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A two-day sightseeing tour from the Lido
This tour avoids San Marco and Rialto (often unpleasantly busy) and San Marco offers enough for several days’ all on its own. These tours take from 1015 to 1730 Lido to Lido but there are coffee and refreshment stops built in.
A word about the churches
The website churchesofvenice.com is a wonderful mine of information about the history of each church and the art on view. Ideal to find it on your phone so you can consult when you are standing in the church. As with all Venetian destinations opening times are unreliable. By and large churches are open in the morning.
10 minute boat from Lido to Giardini.
17 minute walk through gardens and the back streets (or along the waterfront) to San Giorgio dei Greci. 16th century church, with interior painted dome supervised by Tintoretto. You can also visit the Greek Icon Museum nearby, although I understand this is closed at present (March 2022).
11 minute walk to Santa Maria Formosa. This church is visited by the Doge every 2nd February and a procession of twelve 'Marias' was to commemorate the rescue of the brides abducted by pirates from Istria and Trieste from San Pietro di Castello some time in 944. Santa Maria Formosa being the centre for the guild of casselleri (casemakers) who carried out the rescue and requested an annual visit from the doge as reward. This was also the church of the scuole of fruit-sellers and gunners. The church was rebuilt in 1492. Paintings of note: Santa Barbara by Palma Vecchio
Exit the campo onto Calle Longa and walk to the nearby Acqua Alta, a fun bookshop with gondola in situ.
From there it’s a 5 minute walk to SS Zanipolo, the great 14th century Venetian church of the Dominican order (counterpoint to the Frari which is Franciscan). Zanipolo is a typically Venetian dialect name for John and Paul although not named after the apostles but two soldier saints. Images of these saints can be seen in the stained glass window, standing alongside Saints George and Theodore, two of Venice's three patron saints. Art of note: Tombs of 25 doges and Gentile and Giovanni Bellini; Giovanni Bellini San Vincenzo Ferrer polyptych; Saint Anthony Begging by Lotto and some impressive Veronese ceiling paintings in the Capella del Rosario.
Have a coffee/aperol/lunch stop in the square outside SS Zanipolo.
San Giorgio dei Greci
0900-1300 & 1500-1700 Mon, Wed-Sat, but beware of winter timetable
Santa Maria Formosa
1030-1630 Mon-Sat, with fee
Calle Longa Santa Formosa 5176 B, 30122, Venezia (VE)
SS Zanipolo (Giovanni e Paolo)
1000-1800 Sun, otherwise 1300-1800, with fee
While sitting in the square admire the fine equestrian statue of poor Bartolomeo Colleoni by Verrocchio 1480-1488. The story goes that the immensely wealthy Colleoni was duped into giving a huge amount of money to the state (always in debt - plus ça change) on condition that he had an impressive statue outside San Marco. Colleoni meant the Basilica next to the Doge’s palace of course. But when he died they decided to put his statue outside the Scuola Grande San Marco which wasn’t what he’d bargained for at all. His surname also gives rise to unfortunate puns. Coglioni is slang for part of the male anatomy and generally used to denote an idiot.
After refreshment in the campo visit the Scuola itself nearby. This building has recently been renovated and opened to the public. But before you go in, pause and admire the facade. At street level, Pietro’s son, Tullio Lombardo created the four three-dimensional reliefs of the two Lions, together with Saint Mark Healing Ananius and Saint Mark Baptizing Ananius. Marco Codussi completed the upper façade.
In the early 16th century Gentile Bellini (a member of the scuola) began a series of paintings on The Life of Saint Mark for the Sala dell’Albergo. And around 1523-4 various Venetian artists were commissioned to decorate the Sala Grande. Decoration in the Sala Grande continued into the 17th century and the scuola was suppressed by Napoleon, eventually becoming part of the Ospedale Civile which is still there and functioning as an extension of the main hospital.
Tintoretto's St. Mark Rescuing the Slave (1548) (now in the Accademia) once hung on the wall opposite the the altar between the windows overlooking Campo San Zanipolo.
