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Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo

Of the Spiral Stair

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo

From Campo Manin, Calle della Vida (under the sign for the Hotel Centauro) will take you on a short detour to the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo (‘of the snail’, in Venetian dialect) tucked in a tiny courtyard.

Perhaps only one in a thousand visitors ever tries to find this, but those who do are abundantly rewarded with Giovanni Candi’s flamboyant external spiral stair (c. 1500), its ranks of arches curling up five storeys like an architectural ice cream parfait. The story goes the owner wanted a stairway his horse could mount — a reminder that astonishingly, once upon time, horses were a common sight in Venice.

The collection of medieval well-heads in the garden, thrones for a motley collection of stray cats, is equally whimsical. The view from the top is much more localized than the one from the campanile in Piazza San Marco, and in many ways rather more illuminating. At the time of writing, however, it's undergoing restoration.

The staircase was featured in Orson Welles' Othello (1952).

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vaporetto: San Marco or Rialto.

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Text © Dana Facaros and Michael Pauls

Images by: tentonipete