Grand Canal in Venice

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The Grand Canal (Italian: Canal Grande, Venetian: Canałasso) is a canal in Venice, Italy. It forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in the city. Public transport is provided by water buses and private water taxis, and many tourists explore the canal by gondola.

At one end the canal leads into the lagoon near Santa Lucia railway station and the other end leads into Saint Mark Basin: in between it makes a large S-shape through the central districts (sestieri) of Venice. It is 3,800 m long, 30–90 m wide, with an average depth of five meters (16.5 ft).


The banks of the Grand Canal are lined with more than 170 buildings, most of which date to 13th to the 18th century and demonstrate the welfare and art created by the Republic of Venice. The noble Venetian families faced huge expenses to show off their richness in suitable palazzos: this contest reveals the citizens’ pride and the deep bond with the lagoon. Amongst the many are the Palazzi Barbaro, Ca' Rezzonico, Ca' d'Oro, Palazzo Dario, Ca' Foscari, Palazzo Barbarigo and to Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, housing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The churches along the canal include the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. Centuries-old traditions such as the Historical Regatta are perpetuated every year along the Canal.

Because most of the city's traffic goes along the Canal rather than across it, only one bridge crossed the canal until the 19th century, the Rialto Bridge. There are currently two more bridges, the Ponte degli Scalzi and the Ponte dell'Accademia. A fourth, controversial bridge (Ponte della Costituzione) designed by Santiago Calatrava was recently erected, connecting the train station to the vehicle-open area of Piazzale Roma. As was usual in the past, people can still take a ferry ride across the canal at several points by standing up on the deck of a simple gondola called traghetto.

Most of the palaces emerge from water without pavement. Consequently, one can only tour past the fronts of the buildings on the grand canal by boat.


The first settlements

The Grand Canal probably follows the course of an ancient river (possibly a branch of the Brenta) flowing into the lagoon. Adriatic Veneti groups already lived beside the formerly-named "Rio Businiacus" before the Roman age. They lived in stilt houses and on fishing and commerce (mainly salt). Under the rule of the Roman empire and later of the Byzantine empire the lagoon became populated and important, and in the early 9th century the doge moved his seat from Malamocco to the safer "Rivoaltus".

Increasing trade followed the doge and found in the deep Grand Canal a safe and ship accessible canal-port. Drainage reveals that the city became more compact over time: at that time the Canal was wider and flowed between small, tide-subjected islands connected by wooden bridges.

"Fondaco" houses

Along the Canal the number of "fondaco" houses increased, buildings combining the warehouse and the merchant's residence.

A portico (the curia) covers the bank and facilitates the ships' unloading. From the portico a corridor flanked by storerooms reaches a posterior courtyard. Similarly, on the first floor a loggia as large as the portico illuminates the hall into which open the merchant's rooms. The façade is thereby divided into an airy central part and two more solid sides. A low mezzanine with offices divides the two floors.

The fondaco house often had two lateral defensive towers (torreselle), as in the Fondaco dei Turchi (13th century, heavily restored in the 19th). With the German warehouse, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (which is also situated on the Grand Canal), it reflects the high number of foreign merchants working in Venice, where the republic supplied them with storerooms and lodging and simultaneously controlled their trading activity.

More public buildings were built along the Canal at Rialto: palaces for commercial and financial Benches (Palazzo dei Camerlenghi and Palazzo dei Dieci Savi, rebuilt after 1514 fire) and a mint. In 1181 Nicolò Barattieri constructed a pontoon bridge connecting Rialto to Mercerie area, which was later replaced by a wooden bridge with shops on it. Warehouses for flour and salt were more peripheral.

The Venetian-Byzantine style

From the Byzantine empire goods arrived together with sculptures, friezes, columns and capitals to decorate the fondaco houses of patrician families. The Byzantine art merged with previous elements resulting in a Venetian-Byzantine style; in architecture it was characterized by large loggias with round or elongated arches and by polychrome marbles abundance.

Along the Grand Canal these elements are well preserved in Ca' Farsetti, Ca' Loredan (both municipal seats) and Ca' da Mosto, all dating back to the 12th or 13th century. During this period Rialto had an intense building development, determining the conformation of the Canal and surrounding areas. As a matter of fact, in Venice building materials are precious and foundations are usually kept: in the subsequent restorations, existing elements will be used again, mixing the Venetian-Byzantine and the new styles (Ca' Sagredo, Palazzo Bembo). Polychromy, three-partitioned façades, loggias, diffuse openings and rooms disposition formed a particular architectural taste that continued in the future.

