The island of Sant’ Agnese, in Venice’s Sestiere Dorsoduro, is unidentifiable as such today. On its north end, the island was extended across the pond now remembered by a street, Piscina Fornier (“piscina” denotes “pond”), and land further developed to edge a corseted Grand Canal. To the south, it was straightened and sculpted to continue the long run of the wide Zattere.
To the east, the ponds and marshes that demarked the sunrise side of the island were also swallowed up by reclamation and development, observed today only by street names Piscina Sant’Agnese and Piscina Venier.
The island was then extended even further east to be delineated by Fondamente Venier at a realigned and straightened Rio de San Vio (the Venetian “San Vio” is a contraction of Ss. Vito e Modestus).
It is on Sant’ Agnese’s west side that the identifying feature has been totally erased.
The canal that was the main focus of island community life, faced by Campo Sant’ Agnese and the Chiesa, has not only been filled in, but renamed – Rio Terra Gesuati and Rio Terra Antonio Foscarini.
The high walls of the Gesuati church (Santa Maria del Rosario) and the monastery of Santa Maria della Carita’ (now the Accademia) complete the relatively new purloining of identity and wall off the neighborhood from the world.
Still, this little enclave founded in the 900’s, perhaps a fill-in community on the broad expanse of less than desirable land between San Gregorio and San Trovaso, survives in a new form with new uses, busy shops near the north end and a major University across most of the middle.
The Rio Terre on the west side have been enhanced to become a very pleasant, tree-line esplanade in the stretch between the high institutional walls.
Campo Sant’ Agnese is a shady, quiet oasis along the major thoroughfare from the Accademia bridge to the shore of the vast Guidecca Canal. A little view to the Guidecca Canal removes any sense of claustrophobia from the space, while also allowing the cooling breezes to enter into it. The church also remains.
Chiesa Sant’ Agnese was probably founded sometime in the 900’s. The basilica form structure with its apse at the traditional east end that exists today is a rebuilding and restoration of a second building erected in the 11th and early 12th Centuries. After suppression by the French, and a period of private use, the facility is apparently now a chapel/auditorium for a nearby institution.
On a hot Venetian summer day, after a brutal walk on the exposed Zattere or long hours in the Accademia, escape the heat and the noise by venturing into Campo Sant’Agnese, find a shady bench, and ponder its lost identity…
While you ponder your place in the wondrous landscape of Venice.