Campo Santa Margherita, in Sestiere San Polo, is one of the largest public open spaces in Venice, big enough to need three pozzi (community wells) and a water fountain to serve the community around it! It has been expanded several times during its long history, the most recent several centuries ago, by filling in a rio along the south end.
A little building with an interesting history now stands unashamedly alone within that southern area. Recently utilized as an offices for the Commune, this building was originally the second location for the Scuolo de Varoteri, the association of furriers and leatherworkers, a scuola piccolo, relocated to this spot when the nearby Carmini desired to expand dramatically. A close look at the little building will reveal pieces of stonework ornamentation that were taken off the old structure before its demolition and included in the design of the Scuolo‘s new home.
At the far, northern end of Campo Santa Margherita stands another unusual structure, a square squatty brick edifice, about 50 feet tall. This was the campanile of Chiesa Santa Margherita, located just a bit further north, which was truncated after the suppression of the church in during the Napoleonic era (it also lost its dome and rich mosaics).
Several similarly truncated campanili can be found elsewhere in Venice.
The former church is now used as an auditorium by the University and others, and the campanile has been used as a house or small shop.
In between these small oddities, the bulk of Campo Santa Margherita exhibits a long and a somewhat unusual shape. The church does not face the Campo, instead being oriented west-northwest toward Calle della Chiesa, and embraced to the north by Campiello Traghetto along the Rio de Ca’Foscari (one of the historic, pre-bridge, non-Grand Canal traghetto sites). I have not heard of records that indicate how the construction of the parish church around 853 is related to the Campo and the stages of its expansion to the south. The mass of the Campo is not currently bounded by a canal, as is customary.
Although the north and east are straight and reasonably perpendicular to each other, the west side curves in a concave arc. Does this curve represent a former rio location? It would “project” from the curve past the front facade of the church on Calle della Chiesa, but that is far to narrow to have been both a rio and a church entrance. Was Campiello d’Traghetto (now the south landing of the Ponte Santa Margarita) the original community “church-to-Campo-to-canal” relationship?
Campo Santa Margherita is lined with primarily neighborhood oriented shops and cafes. It teams with life lived well by students from the nearby University, citizens and visitors and enjoys a very long day of activity.
Lively markets grab swathes of space during weekdays, one to the north for fresh produce, one in the middle for small merchandise, and one in the broader south end for clothing – today.
Historical evidence indicates that the Campo was formerly a major fish market, so some of the now-missing ria may have aided that enterprise!
What’s In a Name?
- Magazen: Location of a wine merchant (and accesses Corte del Tagliapietra-stoneworkers)
- Fontego: A little wharf, sometimes a hostelry or inn
- Calderer: Location of a Tinker’s shop
- Sangue o Brochetta: Family name “Sangue” can also mean blood (brochetta – ?? )
- Uva: Grapes or wine merchant; some thought a grape vine grew here
- Forno: Most often, bakers oven; sometimes, furnace or kiln
- Caffettier: Coffee-house keeper
- Renier: Accessed the Palazzo Renier
- Formagier: Cheese merchant
- Carrozze: Carriages made here for use on the mainland
And, off the southern expansion of the Campo, we can also experience
- Scuola: So, that’s where those graduates are coming from? Actually, Scuola Grande de Carmini, among largest and last established Venetian Scuola Grande co-fraternities
- Pazienze: Patience, endurance, forbearance – alongside of the huge Chiesa di Carmini
- Scoazzera: A Rio Terra, named after the trash collectors!
- Canal: A Rio Terra named for the rio it buried, named after the Canal family
- Grifalconi: A family name on the former island to the south
- Forno: Again, into the former island to the south
A True “People Place”
Several large trees grace the center of the Campo, shading benches conveniently placed for watching all of the activity. If you are in the mood, choose one of the bacari along the south wall of the Campo, grab a table in the shade on a hot day, and order something to enjoy while you watch the parade. The more formal restaurants primarily line the north side, some a bit touristy/pushy, others wonderful local establishments – take your pick of aesthetics and atmosphere! The areas near a few popular bacari can become rather lively – or rowdy, depending upon your viewpoint – as University students and young adults from the vicinity congregate late into the evenings, particularly on weekends.
Occasionally a real parade will pass by, with a young person or two dressed in a white toga and wearing a crown or wreath of laurel leaves – newly minted University graduates celebrating passing their oral examinations, accompanied by joyous friends and family!
The Campo is large enough that the afternoon pick-up soccer game played by children in so many campi throughout the City can co-exist here with all of the other lively activity without impinging upon it. This special “place” is livelier, more personal and more community engaging than the majority of the campi in the City, and you are more than welcome to join in the reverie!
The scale of the buildings, their lack of highly formal “period” design, and the shape of the entire open space with its trees, help to make Campo Santa Margherita a very warm, friendly, informal, pretention-free setting in which to pass the time.
If Piazza San Marco is the “drawing room of Europe”, Campo Santa Margherita – the liveliest campo – may be the…
Town Commons of Venice!