The Fourth Crusade, with the loot obtained from the sack of Constantinople (1204), and other historical situations, gave Venice an Eastern influence until the late 14th century.

Venetian Gothic

Venetian Gothic architecture found favor quite late, as a splendid flamboyant Gothic ("gotico fiorito") beginning with the southern façade of the Doge's Palace. The verticality and the illumination characterizing the Gothic style are found in the porticos and loggias of fondaco houses: columns get thinner, elongated arches are replaced by pointed or ogee or lobed ones. Porticos rise gently intertwining and drawing open marbles in quatrefoils or similar figures. Façades were plastered in brilliant colors.

The open marble fascias, often referred as "laces", quickly diffused along the Grand Canal. Among the 15th century palaces still showing the original appearance are Ca' d'Oro, Palazzo Bernardo, Ca' Foscari (now housing the University of Venice), Palazzo Pisani Moretta, Palazzi Barbaro, Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti.


By the start of the 15th century Renaissance architecture motifs appear in such buildings as the Palazzo Dario and the Palazzo Corner Spinelli; the latter was designed by Mauro Codussi, pioneer of this style in Venice. Ca' Vendramin Calergi, another of his projects (now hosting the Casino), reveals a completed transition: the numerous and large windows with open marbles are round-arched and have columns in the three classical orders.

Classical architecture is more evident in Jacopo Sansovino's projects, who arrived from Rome in 1527. Along the Canal he designed Palazzo Corner and Palazzo Dolfin Manin, known for grandiosity, for the horizontal layout of the white façades and for the development around a central courtyard. Other Renaissance buildings are Palazzo Papadopoli and Palazzo Grimani di San Luca. Several palaces of this period had façades with frescoes by painters such as Il Pordenone, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, all of them unfortunately lost.

Venetian Baroque

In 1582 Alessandro Vittoria began the construction of Palazzo Balbi (now housing the Government of Veneto), in which Baroque elements can be recognized: fashioned cornices, broken pediments, ornamental motifs.

The major Baroque architect in Venice was Baldassarre Longhena. In 1631 he began to build the magnificent Santa Maria della Salute basilica, one of the most beautiful churches in Venice and a symbol of Grand Canal. The classical layout of the façade features decorations and by many statues, the latter crowning also the refined volutes surrounding the major dome.

Longhena later designed two majestic palaces like Ca' Pesaro and Ca' Rezzonico (with many carvings and chiaroscuro effects) and Santa Maria di Nazareth church (Chiesa degli Scalzi). For various reasons the great architect did not see any of these buildings finished, and the designs for all but Santa Maria della Salute were modified after his death.

Longhena's themes recur in the two older façades of Palazzo Labia, containing a famous fresco cycle by Giambattista Tiepolo. In the Longhenian school grew Domenico Rossi (San Stae's façade, Ca' Corner della Regina) and Giorgio Massari, who later completed Ca' Rezzonico.

The 16th and 17th centuries mark the beginning of the Republic's decline, but nevertheless they saw the highest building activity on the Grand Canal. This can be partially explained by the increasing number of families (like the Labia) becoming patrician by the payment of an enormous sum to the Republic, which was then facing financial difficulties. Once these families had achieved this new status, they built themselves with impressive residences on the Canal, often inducing other families to renew theirs.

Neoclassical architecture

Neoclassical architectures along the Canal date to 18th century: during the first half was built San Simeone Piccolo, with an impressive corinthian portico, central plan and a high copper-covered dome ending in a cupola shaped as a temple. Date to the second half Massari's Palazzo Grassi.

Modern era

After the fall of the Republic 1797, construction of housing in Venice was suspended, as symbolized by the unfinished San Marcuola and Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (housing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection). Patrician families lost their desire of self-exaltation and many of them died out. Several historical palaces were pulled down, but most of them survived and good restorations have saved their 18th century appearance. The most important are publicly owned and host institutions and museums.

Religious buildings underwent the consequences of religious orders suppression decreed by Napoleon in the Kingdom of Italy period. Many churches and monasteries were deprived of furnishings and works of art, changed their function (like Santa Maria della Carità complex, now housing the Gallerie dell'Accademia) or were demolished. The Santa Croce complex naming a sestiere was situated in Papadopoli Gardens area; Santa Lucia complex (partially designed by Palladio) was razed to the ground to build Santa Lucia Station.

