Grand Canal (Venice)

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Two gondoliers pull out with clients on board from a row of gondolas on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge.
The Grand Canal from Ponte dell'Accademia; in the foreground Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, in the distance Santa Maria della Salute
The Grand Canal viewed from space in 2001

The Grand Canal (Italian: Canal Grande, Venetian: Canałasso) is a canal in Venice, Italy. It forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in the city. Public transport is provided by water buses (Italian: vaporetti) and private water taxis, and many tourists explore the canal by gondola.

One end of the canal leads into the lagoon near the Santa Lucia railway station and the other end leads into Saint Mark Basin; in between, it makes a large reverse-S shape through the central districts (sestieri) of Venice. It is 3.8 km long, and 30 to 90 m wide, with an average depth of five meters (16.5 ft).


The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, shot southwards from Rialto Bridge
The Grand Canal in Venice, Italy, shot at night from Rialto Bridge

The banks of the Grand Canal are lined with more than 170 buildings, most of which date from the 13th to the 18th century, and demonstrate the welfare and art created by the Republic of Venice. The noble Venetian families faced huge expenses to show off their richness in suitable palazzos; this contest reveals the citizens’ pride and the deep bond with the lagoon. Amongst the many are the Palazzi Barbaro, Ca' Rezzonico, Ca' d'Oro, Palazzo Dario, Ca' Foscari, Palazzo Barbarigo and to Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, housing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The churches along the canal include the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. Centuries-old traditions, such as the Historical Regatta (it), are perpetuated every year along the Canal.

Because most of the city's traffic goes along the Canal rather than across it, only one bridge crossed the canal until the 19th century, the Rialto Bridge. There are currently three more bridges, the Ponte degli Scalzi, the Ponte dell'Accademia, and the recent, controversial Ponte della Costituzione, designed by Santiago Calatrava, connecting the train station to Piazzale Roma, one of the few places in Venice where buses and cars can enter. As was usual in the past, people can still take a ferry ride across the canal at several points by standing up on the deck of a simple gondola called a traghetto, although this service is less common than even a decade ago.

Most of the palaces emerge from water without pavement. Consequently, one can only tour past the fronts of the buildings on the grand canal by boat.


The first settlements[edit]

The Grand Canal probably follows the course of an ancient river(possibly a branch of the Brenta) flowing into the lagoon. Adriatic Veneti groups already lived beside the formerly-named "Rio Businiacus" before the Roman age. They lived in stilt houses and on fishing and commerce (mainly salt). Under the rule of the Roman empire and later of the Byzantine empire the lagoon became populated and important, and in the early 9th century the doge moved his seat from Malamocco to the safer "Rivoaltus".

Increasing trade followed the doge and found in the deep Grand Canal a safe and ship accessible canal-port. Drainage reveals that the city became more compact over time: at that time the Canal was wider and flowed between small, tide-subjected islands connected by wooden bridges.

"Fondaco" houses[edit]

Along the Canal, the number of "fondaco" houses increased, buildings combining the warehouse and the merchant's residence.

A portico (the curia) covers the bank and facilitates the ships' unloading. From the portico a corridor flanked by storerooms reaches a posterior courtyard. Similarly, on the first floor a loggia as large as the portico illuminates the hall into which open the merchant's rooms. The façade is thereby divided into an airy central part and two more solid sides. A low mezzanine with offices divides the two floors.

The fondaco house often had two lateral defensive towers (torreselle), as in the Fondaco dei Turchi (13th century, heavily restored in the 19th). With the German warehouse, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (which is also situated on the Grand Canal), it reflects the high number of foreign merchants working in Venice, where the republic supplied them with storerooms and lodging and simultaneously controlled their trading activity.

More public buildings were built along the Canal at Rialto: palaces for commercial and financial Benches (Palazzo dei Camerlenghi and Palazzo dei Dieci Savi, rebuilt after 1514 fire) and a mint. In 1181 Nicolò Barattieri constructed a pontoon bridge connecting Rialto to Mercerie area, which was later replaced by a wooden bridge with shops on it. Warehouses for flour and salt were more peripheral.

