Sights in the Castello district of Venice

Just east of the incredibly busy San Marco district of Venice lies the Castello district. This district is a lot quieter for tourists. Native Venetians use Castello as a residential area – the rental prices are still somewhat affordable. Castello has a lot to offer in that quiet setting. There are beautiful churches such as the Santi Giovanni e Paolo (San Zanipolo), the San Zaccaria, San Lio and San Francesco della Vigna. The district also offers two beautiful, but much less visited museums: the Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia and the Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra, the museum of Christian art. The district also has two important scualas: the Scuola Grande di San Marco and the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni.

Table of contents

  • San Zaccaria
  • San Martino
  • San Pietro di Castello
  • Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni
  • Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia
  • San Lio
  • Scuola Grande di San Marco
  • Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the largest church in Venice
  • San Francesco della Vigna
  • Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra

A . San Zaccaria
B . San Martino
C . San Pietro di Castello
D . Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni
E . Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia
F . San Lio
G . Scuola Grande di San Marco
H . Santi Giovani e
Paolo I. San Francesco della Vigna
J . Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)

San Zaccaria

Address details: Campo S. Zaccaria, 4693
In terms of naming, Venice has two special churches. Just like the San Moisè (Moses), the San Zaccaria is not named after a Christian saint. The church is dedicated to Zacharias, husband of Elisabeth and therefore the father of John the Baptist. According to legend, Zacharias’ bodily remains are buried in this church. In the Bible he is mentioned in the first and third chapters of the Gospel of Luke, where he is told by an angel that his wife – after years of barrenness – will give birth to a son. His surprised reaction renders him temporarily mute:
Then Zechariah said to the angel, “How can I be sure of this?” I am an old man and my wife is in years.’ The angel answered him, “I am Gabriel, who is with God. I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But you will be silent and will not be able to speak until the day when this happens, because you have not believed my words; but they will be fulfilled in their time.”
A former Benedictine monastery is also attached to San Zaccaria. During the Venetian Republic it was one of the most important monasteries, where members of the nobility sent their ‘surplus’ daughters. The monastery thus acquired a very influential position, with many stories of fornication and lust associated with it. Because the nuns did not enter voluntarily, the temptations were very great … Eight of the first Doges are buried in the monastery.
Source: Giovanni Bellini (circa 1430–1516), Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)The majestic facade of the church seems to consist of two parts. The two lower pieces were built under the direction of Antonio Gambello; Mauro Codussi was the architect of the three upper floors. The construction of the current church lasted from 1458 to 1543.
The church offers the visitor many beautiful works of art by, among others, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Castagno and even a Crucifixion by Anthony van Dyck , but the authenticity of the latter is somewhat doubted. . The church’s most important painting, however, is the Enthroned Madonna and Child, a Musical Angel and Saints by Giovanni Bellini from 1505. The piece is also sometimes called the Pala di San Zaccaria or the Altarpiece of Saint Zacharias . Bellini (1430-1516) painted the work measuring 5 by 2.3 meters in the last phase of his career especially for this church – and he may even have painted it on the spot. The Virgin Mary is seen enthroned under a half dome. On her left side are depicted Saint Jerome (recognizable by the red cloak of a ‘cardinal’) and Saint Lucy. On the right are Peter (with the keys of the kingdom of heaven) and Catherine of Siena. The two groups are separated by an angel who makes music. Pay particular attention to the special use of color and the soft tones in the faces.
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)