The Kingdom of Italy accession restored serenity in the city and stimulated construction along the Grand Canal respecting its beauty, often reproduced in Gothic Revival architectures like the Pescaria at Rialto.


Historical Regatta

On the first Sunday of September takes place the Historical Regatta ("Regata Storica"), a competition between Venetian boats watched by thousands of people from the banks or from floating stands. Competitions are preceded by a historical procession ("Corteo Storico") remembering the entrance of the Queen of Cyprus Catherine Cornaro after abdication in 1489: gondoliers in costumes sail in typical 16th century boats following the Bucentaur, doge's state galley.

The Feast-day of the Madonna della Salute

On November 21, Venetians thank the Virgin Mary for saving from the plague epidemic in 1630-38 with a pilgrimage to Santa Maria della Salute. Pilgrims cross Grand Canal on a temporary pontoon bridge from Campo Santa Maria Zobenigo, and enjoy stalls and traditional dishes.


Ponte della Libertà
Santa Chiara ex-monastery (Police Headquarter)Railway area
Canale di Santa Chiara
Ponte della Costituzione
Piazzale Roma vaporetto station Railway Department old seat
Rio Novo
Papadopoli Gardens
Rio della Croce
Palazzo Emo Diedo (Tirali, 17th century)Santa Lucia Station
Wool-cloth Weavers Guildhall
San Simeone Piccolo (18th century)
Palazzo Adoldo
Palazzo Foscari-ContariniSanta Maria di Nazareth or Chiesa degli Scalzi
Ponte degli Scalzi
Rio MarinFerrovia vaporetto station
Campo San Simeon GrandePalazzo Calbo Crotta
Rio Tera' dei Sabbioni
Palazzo GrittiPalazzo Flangini (Giuseppe Sardi, 16th century)
Palazzo CornerScuola dei Morti (Confraternity praying at funerals)
Palazzo Donà BalbiSan Geremia (18th century)
Palazzo ZenPalazzo Labia (17th century, frescoes by Giambattista Tiepolo)
Riva di Biasio vaporetto station Canale di Cannaregio
Palazzo Marcello ToderiniPalazzo Emo
Palazzo Querini
Rio di San Zan DegolàPalazzo Correr Contarini Zorzi
Palazzo GiovanelliPalazzo Gritti
Casa CorrerSan Marcuola (18th century, unfinished)
Traghetto MuseoTraghetto San Marcuola
Fondaco dei Turchi (Venetian-Byzantine, Venetian Museum of Natural History)San Marcuola vaporetto station
Rio del Fondaco dei TurchiRio di San Marcuola
Fondaco del MegioCa' Vendramin Calergi (Mauro Codussi, Renaissance, 15th-16th century; Wagner died here; Casino winter seat)
Palazzo Belloni Battagia (Baldassare Longhena, Baroque, 17th century)
Rio di Ca' Tron
Ca' Tron (16th century, IUAV)Palazzo Marcello (Benedetto Marcello was born here)
Palazzo DuodoPalazzo Erizzo
Palazzo Priuli BonPalazzo Soranzo Piovene
San Stae vaporetto stationPalazzo Emo at Maddalena
San Stae (18th century)Palazzo Molin Querini
Gold Craftsmen GuildhallRio della Maddalena
Rio della RiodaPalazzo and Palazzetto Barbarigo
Palazzo Coccina Giunti Foscarini Giovannelli
Rio della PergolaPalazzo Gussoni Grimani Della Vida
Ca' Pesaro (Longhena, Baroque, 17th century, Museum of Modern Art)Rio di Noale
Rio di Ca' Pesaro (or delle Due Torri)Palazzetto da Lezze
Palazzo DonàPalazzo Boldù
Palazzo CorreggioPalazzo Contarini Pisani
Ca' Corner della Regina (18th century; Caterina Cornaro was born in a previous palazzo on the same area)
Ca' Favretto (Giacomo Favretto lived here)Rio di San Felice
Rio di San CassianoPalazzo Fontana Rezzonico (Pope Clement XIII was born here)
Palazzo Morosini BrandolinPalazzo Giusti
Fondamenta dell'OlioCa' d'Oro (Gothic, 15th century, Galleria Franchetti)
Ca' d'Oro vaporetto station
Palazzo della PreturaPalazzo Giustinian Pesaro
Rio delle BeccarieCa' Sagredo
Pescaria (Gothic Revival, 20th century)Campo Santa Sofia
Traghetto PescariaTraghetto Santa Sofia
Campo della PescariaPalazzetto Foscari
Palazzo Michiel dalle Colonne
Fabbriche Nuove (Sansovino, 16th century)Palazzo Michiel del Brusà
Palazzo Smith Mangilli Valmarana
Rio dei Santi Apostoli
Ca' da Mosto (Venetian-Byzantine, 13th century)
Palazzo Bollani Erizzo (Pietro Aretino lived here)
Rio di San Giovanni Crisostomo
Fabbriche Vecchie (Scarpagnino, 16th century)Campiello del Remer
Palazzo Civran
Palazzo Ruzzini
Rio del Fontego dei Tedeschi
Palazzo dei Camerlenghi (Renaissance, 16th century)Fondaco dei Tedeschi (16th century, Poste italiane seat in Venice)
Rialto Bridge
Palazzo dei Dieci Savi (Scarpagnino, 16th century)Riva del Ferro
Fondamenta del VinRialto vaporetto station
Palazzo Dolfin Manin (Sansovino, Renaissance, 16th century, Banca d'Italia Venice seat)
Rio di San Salvador
Palazzo Bembo (Gothic, 15th century; Pietro Bembo was born here)
Traghetto Rialto
Traghetto San SilvestroCa' Loredan (Venetian-Byzantine, 13th century, Municipal seat)
