Grand Canal Tour, part 5

Accademia to San Marco

Palazzo Brandolin Rota

The Grand Canal's grand finale doesn't disappoint. Continued from Part Four, here.

On the Left

Once under the Accademia bridge, narrow Campo San Vitale (San Vidal) opens up into the broad Campo Santo Stefano; bordering it, with Venice’s most enviable canal-front garden, is the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti, 15th-century Gothic palace prettified in the 1890s.

Across the narrow Rio dell’Orso, the Palazzo Barbaro was the home of the vain family who glorified themselves on the façade of Santa Maria Zobenigo (see below). Among the next stretch of smaller houses, you’ll be able to pick out the Casetta delle Rose – a lovely place that was home to the sculptor Canova and later to Gabriele d’Annunzio. You’ll have no trouble finding the Palazzo Corner (or Ca' Grande), one of the real monsters of the canal, and one of the buildings in Venice by Sansovino.

Next to it there’s the pink 15th-century Gothic Palazzo Barbarigo Minotto, scene of chamber opera performances. At the narrow Campo del Traghetto, peer through to the façade of the aforementioned Santa Maria Zobenigo. To the right of the campo, the Palazzo Gritti-Pisani is now the posh Gritti Palace Hotel, where Ruskin, Hemingway and Churchill stayed.

Five palaces down is the small Palazzo Contarini-Fasan (1475), with its pretty, florid Gothic facade: imaginative tour guides used to tell the English this was the house of Othello’s Desdemona.

Further along comes the Palazzo Barozzi, first built in 1147; one section of it was razed to the ground in 1310 after two family members were involved in the Tiepolo conspiracy. What was originally a second Barozzi property, the Palazzo Bauer Grünwald, is now the luxurious Bauers Hotel, a 19th-century imitation of Venetian Gothic; next to it is the real thing, the Ca’ Giustinian (1474), headquarters of the Biennale.

Here we are almost at Piazza San Marco; as the canal opens up into the Bacino San Marco you will see the 15th-century port authorities, the Capitaneria del Porto and the Giardinetti Reali.

On the Right

The first palace after the Accademia is the 17th-18th century Palazzo Brandolin Rota, now a private home. Next comes the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo, a fine work of the late 1400s, attributed to either Giovanni Buora or Mauro Codussi, decorated after the style of the Lombardo family; it was later owned by the great art and music patron, the Princesse de Polignac (Winnaretta Singer), who hosted Igor Stravinsky and Ezra Pound here among others. Today it still belongs to the Polignac family.

After Campo San Vio, the 16th-century Palazzo Barbarigo, with its mosaics from the 1880s added by a glassworks owner, is hard to miss (Venice still had a flourishing school of mosaicists at that time; their work, some good and some horrible, can be seen on churches across Italy). Today it is the headquarters of Pauly & Co. Glass; part of the palace complex includes the Anglican church of St George.

Next is the 15th-century Palazzi Da Mula Morosini e Centani Morosini, home to the famous Morosini family. The great Rococo portraitist Rosalba Carriera lived in the small palazzo next door.

There’s no mistaking the canal’s most peculiar landmark, the triumphantly unfinished Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. Only the ground floor of this mid-18th-century palace was ever built. The resulting ranch-house effect attracted an American heiress, who lived here for 30 years with her outstanding collection of modern art, now the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

The next palace after it is another work influenced by the Lombardi, with its mighty Venetian chimneys and a wealth of decoration in coloured marbles, the precariously leaning, said-to-be-haunted Palazzo Dario. Next door is the Venetian Byzantine Palazzo Barbaro Wolkoff, where the great Italian actress Eleanora Duse often stayed.

More modern mosaics adorn the Palazzo Salviati (1924), home to another Murano glass baron. At the time it was linked to its neighbour, the Palazzo Orio Semitecolo Benzon, 14th century on the ground floor, and 19th-century on top. The simple facade of the Palazzo Nani Mocenigo dates from the 16th century; last is the ornate neo-Venetian Gothic Ca' Genovese, built in 1892 and recently restored as the Centurion Palace Hotel.

Now your vaporetto has reached the end of the canal as the magnificent ensemble of Piazza San Marco, San Giorgio Maggiore and the tip of the Giudecca comes into view. The last buildings on the canal contribute to the perfect crescendo climax of the trip: the great domed church of Santa Maria della Salute and the golden ball of the ‘Fortune’ weathervane atop the Dogana di Mare, the old customs house of the Republic. Beyond lies the Lagoon.

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