Isola di San Clemente

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Isola di San Clemente
San Clemente (Venice) from the air.jpg
Aerial view
Isola di San Clemente is located in Venetian Lagoon
Isola di San Clemente
Location in the Venetian Lagoon just south of the islands holding the city of Venice
Coordinates 45°24′40″N 12°20′08″E / 45.411097°N 12.335585°E / 45.411097; 12.335585Coordinates: 45°24′40″N 12°20′08″E / 45.411097°N 12.335585°E / 45.411097; 12.335585
Adjacent bodies of water Venetian Lagoon
Area 62,000 m2 (670,000 sq ft)[1]
Length 380 m (1,250 ft)
Width 230 m (750 ft)
Highest elevation 4 m (13 ft)
Region Veneto
Province Province of Venice

Isola di San Clemente (Saint Clement Island) is a small island in the Venetian Lagoon in Italy. Since 1131 it has been used to house pilgrims and crusaders, plague victims, monks, soldiers, the mentally ill and stray cats. It is now the site of a luxury hotel.


San Clemente Island lies in the Venetian Lagoon between San Marco and the Lido.[2] The island covers 6 hectares (15 acres), of which four are parkland with linden, cypress, elm and nettle trees.[3] The island was first settled in 1131.[2] In the years that followed the island was the point of departure for pilgrims and soldiers destined for the Holy Land.[4]

Hospice and monastery[edit]

The first stone of the building complex on San Clemente that included a church and a pilgrim's hospice was placed and blessed by Enrico Dandolo, the Patriarch of Grado, in 1141. Construction was funded by one Pietro Gattilesso, perhaps to atone for his sins: his nickname was "the Robber".[5] In 1165 the hospice was opened for soldiers and pilgrims travelling to the Holy Land. It was run by Augustine canons. In 1288 the relics of Saint Anianus were brought to the island.[a][6] In the period that followed less is recorded about San Clemente.[6]

San Clemente gained fresh life in 1432 when Pope Eugene IV moved the order of Lateran canons, also known as the Charity (Carità), to the island.[6] After this more changes were made to the church and the monastery was enlarged. The cloister was built with a double row of marble columns, of which traces still remain.[6] The island became a quarantine station in 1522.[7] San Clemente provided accommodation for distinguished guests of the Venetian Republic, and also to noble Venetians suffering from infectious diseases. The location was favorable, both close to the city and isolated from it.[6]

During the plague of 1575-77, a hospital was established on the island for the victims.[8] The plague of 1630 was blamed by some on a carpenter who caught the disease while working on San Clemente and brought it into the city.[7] The island was used as a military hospital during this plague. When the plague had finally left the island, as a votive offering a new chapel was built, modelled on the Santa Casa di Loreto (Holy House of Loreto).[6]

The island was purchased in 1642 by the Camaldolese monks of Monte Rua.[9] The Venetian nobility provided financial assistance to the monks with which they rebuilt the monastery.[4] They restored the church and monastery, and expanded the complex with additional houses and gardens. They built the walls around the island, a new library and new chapels.[6]

The Camaldolese monks remained on the island until 1810, when Napoleon suppressed the religious orders.[10]

Gateway to Venice[edit]

Venetian Lagoon looking south from the Giudecca. Santa Maria della Grazia is in the foreground, in front of San Clemente.

San Clemente became known as the "gateway to Venice". It became a standard practice to take the Bucentaur, the Doge's ceremonial barge, to the island to meet distinguished visitors. On the return journey to the Grand Canal the guests were entertained by a variety of spectacles and performances.[11] In October 1355, when a new Doge had been chosen and was coming to take office, the lagoon was cloaked in a sea fog and it was impossible to take the Bucentaur there to bring him to the city in state. Instead he had to arrive in an ordinary gondola, considered a most inauspicious start to his reign.[12] On 30 June 1380 after the conclusion of the War of Chioggia the triumphant Doge and his commanders were met at San Clemente by the College and some of the Senate and carried back in state on the Bucentaur to an enthusiastic welcome by the citizens.[13]

