“You’ve got to see Venice,” he began. “You’ve got to see a city of slender towers and white domes, sleeping in the water like a mass of water lilies. You’ve got to see dark waterways, mysterious threads of shadow, binding all these flowers of stone together.”E. Temple Thurston, The City of Beautiful Nonsense
Venice needs no introduction. It is probably one of the most famous and emblematic tourist destinations in Italy and in the world. The city has a long and interesting history and its past is full of mysterious stories and legends. A visit to Venice could turn into something unique if you know the stories behind the buildings you encounter while wandering its streets and canals. In this article we present 7 of the most famous haunted and mysterious stories.
During the vaporetto ride in the Canal Grande, after the Ponte Dell’ Academia, on the right side of the canal you see Palazzo Dario (also known as Ca’ Dario), built in 1487, which despite its ornate decoration, is considered cursed, because everyone of its occasional owners had a tragic end. The first owner was Giovanni Dario. Giovanni’s daughter, committed suicide due to the financial failure of her husband, who died by stabbing, while their son died violently in an ambush in Crete. These three deaths caused a sensation among the Venetians, who wrote the inscription on the facade, turning “VRBIS GENIO IOANNES DARIVS” into “SVB RVINA INSIDIOSA GENERO” (in Latin, “I create under an insidious catastrophe”). Its last owner industrialist Raul Gardini, committed suicide in 1993.
During your walk in Piazza San Marco you first encounter the two columns of San Marco and San Todaro. The space between them was used until the middle of the 18th century, as a place of executions. Hence the cautious Venetians avoid passing between them. Also in the Piazza you see the impressive Torre Dell’ Orologio (Clock Tower). The clock was created, in the 15th century, by the father-and-son team of Giampaolo and Giancarlo Rainieri. Upon its completion the two master mechanics became its custodians and began a five-century tradition in which the guards lived with their families inside the tower. This tradition created the legend that the Senate of Venice had the creators blinded after completing the clock because they did not want to repeat the marvel elsewhere.
If you are visiting the San Polo area you come across the Church of San Pantalon. The church is large and tall with three deep intercommunicating chapels on each side of the nave. The interior of the church is very dark with very sparse lighting. But once you look at the ceiling you see a magnificent baroque mural. This is the masterpiece of Giovanni Antonio Fumiani depicting scenes from The Martyrdom and Glorification of St Pantalon. It took the painter 24 years to complete it, but unfortunately the day he finished his work, he took a few steps back to see it completed, and fell off the scaffold and was killed. According to the same legend he was buried in one of the church’s chapels.
In the square of San Giacomo Di Rialto, is the statue of the humpback Ιl Gobbo. It is the work of Pietro Da Salo and was inaugurated in 1541 as a pondium for the official announcement of convictions. The names of offenders would be proclaimed by an official standing on the block, at the same time as they were read out at the Pietra del Bando near Piazza San Marco. Also, the culprits for petty crimes had to run naked from Piazza San Marco, to this point and kiss the statue while the crowd was gathered on the streets leading to the Rialto, to watch the spectacle. The characters of Launcelot Gobbo and his father, Old Gobbo, in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice may have been inspired by this traditional symbol of the Rialto.
One of the most tragic incidents in the history of the city took place in Campo San Polo . Lorenzino De ‘ Medici, after killing his cousin Alessandro, Duke of Florence, fled to Venice, where he also died tragically, when two assassins located him down and stabbed him in the center of the square. Lorenzino De ‘ Medici had defended the act of killing Alessandro in his work Apologia, in which he claimed to have followed the teachings of Marcus Junius Brutus. Another interesting element for this square is an inscription on the facade of the church of San Polo, which dates back to 1611 and which prohibits imprisonment or exile of any kind of entertainment and trade in the square.
Palazzo Mastelli del Camello stands on Campo dei Mori and its facade is adorned with curious statues. They depict three men with rather strange faces, and one of them wears a large turban. In addition, there is a bas-relief with a camel. According to a Venetian legend, the statues are the petrified former owners of the palace. They were three rich silk and spices merchants – Rioba, Afani and Sandi – who tried to scam a rich Venetian lady. They tried to her sell her low-quality textiles at a very expensive price. She needed the textiles because she had inherited a tailoring workshop. Discovering the scam, the widow cursed the money she gave them, and so when the three merchants touched it, they along with their camel turned to stone.
Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo is located in the Cannaregio district. One of the buildings of the Palazzo is known as the Casino degli Spiriti (House of Spirits). This is a small building constructed in the 16th century to host meetings between the Venetian philosophers and artists of the era. It’s said that people like Tintoretto, Veronese and Titian would be regular visitors. However, later, the palace and its annex were abandoned. According to a Venetian legend the empty rooms of the Casino degli Spiriti are haunted by the ghost of Pietro Luzzo da Feltre, a 16th century’s painter who was in love with Cecilia, Giorgione’s model and lover. Rejected by Cecilia, he committed suicide in the Casino. The building also later served as a hospital where thousands of Venetians died of the plague. It is said that to this day the fishermen of Venice refuse to fish in front of Casino degli Spiriti.
There are more stories hidden in the maze of Venice, waiting for you to discover. Venice is a destination that will never cease to amaze the visitor.
A visit to the above buildings could be combined with our “What to do in Venice in you had only one day” itinerary with only a small detour for the last two buildings (Palazzo Mastelli and Pallazo Contarini). Here is the map of the itinerary combined with the 7 secret stories.
*(All photos except the first two are from iStock)