statue depicting Goldoni: a tribute from his city created by the sculptor Andrea Dal Zotto in 1883.

Venezia insolita cosa fare e vedere Teatro Goldoni

And finally we move on to the places where the writer’s works came to life, the Goldoni Theater and Malibran Theater.

The theater that now bears his name was once called San Salvador. It is the oldest theater in Venice still in existence, built in 1662. Over the centuries, however, it has undergone several renovations. Here Goldoni took care of the theater season from 1753 to 1761, writing many works that became famous, such as “Trilogia della villeggiatura”.

Malibran Theater is one of the first theaters for which Goldoni wrote plays, commissioned by Michele Grimani, owner of the structure. It was built in 1678 on the site of Marco Polo’s house, which was destroyed in a fire. Originally it was called Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo but in 1835 it was named after the opera singer Maria Malibran.

Visiting these places is a unique opportunity to get to know the Venice of Carlo Goldoni.

VENICE GHETTO

Another place not to be missed to discover an unusual Venice is the ghetto. In the lagoon city, the Jewish presence is already attested before the year 1000, so much so that this is the oldest ghetto in Europe.

This is where the term “ghetto” originated. In fact, in the Middle Ages, in this area of ​​the city there was an ancient foundry, a “geto” in Venetian, which was used to forge bombards, the small cannons of Venetian ships. When for political reasons, in 1516, Serenissima established by law that all Jews had to reside here, the population, who mostly came from central-eastern Europe, pronounced the Venetian term “geto” and mangled it into “gheto”.

Ghetto area already at that time looked like it does today but with a small difference. At the two bridges which constitute the only accesses, there were once sturdy gates, which were closed and guarded at night, as the inhabitants were only allowed to leave the neighborhood during the day and with special distinctive signs.

But the soul of the Jewish quarter is certainly made up of its synagogues. Inside Gheto Novo you can see three of the five religious buildings present.

Another place to visit is Banco Rosso. It was established together with two other pawnshops, the Green and the Black, following the closure of Monti di Pietà, which stopped usury activity as it was contrary to Christian dictates. From that moment on in Venice this work was imposed by law on the Jewish community.

Ghetto is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating places in Venice.

Venezia insolita cosa fare e vedere GhettoCAMPO DEI MORI AND MASTELLI PALACE

Finally, let’s move on to a truly singular place, where, thanks to the statues that are set in the walls of the houses, you can breathe an oriental atmosphere. We are talking about Campo dei Mori and Mastelli Palace.

The particularity of the field is linked to the origin of its name which derives from the presence of three statues depicting three dark-skinned oriental men, the Moors. They appear to be the brothers Rioba, Sandi and Afani of Mastelli del Cammello family who built the entire area.
Their palace has a relief on the façade representing a man with a turban, in an oriental dress, leading a camel, perhaps created to remember their oriental origins. The three brothers were nicknamed Mastelli because, according to the news of the time, “they owned thousands of tubs full of gold coins“.

Venezia insolita cosa fare e vedere Campo dei mori

Always remember to bring sustainability in your suitcase, respect the environment and the community that hosts you!

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