“Wow!” said the tourist to his companion as they passed through Campo San Stefano, “This is like being at the food court in the Mall”. That is about as accurate a simile for the place as remarking while in your bathtub, “Wow, this is like kayaking the Grand Canyon”. They had to be North Americans (…he concluded, sadly).
I hope they didn’t try to order “corn dogs” and find a “multi-screen cinema”
What kind of place is Campo San Stefano? First, that name is the popular alias for its formal name, Campo Francesco Morosini, dedicated to a hero of Venice and the name found on some maps. Certainly, Campo San Stefano is one of the major crossroads of Venice, close to the Accademia Bridge, on one of the main routes from Piazza San Marco to the Rialto, Ferrovia and Accademia since the Austrians caused the building of the first Ponte Accademia and the railroad link in the first one-half of the 19th Century (The black-lettered yellow signs assert to the routes, so it must be true!).
A tragic historical sidelight, that the Campo once hosted bullfights until spectator deaths due to a grandstand collapse in 1802, led to the spectacle finally being banned from Venice.
This Campo ranks among the largest and most active campi in Venice, yet it still lacks the extensive display of tourist cliches, except for the tourists themselves, that seems to overwhelm and spill out far beyond the Rialto and the Piazza.
Reason enough to sit back and enjoy Campo San Stefano!
The number of establishments arrayed around the Campo where meals are served may be unsurpassed in the entirely of Venice. On one visit, I mused to myself that one could pick a ristorante or cafe by its unique umbrella color and dine in a different place with a different color for almost a fortnight without repetition!
From one location within the Campo, you may observe the high west wall of Chiesa San Stefano (richly decorated inside, and built with a ship’s keel roof structure), the ornate facade of the deconsecrated Chiesa San Vidal (great concerts! read my post, Vivaldi and Venice) and the wall of Chiesa Santa Maria della Carite (now the Accademia – great art!), along with an array of finely sculpted palazzi intermingled with more quietly modest structures. The Campo is broad and sunny, oriented along a relatively north-south axis. Including “outlier” campielli and campi, Campo San Stefano stretches almost one-third of the length of Sestiere San Marco!
South toward Ponte Accademia, the Campo effortlessly segues into Campo San Vidal at the ornate Palazzo Franchetti (now the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere e Arte), where worthwhile public exhibitions are now presented, and its beautiful walled garden. Academic endeavors of the Istituto are housed in the large Palazzo Loredan, designed with restrained elegance, across this narrow reach the Campo.
Still another Campo, Pisani, also flows from Campi San Stefano e San Vidal where they meet at the Palazzo Franchetti. A short sidetrip into Campo Pisani fully reveals the immense Baroque bulk of Palazzo Pisani. That Palazzo is now home to the Venice Conservatory of Music, the Liceo e Società Musicale Benedetto Marcello.
To the north, the Campo segues into Campiello San Stefano embracing the large church. Incidently, the church was enlarged by extending the nave and moving the apse to the east. The building bridges across Rio di Santissimo, which still flows in its channel under the floor. Were there theological references in such an act or in church practices related to crossing the waters?
This is a rare instance in Venice (there are others!) of bridging over a Rio rather than simply filling it in, perhaps showing a practical need to maintain water circulation in the ria on either side of the church. The north end of the main Campo, against the wall of the church, seems to be one of the more ideal spots in the City for the neighborhood children’s pick-up soccer games.
One of our usual entries into and departures from Campo San Stefano is a narrow slot in the wall of buildings on the south side, almost concealed between groves of umbrellas, into narrow Calle Spezier, the main route from here to Piazza San Marco. The contrast between Calle and Campo experienced when moving in either direction is to be savored both during the day and at night!
In the center of Campo San Stefano, a statue of Nicolo Tommaseo holds court in larger-than-life bronze glory. Tommaseo was one of the leaders of the revolt against the Austrians in 1848 and a strong proponent of Risorgimento, the reunification of Italy for Italy.
The statue’s nickname is il Cagalibri (the “book” – um – “pooper”), in reference to the unfortunately placed stack of books behind him, representing his prolific literary output, upon which he is almost sitting! I elected not use the photograph that shows the unfortunate juxtaposition, and instead once again chose one that you have seen too many times before!
I wonder what he muses about the tumult of life swirling around him here…
Perhaps it is time for another insurrection?