San Martino

Address details: Campo San Martino 2298
One should not confuse the San Martino in the Castello district with the similarly named (and equally attractive) San Martino on the islet of Burano, east of the city. The San Martino is located near the Arsenal. This was the most important shipyard of the Republic for centuries, for both war and trading ships. The Arsenal cannot be visited, but the large entrance gate with the lions can be viewed. Take a small detour to Calle Lardoni.
The church of San Martino is dedicated to a saint who is also well known in the Low Countries: Saint Martin of Tours (316-397). This Hungarian joined the Roman army at a young age (which is why he is often depicted as a soldier). Legend has it that one day he gave away half of his soldier’s cloak to a beggar. This turned out to be Christ. After his conversion he founded monasteries and became, against his will, bishop of Tours. His worship started very quickly and continues to this day. By the way, the children from Venice still go around with a lantern on November 11 to collect money and sweets.
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0) The first church on this site dates back to before the year 1000. The current church was thoroughly renovated in the sixteenth century. For much of that time, the project was led by Jacopo Sansovino . He chose a fairly austere, square church in the typical Venetian Renaissance. Due to a lack of money, the brick facade was only added at the end of the nineteenth century. The church does not offer many works of art by big names, but it is worth a visit because of the immense painting on the flat ceiling. It is a work by Domenico Bruni, with the Glory of Saint Martin by Jacopo Guarana in the middle (added a century later). An illusionistic spectacle takes place before the eyes of the viewer, comparable to the ceiling painting in the San Ignazio in Rome.

San Pietro di Castello

Address details: Castello, 70
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0) The Venetian Republic was very keen on independence throughout its existence. The leaders did not wish to be part of a larger state alliance or to fall under an emperor. Also on a religious level – intrinsically intertwined with politics during the Ancien Régime – interference from other leaders was not desirable. And at that time, that leader was of course the Pope. The Bishop of Venice was therefore kept far away from the center of power (the San Marco district). Even after being given the honorary title of Patriarch, Venice’s cathedral was the austere San Pietro di Castello on the remote islet of the same name. Real religious power lay in the hands of the Large and Small Council. It was not until 1807 that St. Mark’s Basilica became the city’s cathedral, before that beautiful building was the court chapel of the Doges.
The church (75 meters long and 35 meters wide) is certainly not a small church. The furnishings can be called quite sober; that is also a sharp contrast with the gold in San Marco. The building is crowned with a striking dome. The bell tower or campanile stands apart from the church and immediately catches the eye. Not only is it radiantly white, but it is also dangerously tilted – just like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Apart from a beautiful Veronese, the church has no major art treasures. The church does contain the so-called Throne of Peter , a stone throne that was thought to have been used by Saint Peter in Antioch. Incredible but true: the throne is decorated with a text (in Arabic) from the Koran! Perhaps the chair was stolen from the Arab world during one of the Crusades.
It is also close to the site of the world-famous Venice Biennale. Every two years, top artists from all over the world come to show their latest works. Definitely worth it, but it is even busier than usual.

Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni

Address details: Castello, 3259/a
Venice had many scuolas. The Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni was the lay association of people from Dalmatia. Schiavoni is the Italian for ‘Slavs’, the population group from that region, which was subjugated by the Republic. The Schiavoni were gradually deployed as rowers on the vital galleys. That is why their school is also close to the Arsenal. The building was built around 1550 by Giovanni de Zan.
Source: Vittore Carpaccio, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)The scuola is an absolute must see for lovers of the Venetian painter Vittorio Carpaccio (1465-1526). He made a whole series of paintings about the lives of Saint George, Tryphon and Jerome. For example, Joris (Gregorius) is seen killing the dragon with an immense sword. He also made paintings such as Christ on the Mount of Olives and the beautiful Saint Augustine in his study . To modern visitors the link between Augustine and the saints of the scuola is not clear, but it is certainly there. There was a legend where Augustine wanted to write a book about heaven. However, he receives a vision of the recently deceased Hieronymus who prevents him from doing so. The work would therefore better be called ‘The Vision of Augustine’. Pay attention to the beautiful details in the work … and to the sometimes inexplicable elements. For example, there is a white dog looking at Augustine.

Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia

Address details: Calle Querini
For visitors from the Low Countries, the Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia is perhaps best compared to the Museum Mayer van den Bergh in Antwerp. Both museums are ‘house museums’. This means that the original, very wealthy, inhabitants collected art on site. This collection, including the building, later became a museum. In the case of the Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia, this happened in 1869. Count Giovanni Querini Stampalia donated the palazzo and the collection to the city of Venice. In the 1960s, the entrance hall and the lower floor were given a modern look by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa. Its modern style, with concrete, metal and glass, stands in sharp contrast to the building’s ancient history.
Source: Public domain, Wikimedia Commons (PD)The museum offers many beautiful works by renowned artists – although it is best suited for a second or third visit to the lagoon city. You will find furniture, porcelain, sculptures and utensils there. The most important collection is of course the painting collection. There are important works by Palma il Giovane, Giambattista Tiepolo and Pietro Longhi . The latter is very well represented with a series of paintings about the seven sacraments. His Marriage from the mid-eighteenth century is very well known. The museum’s top work is The Offering in the Temple by Giovanni Bellini . The small work (less than a square meter) is displayed in a separate room on an easel. The Blessed Virgin Mary is seen offering her firstborn to God in the temple, as Jewish tradition would have it. The man with the beard is the high priest. Simeon, Elisabeth and Joseph can also be seen. Bellini used almost half his family as an example for these portraits and he himself is also in them.
Just like the other museums in Venice, the Pinacoteca Querini Stampalia is also quite pricey. The entrance ticket costs 14 euros (in 2019). The nearby Santa Maria Formosa is also worth a visit.

San Lio

Address details: Calle Fava
Source: Didier Descouens, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0) After a visit to the mastodon church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, San Lio looks like a church from a gnome village. Despite the much smaller surface area, there is a lot to see. San Lio is the Venetian name for the church, which was named after Pope Leo IX (hence Lio). This pope ruled from 1049 to 1054. He vigorously opposed the many abuses that prevailed in the contemporary Catholic Church (corruption, simony, fornication with priests). Originally the patron saint of the church was Saint Catherine.
In the church there are ceiling paintings by Tiepolo and beautiful sculptures by Lombardo. The most important art treasure is The Apostle James by Titian . He painted this work at the end of his life, around 1540. It depicts Saint James the Greater. This apostle is best known for the great pilgrimage site where his bones are preserved: Santiago de Compostela. He suffered martyrdom around 44 AD. He sometimes reappears in history as the Murderer, because he helped the Spaniards in their fight against Islamic fighters. Titian painted him in quite dark tones. He seems to be on his way to Santiago himself, with the pilgrim’s staff in his hand.

Scuola Grande di San Marco

Address details: Rio dei Mendicanti, 6776
Source: G.dallorto, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-1.0) Although this scuola was named after Saint Mark, geographically it is located in the Castello district. Together with the San Zanipolo and the beautiful statue of Verrocchio, the Scuola Grande di San Marco determines the view of the square. It seems as if the scuola was built together with the church, which is certainly not the case. The Scuola Grande di San Marco was one of the six most important lay brotherhoods during the Venetian Republic. Almost every male Venetian was a member of such a brotherhood, whose purpose was not only religious. People helped each other where possible, also financially. For example, beautiful daughters of poor members were provided with a dowry so that they could still get married. The danger of prostitution was never far away.
A visit to the buildings of the scuola is not possible, because a hospital has been located here since the nineteenth century. However, the facade still has a lot of interesting things to offer. After many difficulties (fire, financial shortages, etc.), the facade was completed in 1495, making it one of the most beautiful works of the Venetian Renaissance. With its three large and three smaller curves, the building looks quite special. The rich collection of paintings (including Bellini was a member) is now located in the Accademia. Next to the entrance gate at the front
you can admire two beautiful reliefs from the school of Pietro Lombardo , perhaps started by himself and finished by his son Tullio. The left relief shows The Healing of Anianus , the right shows The Baptism of Anianus , both sculpted around 1488. Anianus was a shoemaker who suffered a nasty wound on his hand. According to legend, Saint Mark managed to heal him, after which Anianus was baptized out of gratitude. Also note the Lion (symbol of Marcus) on the pediment.
Source: Niki.L, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-4.0)

Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo, the largest church in Venice

Address details: Castello, 6363
The Venetian name for this gigantic church is San Zanipolo – a contraction of Giovanni and Paolo. The church is not named after the evangelist John and the apostle Paul, as many tourists suspect, but after two martyrs from the fourth century. These two Roman brothers were both members of the Roman army during the time of Emperor Julian the Apostate. He wanted to restore the pagan religion and started to persecute Christianity again (on a limited scale). Giovanni and Paolo were martyred in 361.
Already in the thirteenth century, not long after their founding, the Dominicans came to Venice. This mendicant order was given a piece of land in the sestiere Castello by Doge Jacopo Tiepolo. There they founded this church, which was initially also dedicated to Mary. San Zanipolo is the largest church in the city: 101.6 meters long, 45.8 meters wide and no less than 55.4 meters high (with dome). The construction of such a gigantic building lasted from 1234 to 1430. The choir (on the east side) is striking: it seems as if the brothers built the choir ‘double’.
Due to its long history in the center of power, the church has many attractions. The funeral ceremonies of deceased Doges took place here (and not in San Marco), 25 Doges are also buried there. Many of those tombs are worth a visit, comparable to the tombs of the popes in Rome. The most beautiful is the funerary monument of Doge Pietro Mocenigo by Pietro Lombardo from the mid-fifteenth century. The monument does not appear to contain any dead people at all, but is more of a glorification of life. The doge stands proudly above his coffin, which is carried by three figures representing the course of life: young years, adulthood and old age. On his chest is the spell Ex hostium manubiis – conquered from the enemy. This refers to the fact that the Doge captured a lot of loot from the enemies, which, among other things, paid for his monument.
In addition to the doge tombs, there are many other sights by great artists such as Veronese and Piazzetta. The high altar of Baldassare Longhena (17th century) and the Polyptych of Saint Vincent Ferer by Bellini are must-see works of art.
Source: G. Dallorto, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-1.0) When facing the facade of the church, one sees the Scuola Grande di San Marco on the left and the magnificent equestrian statue of Bartolomeo Colleoni on the right. Colleoni was a ‘condottiere’, a difficult to translate term for an army commander. During the Republic, Venice often called upon mercenaries. The army commanders also often did not come from the city. Colleoni came from the Duchy of Milan, but entered the service of Venice (occasionally, he sometimes dared to defect). In his will he left a substantial amount of money to have a statue erected for himself in front of ‘San Marco’. This was obviously not to the liking of the Venetians… but they were interested in the money. So a statue was placed in front of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Whether Colleoni would be satisfied with this remains a mystery… The fact is that none other than Andrea del Verrocchio made the statue (1494). Verrocchio is Leonardo da Vinci’s teacher.
Source: Hans A. Rosbach, Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA-3.0)

San Francesco della Vigna

Address details: Ramo Al Ponte S. Francesco
The Franciscan mendicant order has two churches in Venice. The largest and most important is the magnificent Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a major tourist attraction. The other is this San Francesco della Vigna, dedicated to the founder of the order: Saint Francis of Assisi. The addition ‘della Vigna’ indicates the former destination of these lands – there was a vineyard (vigna – wine). The current church is a beautiful example of the Renaissance and was built by Jacopo Sansovino . He opted for a beautifully balanced basic shape in a T-shape. The T refers to the classical cross worn by members of the Franciscan order. The church has no side aisles, but has five side chapels on each side. Rich families paid a hefty sum to be allowed to decorate such a chapel and to be buried there.
Sansovino was responsible for the construction of the church, but the facade was designed by another extremely important Venetian architect: Andrea Palladio . It was the first time he received an order to build a church. Later he would create masterpieces such as Il Redentore, but in 1564 he was not yet at his peak. The facade is designed as a Greek temple with a large temple front supported by four Corinthian columns. The Latin text Deo utriusque templi aedificatori ac reparatori is carved on the tympanum , translating as To God

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