Grand Canal Tour, part 2
The Casino to Ponte di Rialto
Continued from Grand Canal Tour, part 1.
The next quarter-mile or so, as far as the Rialto markets, is one of the high-rent squares on Venice’s Monopoly board, lined with imposing palaces on both sides.
On the Right
Next to the granaries are the 17th-century Palazzo Belloni-Battaglia, a slightly sickly-sweet torte with obelisks in overwrought Baroque by Longhena; the late Renaissance Palazzo Tron, built by the opera-loving family who founded Venice's first public opera theatre, at San Cassiano. Beyond are two 15th-century Gothic palaces, the Palazzo Duodo and Palazzo Priuli-Bon (the ground floor of the latter is used for exhibitions). Next comes the creamy white façade of San Stae, on its canalside campo, and next to it one of the most charming buildings on the canal, the Scuola dei Battiloro e Tiraoro (goldsmiths and jewellers) – not as old as it looks, but an eccentrically retro building of 1711.
Its neighbour is the 17th-century Palazzo Foscarino-Giovanelli, now a hotel but once home of the unfortunate diplomat Antonio Foscarini, unjustly executed by the republic for treason (his memorial and the State’s apology are in San Stae).
The third palace after this is the Palazzo Corner della Regina (rebuilt 1724), the birthplace of Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus and now home to the Fondazione Prada, which puts on special exhibitions. Then comes Casa Favretto, a fine Gothic-Byzantine building with some parts as old as the 11th century; once home to 19th century painter Giacomo Favretto, it's now a residenzia d'epoca hotel, San Cassiano. Three more buildings down comes the Palazzo Morosini Brandolin, another 15th-century florid Gothic building, and the last palace before the Fondamenta dell’Olio and the striking neo-Gothic fish market.
From the canal, some of the busy life of the Rialto markets can be seen, though much is blocked out by the two ungainly market buildings: the Fabbriche Nuove and Sansovino’s Fabbriche Vecchie, seat of the Venetian magistrates' court. After them are the outdoor fruit and vegetable markets, and then the building that was once Venice’s treasury, the 16th-century Palazzo dei Camerlenghi.
On the Left
After the Casino and its adjacent garden, the second palace is the red 15th-century Gothic Palazzo Molin Erizzo, famous for being owned in the 1600s by a patrician so conservative that he disinherited his son for wearing a periwig and red socks. Next to it is the Renaissance Palazzo Soranzo, a work of Sante Lombardo, today the seat of the Guardia di Finanzia, the special police force in charge of catching smugglers and drug traffickers. Its neighbour, the 17th-century Palazzo Emo alla Maddalena was the home of Venice's last great admiral, Angelo Emo.
to the right of the narrow Rio della Maddalena, the Palazzo Barbarigo is one of the last to retain some traces of its exterior frescoes, once a common feature of canal-front mansions. Just before the next side canal on the left, the 16th-century Palazzo Gussoni-Grimani della Vida once sported a full set of these frescoes by Tintoretto himself.
After a long stretch of undistinguished palaces, mostly from the 1600s, you can’t miss the spectacular Ca’ d’Oro, with the most fanciful and ornate façade of all Venice’s Gothic palaces: this ‘Golden House’, completed about 1440, took its name from the heavy load of gilding that originally covered its columns and ornament. The home of the Contarinis, the great family that gave Venice eight doges, it replaced another palace that had belonged to the family of Carlo Zeno; some parts of this earlier work can still be seen. It now houses the Galleria Franchetti.
After the Ca’ d’Oro, a chorus of three more Gothic palaces competes for your attention: the Palazzo Pésaro-Rava, the Ca' Sagredo, parts of which go back to the 1300s, and the 15th-century Palazzo Foscari, now a hotel, on the right flank of the narrow Campo Santa Sofia.
After these, the mood changes again with the late 16th-century Palazzo Michiel dalle Colonne, so called for its columned portico, and the Palazzo Michiel del Brusà, a Gothic palace rebuilt after a fire in 1774 and now used for exhibitions. Next door, the Palazzo Smith Mangilli Valmarana, was a Byzantine Gothic palace, remodelled in the 1740s by Antonio Visentini for its most famous resident, the British consul Joseph Smith.
Further along, the Ca’ da Mosto, on the corner of Rio di San Giovanni Crisostomo, is one of the oldest buildings on the canal, and birthplace of Alvise da Mosto, discoverer of the Cape Verde Islands.
Heading into the bend of the canal before the Ponte di Rialto, after the tiny Campiello Remer comes another 13th-century building, the much-altered Palazzo Lion-Morosini. Just before the bridge itself, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, austere without its once sumptuous frescoes by Giorgione and Titian, was one of the largest of the foreign merchants’ inns, home not only to the many German and Austrian traders, but those from Hungary, Bohemia and all central Europe.