Venice – Connecting the Dots

A previous post, “Venice – Form, Function and Environment” ( ), noted that historian Lewis Mumford chose San Lio and San Barnaba as prime examples of planned communities in the new City of Venice when he wrote his epic “The City in History” (Harcourt, Brace, World; New York, 1961).

Excellent educator that he was, Mumford left a few unknowns outstanding – either leading readers up a Ramo without a Ponte, or encouraging further research and education to attempt to answer, including but not limited to:

  • When were San Lio and San Barnaba developed in the manner still visible today?
  • What other “parishes” and specific island communities in Venice – whether developed earlier or later than San Barnaba and San Lio – exhibit these components and relationships?
  • What is the relationship of smaller islands, whether with or without a parish church, to larger communities, perhaps un-connected in earlier years or selectively connected as expansions versus separate units not connected until later centuries. 
  • Are later “parish churches” of now co-joined islands satellites of the original parish but not the focus of an independent “community”?
  • How did the imposition and expansion of the major convental and monastery churches and compounds effect physical changes on the layout of and focus within affected island communities?

An excellent study prepared in 2000 by scholar Joann Zimmer can be read on-line at .  She analyzed modifications to the physical structure of several parishes over time and identified a number of key indicators to help in answering these and other questions.  The examples in the study are excellent and thought-provoking.  In addition to Campi, she delved in detail into evidence and effects of:

Bridges (Ponti)

The historically “late” proliferation of connecting bridges (ponti) can be detected to a considerable extent (but not always!).  A substantial percentage of the over 400 bridges now extant in Venice were not built until the 18th Century. 

Rio, Ponte e Fondamente (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

Rio, Ponte e Fondamente (c)2009 Randy D. Bosch

When connections were made, the calles to which the bridges linked on each end were often necessarily offset in order to connect two existing streets ending at a Rio. In many cases, one or both of the connecting streets is a ramo or cul-de-sac/dead-end.  The streets were originally designed to serve only their own island communities.



Passageway (Sottoportego or Sottoportico)

Torre AND Sottoportego Orologio   (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

Torre AND Sottoportego Orologio (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

A similar revision device is the use of a passageway or sottoportego, literally an “under gate”, the construction of a pedestrian tunnel through an existing building – to create a connection to a desired bridgehead where no existing calle, not even an offset one, served the purpose at that time.

A sottoportego may also take the form of a calle carved into the side of a building parallel to a Rio or Canal, and open on the one side to the channel, like a covered Fondamente.  Often several of these exist in combination to create a viable linkage to a bridge head.  The negotiations with property owners affecting by these route selections must have been quite interesting and often intense!

Some of the combinations of calli, rami, fondamenti, ponti and sottoportegi are quite convoluted, such as the zig-zag route from Campo Santi Apostoli  to San Giovanni Grisostomo. – a very short transect of the narrow island of San Canciano that is the  link connecting the thoroughfare of Strada Nova to the major Salizzada accessing the Rialto Bridge and the main route to San Marco.  To help navigate this outstanding example, the following route finding instructions are offered. 

Simple Directions for the San Canciano Traverse

Proceeding from Strada Nova toward Rialto:

  • At Campo Santi Apostoli, turn right onto Ponte Santi Apostoli
  • Cross the Rio Santi Apostoli (yes, on the bridge)
  • Turn left along Sottoportico Falcier
  • Turn right into Calle Dolfin and enter Campiello Ricardo Selvatio
  • Cross the Campiello diagonally to the east
  • Turn left into another Calle Dolfin 
  • Turn right across Campiello Flaminio Corner
  • Turn right again and climb steps onto Ponte San Giovanni Grisostomo to cross its Rio 
  • Turn left at the top of the bridge and descend steps
  • Proceed straight on Salizzada San Giovanni Grisostomo, Campo and Chiesa on the left.

Among the simplest directions in Venice! 

Regaining Confidence

If you survived that short journey, despite collisions, crisscrossing paths, and wide-eyed near-misses (it is like the carnival ride “Bumper Car” on foot, isn’t it?), the time may be right for a celebratory spritz or perhaps an ombra e cicchetti or an outstanding dinner!

Immediately past Chiesa San Giovanni Grisostomo, turn left alongside the south wall of the church into wide Calle dell’Ufficio Della Setta.  Just past Calle Cagnoletto on your right, you will arrive at the awesome Barcaro Osteria Barababao (it can be seen from the Salizzada).  If you go too far, you might enter Sottoportico Milion and reach the putative birthplace of the Marco Polo, at Corte Prima Del Milion!  

Oh, and to make you feel more comfortable as you relax after this recklessly confusing journey, you might want to know that the safe haven called Barababao means…


(This article is part of the series, “Venice – The Intentional City” on RenaissanceRules!  Part One, the Introduction, was posted on November 8, 2010, and can be accessed via this link: .  Please stop in again to visit previous articles and discover upcoming segments. Enjoy the journey! Buon Viaggio!)


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!
This entry was posted in Bauwerk, Discovery, Planning & Urban Design, Recapitulation, Reformation, Venice Italy and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.