Venice is one of the most popular visitor destinations in Europe. Its canals, gondolas, churches and works of art are renowned worldwide. A visitor who is deciding what to do in Venice is spoilt for choice. The well known attractions like St. Mark’s Square and The Rialto Bridge will be first on many lists but here are a few of the lesser known sights which visitors may find interesting.
A unique feature on Venice’s cultural landscape are the scuole. These originated in the 1200s as places for wealthy people without much social standing to socialise and mix with others of a similar social status. By the 1400s, Venice had six scuole grandi and up to 400 minor scuole. The scuole grandi were frequented in the main by professionals with many financial resources; the scuole piccole were frequented mainly by religious groups, foreigners who wanted to connect with their own ethnicity and trade guilds. Many of the scuoles that were frequented by people with money were highly decorated by their patrons; in some cases a well regarded artist would be commissioned to paint an entire building (for example, Carpaccio at San Giorgio degli Schiavoni and Tintoretto at San Rocco). Hence nowadays, these buildings are regarded as works of art in their own right, therefore serving a dual historic and artistic role. Anyone with an interest in art history should walk around these fascinating buildings.
Just to the east of campo Santo Stefano, you will find Campiello Pisani. The imposing Palazzo Pisani music conservatory dominates campiello Pisani, and was the scene of the shoot-out at the end of Casino Royale, the James Bond film premiered in 2006. The Torre dell’Orologio was the scene of a fight scene in an earlier James Bond film. Fans of Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now should check out the church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, which featured in the film, as well as Palazzo Grimani, where the grisly concluding scene was shot.
Located in Venice’s Giudecca district, there is much more to the Casa di Reclusione Femminile (women’s prison) than first meets the eye. In this former convent on the fondamenta delle Convertite, dating from the 1200s, the 80 or so inmates are trained as tailors, producing magnificent period costumes – most notably those from the 1700s for Palazzo Mocenigo. These costumes are available both to buy, or to rent around Carnevale time. However, they also produce modern wear, all sorts of accessories such as jewellery and bags, and exquisite cushions. You can buy their work at Banco No.10, down the road from the church of San Giovanni in Bragora.
Venice’s Carnevale is the biggest and most well known masquerade in the world. It has been celebrated since medieval times, but it became particularly popular around the 1700s. These days, spectators of the pre-Lenten ball gather at piazza San Marco, where professional actors are in high visibility mode, waiting for international photographers to capture them on camera. Meanwhile, locals either organise their own events, or congregate in smaller squares to celebrate.
In Venice, you will find all sorts of shops, offering as many levels of quality. You will find those offering what are patently just touristy souvenirs. There are also much more reputable establishments which sell authentically Venetian, long lasting products. If gorgeous glass and lamps are what you seek, Vittorio Costantini is the place you’re looking for. Meanwhile, Martinuzzi specialises in genuine lace produced in the region. Gaggio sells only the best fabrics, while Attombri offers stunning jewellery you are guaranteed to find nowhere else. The number one rule to follow is that you get what you pay for. If it’s a knockdown price, it’s more than likely going to be knockdown quality also.