The Venetian-Byzantine style[edit]

From the Byzantine empire, goods arrived together with sculptures, friezes, columns and capitals to decorate the fondaco houses of patrician families. The Byzantine art merged with previous elements resulting in a Venetian-Byzantine style; in architecture it was characterized by large loggias with round or elongated arches and by polychrome marbles abundance.

Along the Grand Canal, these elements are well preserved in Ca' Farsetti, Ca' Loredan (both municipal seats) and Ca' da Mosto, all dating back to the 12th or 13th century. During this period Rialto had an intense building development, determining the conformation of the Canal and surrounding areas. As a matter of fact, in Venice building materials are precious and foundations are usually kept: in the subsequent restorations, existing elements will be used again, mixing the Venetian-Byzantine and the new styles (Ca' Sagredo, Palazzo Bembo). Polychromy, three-partitioned façades, loggias, diffuse openings and rooms disposition formed a particular architectural taste that continued in the future.

The Fourth Crusade, with the loot obtained from the sack of Constantinople (1204), and other historical situations, gave Venice an Eastern influence until the late 14th century.

Venetian Gothic[edit]

Venetian Gothic architecture found favor quite late, as a splendid flamboyant Gothic ("gotico fiorito") beginning with the southern façade of the Doge's Palace. The verticality and the illumination characterizing the Gothic style are found in the porticos and loggias of fondaco houses: columns get thinner, elongated arches are replaced by pointed or ogee or lobed ones. Porticos rise gently intertwining and drawing open marbles in quatrefoils or similar figures. Façades were plastered in brilliant colors.

The open marble fascias, often referred as "laces", quickly diffused along the Grand Canal. Among the 15th-century palaces still showing the original appearance are Ca' d'Oro, Palazzo Bernardo, Ca' Foscari (now housing the University of Venice), Palazzo Pisani Moretta, Palazzi Barbaro, Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti.


By the start of the 15th century, Renaissance architecture motifs appear in such buildings as the Palazzo Dario and the Palazzo Corner Spinelli; the latter was designed by Mauro Codussi, pioneer of this style in Venice. Ca' Vendramin Calergi, another of his projects (now hosting the Casino), reveals a completed transition: the numerous and large windows with open marbles are round-arched and have columns in the three classical orders.

Classical architecture is more evident in Jacopo Sansovino's projects, who arrived from Rome in 1527. Along the Canal he designed Palazzo Corner and Palazzo Dolfin Manin, known for grandiosity, for the horizontal layout of the white façades and for the development around a central courtyard. Other Renaissance buildings are Palazzo Papadopoli and Palazzo Grimani di San Luca. Several palaces of this period had façades with frescoes by painters such as Il Pordenone, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, all of them unfortunately lost. Particularly noteworthy were the frescoes by Veronese and Zelotti on Ca Cappello, overlooking the Grand Canal at the intersection with the Rio de S. Polo.

Venetian Baroque[edit]

In 1582, Alessandro Vittoria began the construction of Palazzo Balbi (now housing the Government of Veneto), in which Baroque elements can be recognized: fashioned cornices, broken pediments, ornamental motifs.

The major Baroque architect in Venice was Baldassarre Longhena. In 1631 he began to build the magnificent Santa Maria della Salute basilica, one of the most beautiful churches in Venice and a symbol of Grand Canal. The classical layout of the façade features decorations and by many statues, the latter crowning also the refined volutes surrounding the major dome.

Longhena later designed two majestic palaces like Ca' Pesaro and Ca' Rezzonico (with many carvings and chiaroscuro effects) and Santa Maria di Nazareth church (Chiesa degli Scalzi). For various reasons the great architect did not see any of these buildings finished, and the designs for all but Santa Maria della Salute were modified after his death.