Casa Ravà (Gothic Revival, 20th century)Ca' Farsetti (Venetian-Byzantine, 12th-13th century, Municipal seat)
San Silvestro vaporetto stationPalazzo Cavalli
Palazzo BarzizzaPalazzo Grimani di San Luca (Renaissance, 16th century, Appellate court)
Palazzo Giustinian Businello
Rio dei MeloniRio di San Luca
Palazzo PapadopoliPalazzo Corner Contarini dei Cavalli
Palazzo Tron
Palazzo DonàPalazzo D'Anna Viaro Martinengo Volpi di Misurata
Palazzo Donà della Madoneta
Rio della MadonetaPalazzo Querini Benzon
Palazzo Bernardo (Gothic, 15th century)Rio di Ca' Michiel
Palazzo Querini DuboisPalazzo Curti Valmarana
Palazzo Grimani MarcelloPalazzo Corner Spinelli (Codussi, Renaissance, 15th century)
Ca' CappelloSant'Angelo vaporetto station
Rio di San PoloCasa Barocci
Palazzo Barbarigo della Terrazza (16th century)Rio di Ca' Garzoni
Palazzo Pisani Moretta (Gothic, 15th century)Palazzo Garzoni
Palazzo TiepoloTraghetto Garzoni
Palazzo Tiepolo PassiFondaco Marcello
Palazzo Giustinian PersicoPalazzo Corner Gheltoff
Rio di San TomàPalazzi Mocenigo (16th-17th century; Giordano Bruno, Thomas Moore and Lord Byron stayed here)
Traghetto San Tomà
Palazzo Marcello dei Leoni
Palazzo Dolfin
San Tomà/Frari vaporetto station
Palazzo Dandolo
Palazzo Civran Grimani
Rio della FrescadaPalazzo Contarini delle Figure (Andrea Palladio stayed here)
Palazzo Caotorta-Angaran
Palazzo Balbi (Vittoria, Renaissance with Baroque elements, 16th century; Government of Veneto seat)Palazzo Erizzo Nani Mocenigo
Rio di Ca' Foscari
Ca' Foscari (Gothic, 15th century; University of Venice main seat)Palazzo Da Lezze
Palazzi Giustinian (Gothic, 15th century; Richard Wagner stayed here)Palazzo Moro-Lin
Ca' Bernardo
Palazzo Bernardo NaniPalazzo Grassi (Massari, Neoclassical, 18th century)
Ca' Rezzonico (Longhena, Massari; 17th-18th century; Museum of 18th century-Century Culture)
Rio di San BarnabaSan Samuele
Palazzo Contarini MichielSan Samuele vaporetto station
Ca' Rezzonico vaporetto stationCasa Francheschinis (20th century)
Traghetto San BarnabaTraghetto San Samuele
Palazzetto SternPalazzo Malipiero
Rio Malpaga
Palazzo Moro ("Otello's house")
Palazzo Loredan dell'Ambasciatore (Gothic, 15th century)
Casa Mainella
Rio di San Trovaso
Palazzi Contarini degli Scrigni and CorfùCa' del Duca
Rio del Duca
Palazzo Falier
Palazzo Mocenigo GambaraPalazzo Giustinian Lolin (Longhena, 17th century)
Palazzo Querini
Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Carità (Massari, 18th century; Gallerie dell'Accademia)Palazzo Civran Badoer Barozzi
Accademia vaporetto stationRio di San Vidal
Santa Maria della Carità (Gothic, 15th century; deconsecrated, now part of Gallerie dell'Accademia museum)Campo San Vidal
Ponte dell'Accademia
Palazzo Brandolin Rota (Toti dal Monte owned it)Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti (Gothic, 15th century; Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti)
Palazzo Contarini Dal Zaffo (Gothic and Renaissance elements, 15th century)
Palazzo Balbi ValierPalazzi Barbaro
Palazzo Loredan (Cini Foundation)Palazzo Benzon Foscolo
Rio di San VioPalazzetto Pisani
Campo San VioRio del Santissimo
Palazzo Barbarigo (modern mosaics)Palazzo Succi
Palazzo Da MulaCasa Stecchini
Palazzo Centani Morosini
Ca' Biondetti (Rosalba Carriera lived here)Casina delle Rose (Antonio Canova and Gabriele D'Annunzio worked here)
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni (Peggy Guggenheim Collection)Palazzo Corner della Ca' Granda (Sansovino, Renaissance, 16th century; Province of Venice and Prefect seat)
Rio delle TorreselleRio di San Maurizio (Venice)
Palazzo Dario (Renaissance, 15th century)Palazzo Minotto
Palazzo Barbaro Wolkoff (Eleonora Duse lived here)Palazzo Barbarigo
Rio della FornaceRio di Santa Maria Zobenigo
Palazzo SalviatiSanta Maria del Giglio vaporetto station
Palazzo Orio Semitecolo BenzonPalazzo Venier Contarini
Traghetto S.GregorioTraghetto S.Maria del Giglio
Casa SantomasoPalazzo Pisani Gritti
Palazzo Genovese (Gothic Revival, 19th century)Rio delle Ostreghe
San Gregorio ex-abbeyPalazzo Ferro Fini (Regional Council of Veneto)
Rio della Salute
Salute vaporetto stationPalazzo Contarini Fasan (Gothic , 15th century; "Desdemona's house")
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute (Longhena, Baroque, 17th century)Palazzo Contarini
Palazzo Michiel Alvisi
Patriarchal SeminaryPalazzo Badoer Tiepolo
Punta della DoganaPalazzo Treves de Bonfili
Rio di San Moisè
Hotel Bauer (Gothic Revival, 19th century)
Ca' Giustinian (Gothic, 15th century; municipal, Venice Biennale offices)
Palazzo Vallaresso Erizzo
Harry's Bar
San Marco/Vallaresso vaporetto station
Fonteghetto della Farina (Renaissance, 15th century)
Venice Pavilion

