One of the earliest territories to be settled when barbarian invasions drove the earliest inhabitants from the mainland, Castello was historically important for its shipbuilding zone, the Arsenale – once a powerhouse that supplied the maritime Venetian Republic with wartime and merchant vessels.
A flurry of tourists keep the Riva degli Schiavoni one of Castello’s most familiar (and trafficked) zones, as they stroll the broad quayside promenade in search of upscale hotels, kitsch souvenir shops and vaporetto and water-taxi stops.
From the Ponte della Paglia (Bridge of Straw), look toward the 17th-century Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) leading from the Doge’s Palace to the prison cells. Continuing eastward along the promenade, the crowds thin out, revealing Castello’s quiet, unhurried nature.
The Giardini Biennale make up Venice’s largest parkland and have been the site of the Biennale (See Festivities, page 196) for many years. Venture out a bit farther from the Biennale and you’ll find the residential district of S. Elena, where streets are wider, laundry is hung between buildings and locals carry groceries.
Sightseeing in Castello
The one-time residence of the influential Querini Stampalia family, this 16th-century palace now houses a noteworthy museum with original neoclassical and 17th-century furniture, porcelain, sculptures and a sizeable picture gallery with paintings by some of Venice’s great 14th- to 16th-century artists, including Giovanni Bellini, Giambattista Tiepolo and Palma il Giovane.
Chiesa Santa Maria Formosa
Built by Mauro Codussi in the 15th century in a Latin cross plan, Santa Maria Formosa was erected on the foundations of a seventh- century church. Marked by two facades and a Baroque-style bell tower, the church houses several great works, including the St. Barbara polyptych by Palma il Vecchio.
Museo Storico Navale di Venezia
Established after World War I, this museum documents Venice’s naval history from its days as Maritime Republic through modern times. In addition to uniforms, nautical instruments and various mementos from Venice’s shipbuilding industry, the museum has a large model collection that includes WWII battleships, submarines and frigates. The highlight by far is the model of the historical vessel, the Bucintoro, a ceremonial barge used by the doge when he would throw a ring from the boat into the lagoon to symbolize Venice’s marriage to the sea.
Chiesa Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Centered in a lovely square in the company of the equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni, the church of Saints John and Paul was considered by the Venetian Republic to be its official church after St. Mark’s Basilica. Predominantly Gothic in its style, the 14th-century church is something of a pantheon for its tombs of more than 20 doges and prominent figures from the Republic. Known among locals as San Zanipolo, this luminous church contains a polyptych by Bellini and has a splendid altarpiece canvas by Lorenzo Lotto.
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