Longhena's themes recur in the two older façades of Palazzo Labia, containing a famous fresco cycle by Giambattista Tiepolo. In the Longhenian school grew Domenico Rossi (San Stae's façade, Ca' Corner della Regina) and Giorgio Massari, who later completed Ca' Rezzonico.

The 16th and 17th centuries mark the beginning of the Republic's decline, but nevertheless they saw the highest building activity on the Grand Canal. This can be partially explained by the increasing number of families (like the Labia) becoming patrician by the payment of an enormous sum to the Republic, which was then facing financial difficulties. Once these families had achieved this new status, they built themselves with impressive residences on the Canal, often inducing other families to renew theirs.

Neoclassical architecture[edit]

Neoclassical architectures along the Canal date to 18th century: during the first half was built San Simeone Piccolo, with an impressive corinthian portico, central plan and a high copper-covered dome ending in a cupola shaped as a temple. Date to the second half Massari's Palazzo Grassi.

Modern era[edit]

The Pescheria at Rialto
Ocean liner passing San Giorgio Maggiore island

After the fall of the Republic 1797, construction of housing in Venice was suspended, as symbolized by the unfinished San Marcuola and Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (housing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection). Patrician families lost their desire of self-exaltation and many of them died out. Several historical palaces were pulled down, but most of them survived and good restorations have saved their 18th century appearance. The most important are publicly owned and host institutions and museums.

Religious buildings underwent the consequences of religious orders suppression decreed by Napoleon in the Kingdom of Italy period. Many churches and monasteries were deprived of furnishings and works of art, changed their function (like Santa Maria della Carità complex, now housing the Gallerie dell'Accademia) or were demolished. The Santa Croce complex, for which the Sestiere was named, was situated in Papadopoli Gardens area; Santa Lucia complex (partially designed by Palladio) was razed to the ground to build Santa Lucia Station.

The Kingdom of Italy accession restored serenity in the city and stimulated construction along the Grand Canal respecting its beauty, often reproduced in Gothic Revival architectures like the Pescaria at Rialto.


Gondolas on the Grand Canal

Historical Regatta[edit]

On the first Sunday of September takes place the Historical Regatta ("Regata Storica"), a competition between Venetian boats watched by thousands of people from the banks or from floating stands. Competitions are preceded by a historical procession ("Corteo Storico") remembering the entrance of the Queen of Cyprus Catherine Cornaro after abdication in 1489: gondoliers in costumes sail in typical 16th century boats following the Bucentaur, doge's state galley.

The Feast-day of the Madonna della Salute[edit]

On November 21, Venetians thank the Virgin Mary for saving from the plague epidemic in 1630-38 with a pilgrimage to Santa Maria della Salute. Pilgrims cross Grand Canal on a temporary pontoon bridge from Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo, and enjoy stalls and traditional dishes.