See also

  • List of buildings and structures in Venice
  • Republic of Venice
  • A. Zorzi, P. Marton I Palazzi Veneziani – Magnus Ed., Udine 1989;
  • M. Brusegan La grande guida dei monumenti di Venezia - Newton & Compton Ed., Roma 2005; .
  • E. e W. Eleodori Il Canal Grande. Palazzi e Famiglie – Corbo e Fiore Editori, II ed., Venezia 2007; .
  • Guida d'Italia – Venezia. 3a ed. Milano, Touring Editore, 2007. .
  • Alvise Zorzi, P. Marton. I Palazzi Veneziani. Udine, Magnus, 1989. .
  • Venezia e provincia. Milano, Touring Editore, 2004. .
  • Raffaella Russo. Palazzi di Venezia. Venezia, Arsenale Ed., 1998. .
  • Umberto Franzoi, Mark Smith. Canal Grande. Venezia, Arsenale Ed., 1993. .
  • Giuseppe Mazzariol (a cura di). I Palazzi del Canal Grande. Novara, Istituto Geografico De Agostini, 1989.
  • Gianjacopo Fontana. Venezia monumentale - I Palazzi. Venezia, Filippi Ed., 1967.
  • Andrea Fasolo, Mark Smith. Palazzi di Venezia. Venezia, Arsenale Ed., 2003. .
  • The Art and Architecture of Venice
  • Terisio Pignatti (a cura di). Le scuole di Venezia. Milano, Electa, 1981.
  • Silvia Gramigna, Annalisa Perissa. Scuole di Arti, Mestieri e Devozione a Venezia. Venezia, Arsenale Coop
  • Giuseppe Tassini. Curiosità Veneziane. Venezia, Filippi Ed., 2001.