Great thoroughfares often seem to meet bad ends: Fifth Avenue comes to grief among junkyards and gasworks over the Harlem River; the Champs-Elysées leads only to the nightmare of La Défense. The Grand Canal’s shabby demise comes at its northern end, among the causeways, the docks of the Tronchetto, the new people mover and the colossal parking garages of Piazzale Roma.
The first sight is the spanking new, controversial Ponte della Constituzione, perhaps better known as the Ponte Calatrava after its architect, built to link the Piazzale Roma directly with the train station
It affords a good view onto the Giardini Papadopoli, on the confluence of the Grand Canal and Rio Novo. Once party of the long gone monastery of Santa Crose, an English park was commissioned here in 1835 by Teresa Mosconi Papadopoli which was later chopped up in the construction of Piazzale Roma. Still visible from the canal is the garden's Monument to Pietro Paleocapa, ‘inventor of modern hydraulic principles’.
After that comes the railway station, Stazione Santa Lucia, the clean-lined 'rationalist' work of Angiolo Mazzoni, one of the notable architects of the Mussolini era, who also designed Rome's Termini Station and many others.
Beyond it, snack-stands and souvenir peddlers line the left bank, leading towards the Lista di Spagna. From here, no more embarrassments, as the Grand Canal comes into its own.
On the right bank, opposite the station, stands the 18th-century Palazzo Emo Diedo, now home to the Suore della Carità ('Sisters of Charity'). To the left of it, the peculiar green egg-cup church is San Simeone Piccolo, one of the youngest of Venetian churches, completed in 1738.
Next you approach the Ponte degli Scalzi, built in 1934, one of only three bridges to knit the two halves of the city together. The mouldering hulk to the left before the bridge is the Scalzi church, built for the Reformed (or scalzi – 'shoeless') Carmelites in the 1640s.
To the right, the Rio Marin is one of the busiest canals, a shortcut to San Marco; after it, also on the right, you’ll catch a glimpse of the long Campo San Simeone Profeta. The next canal is to the left: the Canale di Cannaregio. On the corner is the addition to the back of San Geremia e Lucia, built to hold the relics of Santa Lucia, brought here in the 1860s when her own church was demolished for the station that bears her name
Here the canal grows more colourful, with a number of ancient palaces, Veneto-Byzantine and Gothic. To see the best example of the genesis of the former style, wait until two more canals pass on the right. At the corner before the second stands the monumental Fondaco dei Turchi, with its arcades of round arches, a work of the 12th–13th centuries built for the Palmieri family, and passing through many owners thereafter. In 1453, the last ambassador from Constantinople sojourned here; ironically, after 1621 the palace was occupied by his Turkish successors. It served as the headquarters for Ottoman merchants in Venice until 1838, and was tidily over-restored by the Austrians to house the city’s Natural History Museum.
Across the little canal, Rio Fontego dei Turchi, the rugged old building with the Lion of St Mark was a public granary, the Deposito (or Fondaco) del Megio, literally, 'of millet'.
Opposite, Venice's Casino keeps its quarters in the Renaissance Ca' Vendramin-Calergi, one of the most impressive palaces on this stretch of the canal. Richard Wagner died here, and above the roulette tables there's a museum dedicated to the composer.
And the tour down the Grand Canal continues here.
Images by: Didier Descouens, Creative Commons License