Panorama of the Grand Canal
Panorama of the Grand Canal


Ponte della Libertà
Santa Chiara ex-monastery (Police Headquarters) Railway area
Canale di Santa Chiara
Ponte della Costituzione
Piazzale Roma vaporetto station Railway Department old seat
Rio Novo
Papadopoli Gardens
Rio della Croce
Palazzo Emo Diedo (Tirali, 17th century) Santa Lucia Station
Wool-cloth Weavers Guildhall
San Simeone Piccolo (18th century)
Palazzo Adoldo
Palazzo Foscari-Contarini Santa Maria di Nazareth or Chiesa degli Scalzi
Ponte degli Scalzi
Rio Marin Ferrovia vaporetto station
Campo San Simeon Grande Palazzo Calbo Crotta
Rio Tera' dei Sabbioni
Palazzo Gritti Palazzo Flangini (Giuseppe Sardi, 16th century)
Palazzo Corner Scuola dei Morti (Confraternity praying at funerals)
Palazzo Donà Balbi San Geremia (18th century)
Palazzo Zen Palazzo Labia (17th century, frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo)
Riva di Biasio vaporetto station Canale di Cannaregio
Palazzo Marcello Toderini Palazzo Emo
Palazzo Querini
Rio di San Zan Degolà Palazzo Correr Contarini Zorzi
Palazzo Giovanelli Palazzo Gritti
Casa Correr San Marcuola (18th century, unfinished)
Traghetto Museo Traghetto San Marcuola
Fondaco dei Turchi (Venetian-Byzantine, Venetian Museum of Natural History) San Marcuola vaporetto station
Rio del Fondaco dei Turchi Rio di San Marcuola
Fondaco del Megio Ca' Vendramin Calergi (Mauro Codussi, Renaissance, 15th-16th century; Wagner died here; Casino winter seat)
Palazzo Belloni Battagia (Baldassare Longhena, Baroque, 17th century)
Rio di Ca' Tron
Ca' Tron (16th century, IUAV) Palazzo Marcello (Benedetto Marcello was born here)
Palazzo Duodo Palazzo Erizzo
Palazzo Priuli Bon Palazzo Soranzo Piovene
San Stae vaporetto station Palazzo Emo at Maddalena
San Stae (18th century) Palazzo Molin Querini
Gold Craftsmen Guildhall Rio della Maddalena
Rio della Rioda Palazzo and Palazzetto Barbarigo
Palazzo Coccina Giunti Foscarini Giovannelli
Rio della Pergola Palazzo Gussoni Grimani Della Vida
Ca' Pesaro (Longhena, Baroque, 17th century, Museum of Modern Art) Rio di Noale
Rio di Ca' Pesaro (or delle Due Torri) Palazzetto da Lezze
Palazzo Donà Palazzo Boldù
Palazzo Correggio Palazzo Contarini Pisani
Ca' Corner della Regina (18th century; Caterina Cornaro was born in a previous palazzo on the same area)
Ca' Favretto (Giacomo Favretto lived here) Rio di San Felice
Rio di San Cassiano Palazzo Fontana Rezzonico (Pope Clement XIII was born here)
Palazzo Morosini Brandolin Palazzo Giusti
Fondamenta dell'Olio Ca' d'Oro (Gothic, 15th century, Galleria Franchetti)
Ca' d'Oro vaporetto station
Palazzo della Pretura Palazzo Giustinian Pesaro
Rio delle Beccarie Ca' Sagredo
Pescaria (Gothic Revival, 20th century) Campo Santa Sofia
Traghetto Pescaria Traghetto Santa Sofia
Campo della Pescaria Palazzetto Foscari
Palazzo Michiel dalle Colonne
Fabbriche Nuove (Sansovino, 16th century) Palazzo Michiel del Brusà
Palazzo Smith Mangilli Valmarana
Rio dei Santi Apostoli
Ca' da Mosto (Venetian-Byzantine, 13th century)
Palazzo Bollani Erizzo (Pietro Aretino lived here)
Rio di San Giovanni Crisostomo
Fabbriche Vecchie (Scarpagnino, 16th century) Campiello del Remer
Palazzo Civran
Palazzo Ruzzini
Rio del Fontego dei Tedeschi
Palazzo dei Camerlenghi (Renaissance, 16th century) Fondaco dei Tedeschi (16th century, Poste italiane seat in Venice)
Rialto Bridge
Palazzo dei Dieci Savi (Scarpagnino, 16th century) Riva del Ferro
Fondamenta del Vin Rialto vaporetto station
Palazzo Dolfin Manin (Sansovino, Renaissance, 16th century, Banca d'Italia Venice seat)
Rio di San Salvador
Palazzo Bembo (Gothic, 15th century; Pietro Bembo was born here)
Traghetto Rialto
Traghetto San Silvestro Ca' Loredan (Venetian-Byzantine, 13th century, Municipal seat)
Casa Ravà (Gothic Revival, 20th century) Ca' Farsetti (Venetian-Byzantine, 12th-13th century, Municipal seat)
San Silvestro vaporetto station Palazzo Cavalli (or Palazzo Corner Martinengo)
Palazzo Barzizza Palazzo Corner Valmarana
Palazzo Giustinian Businello Palazzo Grimani di San Luca (Renaissance, 16th century, Appellate court)
Rio dei Meloni Rio di San Luca
Palazzo Papadopoli Palazzo Corner Contarini dei Cavalli
Palazzo Tron
Palazzo Donà Palazzo D'Anna Viaro Martinengo Volpi di Misurata
Palazzo Donà della Madoneta
Rio della Madoneta Palazzo Querini Benzon
