Campo San Barnaba

Campo San Barnaba is crossed by almost every visitor to Venice, walking between the Accademia Bridge and the Rialto Bridge on the “main route”.  The island of San Barnaba appears to be one of the oldest “intentionally designed” communities in Venice.  Originally without bridges to connect it to adjacent areas (some of which were most likely developed much later and were, therefore, sandy or marshy islands when San Barnaba was laid out), the fairly rectangular island stretches back across the Dorsoduro from the Grand Canal for almost its entire width!

Campo San Barnaba is sited on one side of the narrow island, with the church (San Barnaba, of course) fronting it on the east side.  As was traditional with many Campo, the Rio de San Barnaba is open to the Campo on the north side, and a “spine street”, the “Main Street” of the isle runs relatively straightly east to west along its long axis,  Other short streets spur off to either side of that Calle Longa San Barnaba (Long Path) at close to right angles, like the ribs on a fish.

Three of the many features of San Barnaba island are of special note:

1.  Ponte dei Pugni

A later addition to the connecting bridges linking San Barnaba to the “outside world” of Venice (and leading into a street that is a Rio Terra – a filled in former canal, as does at least one other bridge spanning to San Barnaba),  traditionally, this bridge was the site selected for “fisticuffs” between members of opposing guilds, groups, gangs, clubs – call them what you will – with the intent of each fighter to knock his opponent into the Ria!

That was, of course, before railings were added to this Ponte, now equipped similarly to most bridges in Venice these days.  Apparantly, “balance” was a 17th Century conceit!

I don’t know if the loser “saw stars” after plunging into the murky Rio.  Perhaps they at least saw what we observed under the next bridge north (by the Church)  a while ago – a different manifestation of light that adds even more character to Venice, if that were possible:

Bridge at San Barnaba  (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

Bridge at San Barnaba (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

2. The Little Shop

In the great 1955 movie “Summertime”, starring Katharine Hepburn and Rossano Brazzi and directed by David Lean (actually, the “star” is VENICE !!), the little shop between the church and the bridge across the Rio De San Barnaba to the north was central to the story.  In its window, the character played by Katharine Hepburn spies a red Venetian glass goblet and enters to enquire into its price.  The story goes from there, and glides through a great movie to watch if you love Venice!  We are fairly positive that the adjacent Rio is the one into which Ms. Hepburn plunged in the movie – although it seems narrower “in person”!

A shop still occupies that spot.  Last year, as we cruised by, guess what we saw in the window (“Zoom In” as necessary to spot “It”):

Summertime - Little Shop  (c)2009 S.M. Bosch

Summertime - Little Shop (c)2009 S.M. Bosch

3.  Traghetto San Barnaba

The northern reach of Calle Longa San Barnaba past the church to the Canale Grande was named Calle Del Tragheto to help people find direct access to the Traghetto crossing (spelling differs from location to location!) the Canale to Campo San Samuele in Siestre San Marco.  A traghetto is a long, two-man gondola used to cross the Grand Canal at fixed points (seven in all, today) between the infrequent bridges – economically and rapidly – usually carrying about seven people.  Most of the passengers, per tradition, stand for the short voyage.  Some appear to be a little shaky, risking a plunge into the Canale!

The Traghetto may be recommended as an excellent way to access San Barnaba, escaping from the mad rush along the “main pedestrian route” and entering the island along its spine street, much as most people did centuries ago.

A Traghetto (StaSofia)  (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

A Traghetto (StaSofia) (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch


So, three ways to look at the periphery of a “classical”, “planned community” island in Venice, San Barnaba.  The rest of the island – Campo, Church, Calli, shops and houses – have great stories to tell.  The three listed above, however, give you special historical insights, and if you are not paying attention to the crowd, the opportunity to experience a

Swim in a Canal!


About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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3 Responses to Campo San Barnaba

  1. ytaba36 says:

    It’s interesting .. I know full well that Venice is made up of many islands, but your article really brought it home to me, very clearly!

  2. Albert Hickson says:

    It definitely is Rio San Barnaba that Katharine Hepburn falls into. I can only suggest that the camera lens may have given a false perspective for you. There are many stories about this incident that you can find on the internet. Each as reliable as anything else on the internet. One story is that a section of the canal was partitioned by tarpaulins and that disinfectant was added to try to make the ‘swim’ less risky. Another that a stand-in was to have been used, but either Lean or Hepburn vetoed that as the audience would be able to tell. Yet another that the scene had to be re-shot after the film was finished; that Hepburn suffered with eye trouble for the rest of her life as a result.
    I would only like to point out the two men who are walking towards the canal as Hepburn backs into it, but who have disappeared in the next shot. You can see that she is swimming in the Rio San Barnaba here, since the view is of the Campo with the church in the background.

    • randysrules says:

      Thank you for your detailed comment that removes my doubt about the “splash down” location! I will return to the film again and enjoy that confirmation!

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