Writing of Venice in 1493, Marin Sanudo described the bucintoro as "a marvel, in which the Prince and Senate go to any great lord visiting the city; they go to San Clemente or elsewhere, depending on the direction from which the visitor is coming".[14] When Marcus, cardinal of Sion, returned from Rome to Venice, the Doge Pietro Loredan (r. 1567-1570) and the senators of the republic went to meet him at San Clemente in the Bucentaur.[15]


Facade of the church

The Church of San Clemente (Chiesa di San Clemente) was built in 1131 by Pietro Gattilesso.[6] The original Romanesque church had a single cross nave. It was named after Saint Clement, a pope who was martyred at sea.[10] There was a jurisdictional dispute over the church, settled in 1156 when the Pope forced Giovanni Polani, the Bishop of Castello to relinquish all claims over the church to Enrico Dandolo, the Patriarch of Grado.[16]

The church was enlarged in the late 15th century. The Camaldolese monks rebuilt it between 1653 and 1750.[9] In 1652 Francesco and Tommaso Morosini of Venice sponsored restoration of the façade by Andrea Cominelli. He included busts of Morosini family members above the portal, and their coat of arms. He also added statues of Saint Benedict and Saint Romuald, and a Madonna and cherub. The façade includes reliefs of scenes from battles commemorating the Morosini's victories in the war against the Turks.[10]

Above the altar there is a sculpture of the Madonna in cedar, which was brought to the church in 1646. The church holds paintings and frescoes by Giovanni Segala, Pietro Ricchi and Francesco Ruschi among others.[10] The sculptor Giuseppe Maria Mazza (1653–1741) made large bronze reliefs for the Church.[17] Statues of "Faith" and "Hope" were stolen from San Clemente and dragged along the sea bed wrapped in tires. They are now on display in the Sant'Apollonia Diocese Museum.[9]

The church was restored in 2003 as part of the project that made the adjacent buildings into a luxury hotel.[10]

Later uses[edit]

Exterior of the main building

The French and Austrians occupied Venice between 1797 and 1866.[18] After the monks left in 1810, for a period the buildings were used by the army.[9] The Austrian Carlo Gaetano Gaisruck (1769–1846) was archbishop of Milan from 1816 to 1846. As part of his reforms of the clergy, he asked the government to open a penitentiary for priests in San Clemente.[19]

A lunatic asylum for women was opened on the island in 1844.[9] This was the first such asylum in Europe.[7] Later, men were also admitted. A complex of buildings was built between 1858 and 1873. Most of these remain.[9] Many of the buildings on the island today were built in the early 20th Century.[18] A new pavilion was added in the 20th century.[4]

Ida Dalser was the first wife of Benito Mussolini, a marriage he later wanted to conceal. She was declared insane and transferred to the San Clemente asylum. Although described as "a danger to herself and others", archives from the hospital show that she was lucid. She died at the asylum in 1937.[20] In October 1944, as the end of World War II approached, the SS took Jewish patients from the hospital for transport to extermination camps.[21] The asylum remained in operation until 1992.[9] The Venetian term "going to San Clemente" derives from the island's use as a mental hospital.[7]

For a period after the asylum closed the island was a refuge for stray cats.[22]


Interior of a corridor in the building after restoration

The buildings on the private island were renovated in 2003 and converted into a luxury hotel, retaining the antique furniture and the historic park.[2] The wings of the hotel enclose courtyards with carefully tended gardens including the Clock Courtyard and the Plane Trees Garden.[3] The 5-star San Clemente Palace Resort has 205 rooms.[2] In the summer of 2011 Seawings Venice, an affiliate of a Dubai-based company, began offering tours of Venice by Cessna 208 Caravan seaplane. The check-in counter was at the palace hotel on San Celemente island, and the seaplane took off from a nearby water strip.[23]

The property was placed in insolvency administration. In September 2013 it was announced that a subsidiary of the Permak construction group of Turkey had bought the property. Permak planned to invest about €25m in further renovations, while retaining the historic character, and to reopen the hotel in 2014.[2] Following the renovation the hotel would have new sports equipment, restaurants, a swimming pool and a health club.[1]


Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ Anianus of Alexandria, whose relics were brought to the island, was a disciple of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the patron saint of Venice.[6]