Palazzo Bernardo (Gothic, 15th century) Rio di Ca' Michiel
Palazzo Querini Dubois Palazzo Curti Valmarana
Palazzo Grimani Marcello Palazzo Corner Spinelli (Codussi, Renaissance, 15th century)
Ca' Cappello Sant'Angelo vaporetto station
Rio di San Polo Casa Barocci
Palazzo Barbarigo della Terrazza (16th century) Rio di Ca' Garzoni
Palazzo Pisani Moretta (Gothic, 15th century) Palazzo Garzoni
Palazzo Tiepolo Traghetto Garzoni
Palazzo Tiepolo Passi Fondaco Marcello
Palazzo Giustinian Persico Palazzo Corner Gheltoff
Rio di San Tomà Palazzi Mocenigo (16th-17th century; Giordano Bruno, Thomas Moore and Lord Byron stayed here)
Traghetto San Tomà
Palazzo Marcello dei Leoni
Palazzo Dolfin
San Tomà/Frari vaporetto station
Palazzo Dandolo
Palazzo Civran Grimani
Rio della Frescada Palazzo Contarini delle Figure (Andrea Palladio stayed here)
Palazzo Caotorta-Angaran
Palazzo Balbi (Vittoria, Renaissance with Baroque elements, 16th century; Government of Veneto seat) Palazzo Erizzo Nani Mocenigo
Rio di Ca' Foscari
Ca' Foscari (Gothic, 15th century; University of Venice main seat) Palazzo Da Lezze
Palazzi Giustinian (Gothic, 15th century; Richard Wagner stayed here) Palazzo Moro-Lin
Ca' Bernardo
Palazzo Bernardo Nani Palazzo Grassi (Massari, Neoclassical, 18th century)
Ca' Rezzonico (Longhena, Massari; 17th-18th century; Museum of 18th century-Century Culture)
Rio di San Barnaba San Samuele
Palazzo Contarini Michiel San Samuele vaporetto station
Ca' Rezzonico vaporetto station Casa Francheschinis (20th century)
Traghetto San Barnaba Traghetto San Samuele
Palazzetto Stern Palazzo Malipiero
Rio Malpaga
Palazzo Moro ("Otello's house")
Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore (Gothic, 15th century)
Casa Mainella
Rio di San Trovaso
Palazzi Contarini degli Scrigni and Corfù Ca' del Duca
Rio del Duca
Palazzo Falier
Palazzo Mocenigo Gambara Palazzo Giustinian Lolin (Longhena, 17th century)
Palazzo Querini
Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carità (Massari, 18th century; Gallerie dell'Accademia) Palazzo Civran Badoer Barozzi
Accademia vaporetto station Rio di San Vidal
Santa Maria della Carità (Gothic, 15th century; deconsecrated, now part of Gallerie dell'Accademia museum) Campo San Vidal
Ponte dell'Accademia
Palazzo Brandolin Rota (Toti dal Monte owned it) Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti (Gothic, 15th century; Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti)
Palazzo Contarini Dal Zaffo (Gothic and Renaissance elements, 15th century)
Palazzo Balbi Valier Palazzi Barbaro FOY
Palazzo Loredan (Cini Foundation) Palazzo Benzon Foscolo
Rio di San Vio Palazzetto Pisani
Campo San Vio Rio del Santissimo
Palazzo Barbarigo (modern mosaics) Palazzo Succi
Palazzo Da Mula Casa Stecchini
Palazzo Centani Morosini
Ca' Biondetti (Rosalba Carriera lived here) Casina delle Rose (Antonio Canova and Gabriele D'Annunzio worked here)
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (Peggy Guggenheim Collection) Palazzo Corner della Ca' Granda (Sansovino, Renaissance, 16th century; Province of Venice and Prefect seat)
Casa Artom [1]
Rio delle Torreselle Rio di San Maurizio (Venice)
Palazzo Dario (Renaissance, 15th century) Palazzo Minotto
Palazzo Barbaro Wolkoff (Eleonora Duse lived here) Palazzo Barbarigo
Rio della Fornace Rio di Santa Maria Zobenigo
Palazzo Salviati Santa Maria del Giglio vaporetto station
Palazzo Orio Semitecolo Benzon Palazzo Venier Contarini
Traghetto S.Gregorio Traghetto S.Maria del Giglio
Casa Santomaso Palazzo Pisani Gritti
Palazzo Genovese (Gothic Revival, 19th century) Rio delle Ostreghe
San Gregorio ex-abbey Palazzo Ferro Fini (Regional Council of Veneto)
Rio della Salute
Salute vaporetto station Palazzo Contarini Fasan (Gothic, 15th century; "Desdemona's house")
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Longhena, Baroque, 17th century) Palazzo Contarini
Palazzo Michiel Alvisi
Patriarchal Seminary Palazzo Badoer Tiepolo
Punta della Dogana Palazzo Treves de Bonfili
Rio di San Moisè
Hotel Bauer (Gothic Revival, 19th century)
Ca' Giustinian (Gothic, 15th century; municipal, Venice Biennale offices)
Palazzo Vallaresso Erizzo
Harry's Bar
San Marco/Vallaresso vaporetto station
Fonteghetto della Farina (Renaissance, 15th century)
Venice Pavilion

