Extraordinary Places Deserve Extraordinary Journeys
There are two main ways to move from Piazza San Marco to Campo San Zaccaria, each very deserving of a journey in both directions!
From Piazza San Marco, walk around the left side of the Basilica, past ex-Chiesa San Basso through rectangular Piazzetta dei Leoni and along Calle de Canonica to the first rio, Rio di Palazzo – Canonica. Do not cross Ponte Cappello (unless you like sales pitches from glass merchandizers), but turn right onto Fondamenta di Canonica, then left across Ponte de Canonica, and straight ahead on busy Ruga Giuffa Santa Appolonia.
Continue through triangular Campo Santi Filippo e Giacomo, bending slightly right into Salizzada San Provolo, over the Ponte, into and through the L-shaped Campo of the same name.
You have passed through two campi and an important street named after three historic churches within a nine-iron shot of each other which no longer exist.
Another story for another time!
Continue straight into Calle Sensa Nome (Street Without Name) which opens into Campo under the archway that marks the limit of the parish. Although this seems to be an arduous trek along a difficult to find route, but it is not. The route has turns with very few choices to throw you off, but is filled with distracting shops, news stands, restaurants, historical highlights and tired tourists that may extend your stay along its very lively and interesting length.
As an alternative, leave Piazza San Marco through the Piazzetta San Marco to the Mole along the Bacino. Turn left down broad Riva degli Schiavoni, crawl over the Ponte degli Paglia through the sighing crowd (if you’ve been there, you know), and continue over the Ponte del Vin. You will find Calle San Zaccaria, announced via the far more banal arch of Sottoportico San Zaccaria, just before you reach the heroic statue commemorating King Vittorio Emmanuele II.
The Sottoportico and Calle between Riva and Campo are very narrow, with great variations in vertical clearance, between the limitless Riva and the intimate Campo.
A Lesson in Powerful Urban Design
The second route demonstrates a powerful urban design tool, the use of restriction and expansion of three-dimensional space, activity nodes, landmarks and gateways along a path of movement to set the stage for a dramatic change of scale, announcement of and arrival at important destinations with a slow, nuanced revelation of their symbology and grandeur.
The effect works going in either direction, as with the first route! The “direct” route to and from San Marco presents an even more varied rendition. Both paths also demonstrate considerations of security and intentional isolation for a famous and powerful place (San Zaccaria), that may not be nearly as unintentional in their development as most experiencing the assemblage might think today.
Recall these effects, and their effect upon your experience, when you frequent either route and others you encounter, and consider how some of your favorites may be so because of the employment of this tool.
Campo, Churches, Convent, Cemetery
This extraordinary campo has not one, but two San Zaccaria churches and a garden of mysteries (across the east side of the Campo, ), perhaps the most influential historical convent in Venice (the south side, but don’t expect to see any nuns – it appears to be a carabinieri building now… ), and the site of an ancient cemetery (the north side, supplanted by the visible but enclosed arches of a Renaissance cloister – talk about ghosts under your bed!).
The brilliant white facade is the more recent of the two churches, the building finished in 1543 to a design by Gambello, including the lower two tiers of the facade, but the upper three layers were completed with modifications to his design by successor Codussi (ah, fickle clients!).
The earlier Gothic church, built sometime around 1000 and far from the earliest on this site (San Zaccaria was originally founded in about 640AD), is hidden behind the garden foliage. If you can access it, you will find a series of fine chapels inserted for the then-very influential convent’s use.
Take the time to visit the “newer” nave with its unique colonnaded ambulatory – the culmination of the journey to this place – and (when accessible) an often flooded crypt below from the 900’s that houses a waterlogged Doge.
One Doge was assassinated on the steps of the church.
The experience within is as extraordinary a journey and experience of architectural space, art and the reason for its existence as is the journey of arrival, exceeded only by…
The extraordinary journey of the faithful.