After Piazza San Marco, according to “the experts”, Campo San Polo is the largest public open space in Venice (except for the Tronchetto parking lot, of course, but is that really “Venice”?).
Campo San Polo lies about half-way between the Rialto Bridge and the Accademia Bridge in Sestiere San Polo, along the very busiest path between those two crossings. Still, the campo is relatively quiet and peaceful, with the pedestrian boulevard concealed alongside the church and then the smallest dimension of the roughly “L”-shaped space.
Rii that would have historically bordered at least one side of the Campo in a traditional “island community” design have long disappeared under its expanding pavement. One of them, Rio della Erbe-Priuli, now “dead-ends” into Rio Terra del Librer – the last “shortening” of the Rio – leading from the south side of the Campo. A similar arrangement occurs at the north corner of the Campo, where the Riello di Sant’Antonio (Riello means “little rio“), further shortened by Rio Terra Sant’Antonio sits quietly, but via the Rio Terra provides easy access to the delightful Sant’Agostino parish.
Palazzi along the east-trending side have water door access to Rio de Madonetta behind them, and sunny exposure to the Campo from their west-southwest facing facades.
Since the nave of the church is oriented with the apse at northeast end (not quite the traditional eastern alignment), many parishioners and all tourists flow in and out of its “tucked around the corner” entrance into the nave on the busy avenue, Salizzada San Polo.
Trees in the Campo have matured grandly over the years, casting a little shade and impacting the sense of scale of the Church and Palazzi in relation to the space.
Restaurants and bacari populate the northwest, northeast and southeast sides, providing a comfortable respite during the day, with great “people watching” vantage points.
From our observations, the pozzo (community potable water well) in the center of the Campo is “well”-used as a gathering point for young people and for others negotiating a “meet me at Campo San Polo” rendezvous away from the bacari and the church entrance (Names have been concealed to protect the…innocent?).
Chiesa San Polo is the striking star of a Campo where the palazzi are more quietly dignified than their extravagant cousins along the Grand Canal. Researchers have located documents that indicate a founding date of 837 for the initial church on this site, indicating a “Phase II” reclamation of land in this area for establishment of an “in-fill” parish and community between other, perhaps more stable islets in the Venetian Archipelago. The front of the church is literally buried into ecclesial buildings off the little Corte Caffetier, accessed through the difficult to spot Sottoportico del Caffetier. The primary, south-east side, access leads quickly into the center of the nave of the quite broad sanctuary.
Some time invested in Campo San Polo will provide you with a great contrast between the robust energy of another “land-locked Campo, the “community and university center” of Santa Margherita and the very quiet and subdued Campo San Trovaso – another “university Campo”.
Settle into a friendly bacari – hopefully outside on a sunny day – and while you enjoy a beverage or light repast, ponder the apse and skyline of San Polo against the background of this stately place before you venture into the church – if for the first or the tenth time. Ah, Venice, so many different ways to learn to comprehend…
Dolce far Niente!