Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, known as “Zanipolo” (and by other spellings) in the Venetian vernacular, embraces the great Dominican church named after the two great saints John and Paul.
When Doge Jacopo Tiepolo ceded land to the Dominican order in 1230, this then-undeveloped part of the Venetian archipelago was a marshy backwater also encumbered with large lumber yards for receiving and processing wood rafted down from the mainland mountains. Construction of the great church was a 100 year enterprise, even with timber for the roof close at hand.
In addition to Zanipolo and the monastery cloisters, one of the most prominent Scuola of Venice was constructed on the north side of the Campo, the Scuola Grande di San Marco. These structures, their history, architecture and contents deserve special treatment, which must wait for future posts!
Near the physical center of the Campo, the then-largest bronze equestrian statue on earth was created by Verrocchio and erected after 1475 in tribute to Bartolomeo Colleoni. Colleoni was perhaps the most famous Venetian condotierre, really a “soldier of fortune” (a.k.a., “mercenary”). He changed sides a number of times during his “larger than life” career, yet was always trustworthy and loyal to whichever side he was with at the time! His greatest – and last – achievements were on behalf of the Venetian Republic, which rewarded him with the title of captain-general for life. His testament requested that a statue be placed in Piazza San Marco in recognition of his great worth to the Republic (humble man that he was), and in return for a handsome bequest to fund yet another war against Turkey!
Since no personal monuments were (or are) allowed in Piazza San Marco, and since Captain-General-for-Life Colleoni could not object, his countenance astride his great steed was instead placed at Zanipolo.
The giant is ironically dwarfed to a less-than-secondary stature by the immensity of the church, the beauty of the Scuolo, and even by the joys and wonders of daily life on this fine Campo!
Rio Dei Mendicanti
The very busy Rio Dei Mendicanti and the residences on its far side define the west side of the Campo. In addition to delivery boats, personal craft, and private water taxis headed toward the Airport, it is the main route for water ambulances traveling to and from the Hospital that was developed in the former monastery buildings beginning in the Napoleonic era after suppression of the Dominican order. The Fondamente Dei Mendicanti leading north from the Campo to the Fondamente Nova on the Lagoon takes you past the “Ambulance Entrance” to the Hospital and old San Lazaro dei Mendicanti church, as well as providing a view into a modern squero (boatworks) across the canal.
A few cafes and bars are arrayed along the south side of the Campo, gradually thinning out toward the east as the Campo becomes Salizzada San Zanipolo. Their outdoor seating on the Campo is shaded for part of the day by the south-side buildings, so that they open out onto a grand panorama of church, scuolo, life, and even old Bartolomeo. Several sottoportego punch through the building wall to connect with Campo Santa Maria Formosa and from there to Piazza San Marco.
Adventures at Zanipolo
Reaching the Campo can be an adventure, although Venice’s ubiquitous orange directional signs are trustworthy if you are coming from Piazza San Marco, the Rialto or the Fondamente Nova – and pay attention!
Our first adventure in the Campo, many years ago, found me carefully composing a guaranteed award-winning photograph of the Scuolo and Chiesa through my camera viewfinder. After a while, I noticed throught the viewfinder that my wife was passing through the scene with a rather distressed look on her face. The second time around, I focused on her without the camera, and found her being followed by a deranged looking man with arm outstretched toward her face murmuring “Que bella” over and over again. She was caught speechless by this crisis, and of course she is “que bella”. I briefly considered drop-kicking the unwanted admirer into the adjacent Rio. Instead, I chose to step between them and wave my arms wildly while shouting “Basta! Basta!” (No, that actually means “Enough!”). Fortunately, he moved away to compliment another beautiful signora passing across the Campo before I was forced into a revised plan other than the original “drop-kick into the rio”. There was a delivery boat tied up there, laden with cases of beer, and one must conserve precious resources, you know.
Ponti and Mangia!
Two bridges connect to the Campo across the Rio dell Mendicate, joining Sestiere Cannaregio to Sestiere Castello where Zanipolo is located. The southerly crossing, Ponte Della Erbe, connects from Calle De Le Erbe to complete a short trip from the exquisite Chiesa Santa Maria Dei Miracoli.
A quick trip across the northerly of the two bridges back into San Marco, Ponte del Cavallo, into Calle Larga Giacinto Gallina brings you, via the first door on the left (Cannaregio 5401), to the wonderful Osteria Da Alberto. Like many restaurants in Venice, this one has also become popular with tourists, so reservations are a good idea. The atmosphere is warm, the staff is energized and professional, the food is exceptional. The usual vagaries of dining with outlanders occur, as we found on one rainy evening, testing the good nature of the staff. However, if you exhibit the attributes of a gracious guest (you always do that, don’t you?), the rewards are great and the experience is absolutely delightful! Out in the cold of the Campo, Bartolomeo Colleoni is staring wistfully in this direction for good reason!
Life on the Campo
A video of life on the Campo is posted on the web at http://vimeo.com/16747424 (within the wonderful e-venise site at http://www.e-venise.com/index.html (Thanks for the great link, Yvonne!). The video imparts a great impression of the environment, ambiance and people who make this a especially great place in Venice.
When in Venice, La Serenissima, on a sunny day, walk over to Campo Zanipolo, choose a table, have lunch or an afternoon spritz and enjoy this special place at length before you dive into the buildings or return for a fine dinner.
Perhaps you will spot Signor “Que Bella” or other denizens of the place. You may agree with us that old Bartolomeo ended up with…
A pretty good deal!