The smaller Sala dell'Albergo opens off of the Sala Grande. It has had reproductions of the paintings originally sited there inserted above the bookcases. The Preaching of St Mark by Gentile Bellini (completed by his brother Giovanni in 1515 and the most famous work here, with a weird building in the background looking like a cross between the Basilica San Marco and a teapot) and The Martyrdom of St Mark (started by Giovanni and finished by his pupil Vittore Belliniano in 1526) are on the end and entrance walls respectively. Three more scenes were added by Gentile Bellini's pupil Giovanni Mansueti between 1518 and 1526 which hung on the right side wall, with Paris Bordone's Presentation of the Ring to the Doge of Venice 1534 and Palma Vecchio's St. Mark Saving Venice from the Ship of Demons on the left as you enter. This last painting was lavishly praised by Vasari, but he said that it was by Giorgione in the first (1550) edition of his Lives, switching to Palma in the second (1568) edition. All the originals are elsewhere (see below) but the reproductions here are impressive.
Is it a piazza or a campo?
That fine square you are sitting in is only a campo (field) because the only piazza in Venice is the Piazza San Marco. Originally when they were building Venice this would indeed have been a field with a wellhead and a church and probably a canal dividing it on all sides from the other campi. The smaller ones are called campielli.
Scuola Grande San Marco
0930-1300 & 1400-1700 Tue-Sat, with fee
Introduction to the Scuole
The scuole are effectively ancient guilds, some of which are now open for visits. Recognized as the most important social institutions in the Serenissima Republic of Venice, the Scuola di Santa Maria della Misericordia, along with those of San Marco, San Rocco, San Giovanni Evangelista, Santa Maria della Carità, San Teodoro, and dei Carmini, represented the seven “Scuole Grandi” of Venice whose members were predominantly high dignitaries in Venetian society.
Walk 3 minutes to Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a tiny Renaissance jewel box which you can spot in Don’t Look Now with Donald Sutherland. The church is an optical illusion deliberately painted to look symmetrical from very close up. (You can’t move away without falling in the canal). The marble panels are not in fact symmetrical.
Now follow the main shopping/market street for Venetians, the Strada Nova, 12 minutes and turn off to the Fondamenta Misericordia.
Vino Vero for lunch - a great bottle shop and wine bar with cecchetti on the Fondamenta Misericordia. Tables outside or hover inside. Best cecchetti in Venice some say.
Now you are well placed to pop into the Scuola Grande Misericordia (if it is open for an exhibition). The old scuola building, still stands in the campo dell Abbazia, first rented to a fodder merchant, it became a hospice and was later used as a theatre. Now it's used as an art restoration centre, for both sculpture and paintings. The large Titian from the Sala dell'Albergo at the Accademia was brought here for restoration in late 2010. The new scuola, the huge and unfinished Gothic barn-like building by Sansovino, became, in 1634, the guildhall of the silk-cloth weavers' guild who renovated it in 1730.
From 1914 it was used as a gym before recently being restored recently, at a cost of 10 million euros - funding provided by a private company, with much controversy over their feet-dragging and lack of progress for the four years from 2009. It is to be used for Biennale exhibits and the like having reopened fully in March 2016. On the ground floor the space is divided into three by large Corinthian columns on tall pedestals (see photo below). Upstairs are frescoes of the Twelve major Prophets between the windows by Alvise da Friso, Paolo Veronese, Padovanino and Domenico Tintoretto made paintings for the scuola, some of which are lost. Local resident Tintoretto used the upper rooms here to paint his huge Paradiso for the Palazzo Ducale.
You can check if there’s an exhibition on their website.
If you’ve started early you can pause here and eat a lovely lunch in one of the restaurants along the canal. Osteria da Rioba and Paradiso Perduto are especially good. Further along there’s one called Levante which looks wonderful but we haven’t tried it yet.
When you’ve got your strength back walk 8 minutes to Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta (this church is known as the Gesuiti. Do not confuse with the Gesuati which is on the Zattere). If you only see one church make it this one. The marble intarsia is extraordinary and speaks of the sea. Don’t miss the Titian and Tintoretto on offer too.
Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta
1000-1200 & 1600-1800 Mon-Sat
History: Originally the order of the Crociferi were in residence in the 12th century. Monastery and hospital. Rebuilt after fires and acquired by the Jesuits in 1657 after the Crociferi were suppressed for moral turpitude. Venice needed money after the war with Capadoccia and the Pope agreed they could sell off the goods etc of the Crociferi as long as the Jesuits were allowed back into Venice. (They had been expelled 1606). When the Jesuits were suppressed in 1773 the monastery became a school and then, in 1808, a barracks. The Jesuits returned in 1844 and still occupy the convent buildings to the north.
