Venice, Italy: Experiencing the Castello District with Dr. Susan Steer
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Join us as we venture through the Castello district of Venice. This neighborhood has always teemed with people, many of whom were migrants who came to Venice seeking work and prosperity, and it remains one of the city’s most genuine and workaday neighborhoods. The Castello is also extraordinarily rich in monuments and art for travelers to enjoy.
We begin from Venice’s ancient cathedral of San Pietro, in the city’s eastern end. The Arsenale, Venice’s great shipyard, was critical to Venice’s naval power and her commercial success as a maritime economy, providing jobs for thousands of workers called the arsenalotti. The site retains the grandest factory gate imaginable, a palimpsest of sculptures, including ancient stone lions looted from Pireus, port of Athens.
A short walk – and yet a world away – from the pomp and grandeur of St Mark’s Square, Campo Bragora is one of the city’s most characteristic squares. Although the humble building materials and simplicity of design indicate how the parish church was the heart of a mainly modest community, its high altar still displays one of the loveliest of all early Renaissance paintings in Venice, Cima’s Baptism of Christ.
Volunteers took care of Venice’s most vulnerable children in the nearby orphanage of the Pietà, where the great composer Antonio Vivaldi taught violin and directed a musical program, so the orphan girls could raise funds by playing heavenly music to eighteenth-century visitors.
It’s a short step to the ancient nunnery of San Zaccaria with its unique set of golden fifteenth-century polyptychs, flooded crypt, and masterpieces by Tintoretto and Bellini. The Scuola Dalmata, meeting rooms of migrants from Dalmatia, is still decorated with charming and festive canvasses by Vittore Carpaccio, and the Greek Orthodox church with its leaning bell tower, the center of the Greek community since the sixteenth century, retains its original decorations too.
Our journey concludes in the neighborhood’s northern quarter. Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo is arguably Venice’s favorite square – where locals gossip in cafés and kids play soccer amidst grand fifteenth-century monuments, the Scuola Grande di San Marco, the great Dominican church of SS Giovanni e Paolo, and the famous equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni.
Susan Steer PhD is an art historian specializing in Medieval and Renaissance Venice. Susan has an extensive teaching background, lecturing on Italian art for universities in the UK and in Italy. She has also worked as a paintings researcher at museums in the UK, and has published on Italian Renaissance and Baroque art in leading specialist journals. She has lived in Venice for over 20 years.