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "house description". Wake Forest Venice. Retrieved 2013-12-21. 


  • A. Zorzi, P. Marton I Palazzi Veneziani – Magnus Ed., Udine 1989; ISBN 88-7057-083-5
  • M. Brusegan La grande guida dei monumenti di Venezia - Newton & Compton Ed., Roma 2005; ISBN 88-541-0475-2.
  • E. e W. Eleodori Il Canal Grande. Palazzi e Famiglie – Corbo e Fiore Editori, II ed., Venezia 2007; ISBN 88-7086-057-4.
  • Guida d'Italia – Venezia. 3a ed. Milano, Touring Editore, 2007. ISBN 978-88-365-4347-2.
  • Alvise Zorzi, P. Marton. I Palazzi Veneziani. Udine, Magnus, 1989. ISBN 88-7057-083-5.
  • Venezia e provincia. Milano, Touring Editore, 2004. ISBN 88-365-2918-6.
  • Raffaella Russo. Palazzi di Venezia. Venezia, Arsenale Ed., 1998. ISBN 88-7743-185-7.
  • Umberto Franzoi, Mark Smith. Canal Grande. Venezia, Arsenale Ed., 1993. ISBN 88-7743-131-8.
  • Giuseppe Mazzariol (a cura di). I Palazzi del Canal Grande. Novara, Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1989.
  • Gianjacopo Fontana. Venezia monumentale - I Palazzi. Venezia, Filippi Ed., 1967.
  • Andrea Fasolo, Mark Smith. Palazzi di Venezia. Venezia, Arsenale Ed., 2003. ISBN 88-7743-295-0.
  • The Art and Architecture of Venice
  • Terisio Pignatti (a cura di). Le scuole di Venezia. Milano, Electa, 1981.
  • Silvia Gramigna, Annalisa Perissa. Scuole di Arti, Mestieri e Devozione a Venezia. Venezia, Arsenale Coop
  • Giuseppe Tassini. Curiosità Veneziane. Venezia, Filippi Ed., 2001.

Coordinates: 45°26′12″N 12°19′59″E / 45.43667°N 12.33306°E / 45.43667; 12.33306