The Manin family (see Campo Manin near Rialto) supplied the money and are buried here. Their favourite architect Domenico Rossi originally designed the church but others mucked in. Ludovico Manin being famously the last doge of all - the one who handed Venice over to Napoleon.
On the ceiling gold and white stucco work by Abbondio Stazio surrounds frescoes by Francesco Fontabasso and Louis Dorigny (two each). Then there's the altar, inspired by Bernini, by Fra Giuseppe Pozzo, with its baldacchino with Solomonic (barley-sugar) columns and concealed lighting.
Titian’s 1548, great, dark Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence (see below far right) in the first chapel on the left, which had been in the Crociferi, the previous church on this site, having been commissioned by Elisabetta, the widow of Lorenzo Massolo. Ridolfi described it as 'totally blackened and incomprehensible' in 1648. A situation that was blamed on the effect of fumes wafting up from decomposing corpses in the tombs in the crypt.
Tintoretto's early and movement-filled Assumption of the Virgin is now in the ornate marble altar dedicated to the Zen family, in the left (shallow) transept. It was painted in 1554 for the high altar of the original Crociferi church, commissioned by the fathers, again according to Ridolfi, on the understanding that it would be in imitation of the style of Paolo Veronese.
The sacristy contains 21 unusually superior works by Palma Giovane, (see example, below right) on the walls and across the decorated ceiling, in celebration of the Eucharist.
A short step to the Fondamenta Nove to catch the boat home or head for San Marco and a cocktail, you’ve earned it.
20 minute boat from Lido to Salute.
Dip inside to pay your respects to Santa Maria della Salute. This church was built to hasten and celebrate the end of the last great plague of 1630-31 which killed 46,000 people - a third of Venice’s population.
Take the back alleys behind the Salute and admire the galleries and caffes. You will fetch up almost immediately at the Guggenheim where you can sit in the garden and have a drink even if you’re not up to Max Ernst so early in the day. You may want to visit the Guggenheim today or you may prefer the Accademia. Personally I find one great gallery is enough for one day so maybe choose one for today and come back for the other another time.
Now follow your nose for 2 minutes and cut off to the left when you hit a major throughfare. When you see water ahead you are on the Zattere (the word means rafts which is I believe what was there before they constructed dry land out of water). The island opposite you is the Giudecca, famous for the Cipriani, Harry’s Dolci and the Redentore church.
The Zattere is great for sitting near the water and having coffee. If you’ve already done the Guggenheim it may be lunchtime. Nice pizza places on the water but do not miss the outstanding Gelateria Nico and the Gianduiotto semifreddo as recommended by Russell Norman (Polpo) and me!
If you are going to the Accademia turn down the side of the Gesuati (opposite the Santo Spirito boat stop) and the gallery and the bridge is at the bottom where you join the Grand Canal.
Santa Maria della Salute
0930-1200 & 1500-1730 Mon-Sun
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
1000-1800 Mon & Wed-Sun
0815-1400 Mon, 0815-1915 Tue-Sun
If you’re game for some more sightseeing you now take the 12 minute walk to Ca’ Rezzonico (closes at 5pm, but last ticket at 4pm). This is a fabulous 18th century house on the Grand Canal. Concentrate on the ground and first floors, especially the Tiepolo frescoes and the view. It’s wonderful to stand in a palazzo on the Grand Canal and feel how it must have been to live in one.
Another 12 minutes walk will find you at Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari - you really cannot miss this and the Titian Assumption altar piece. This is the Franciscan church just as stunning as San Zanipolo.
Nearby is the Scuola San Rocco which is not large but stunning and a must if you like Tintoretto.
And finally as the sun is setting … head to my favourite square, San Giacomo dell’Orio, a lovely space where dogs and children play alongside the ancient church.
Get a drink at Al Prosecco or a pizza for dinner at Al Refolo.
When you’re ready to head home, walk a little further north and cross over the Grand Canal to get the boat back to the Lido.
1000-1700 Mon & Wed-Sun
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
0900-1800 Mon-Sat, 1300-1800 Sun
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
0930-1730 Mon & Wed-Sun
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