Venice Neighborhoods – Six Historic Sestieri

Pimsleur Approach • November 29, 2012 • ItalianComments (0)

Venice, like every city in Italy, is divided into districts. Each of them has a name, and each of them has its own characteristics in terms of facilities, people, and attractions. Those six zones are very well defined and are called sestieri, which are divided into contrade (quarters).

Venice Neighborhoods: San Marco
Piazzo San Marco – Image via Wikipedia

San Marco

San Marco is in the southern edge of the city, and it’s the beating heart of Venice since the city foundation. Many of the main attractions are there, clustered around the famous Piazza San Marco (did you know that it’s the city only “piazza”? all the other squares bear different names!), where you can see the Basilica, the bell tower and the Correr Civic Museum. The Ducal Palace, or Doge’s Palace, is just a few steps away – if you’re into painting, visit it as it contains many of Tintoretto’s and Veronese’s works. This sestiere overlooks the Grand Canal. Visit it at dusk to snap some romantic pictures! San Marco is divided into as many as 16 contrade.

As one can expect, it’s quite a rich neighborhood, and this shows in the accommodation and entertainment choice! Cocktail bars, the famous La Fenice (The Phoenix) theater, and expensive clubs all have elegant customers that like to splurge around at night.

Cannaregio

Venice Neighborhoods: Cannaregio
Cannaregio Canal – Image via Wikipedia

Cannaregio is the second biggest sestiere of the city, but it’s the most densely populated. It’s situated north of the Grand Canal, and it’s divided into 13 contrade. It’s the first thing you’ll see if you’ll arrive to Venice by train, as the S. Lucia rail station is right there. In the past, it used to be a somewhat shady zone (would you tell?), just because the working class lived there, but it’s now completely safe! Famous Cannaregio people were Marco Polo and the painters Tiziano (Titian) and Tintoretto. Cannaregio is also famous for the Jewish ghetto, which was closed with iron gates from sunset to dawn so to let no one out. But Jewish people were vital to the city, as they were able merchants, physicians and money lenders. That’s why Venetians didn’t like them much… Shakespearean Shylock was modeled after Venetian Jewish merchants, after all. Apart from the tourists going back and forth from the station, the neighborhood is relatively calm and hosts morning markets, cafés and small shops. The marvelous, delicate Ca’ D’oro palace is in Cannaregio! It’s one of young Venetians’ favorites for some shopping and, at night, for relax and fun.

Venice Neighborhoods: Castello
Crypt of San Zaccaria – Image via Wikipedia

Castello

Castello is the biggest sestiere, divided into 13 contrade as well, and it’s the only one that doesn’t overlook the Grand Canal. It’s where many Venetians live, and you will get many fine shops and restaurants. It’s a bit far away from San Marco, and you will notice fewer tourists around. You will reach it if you decide to go to Murano and Burano islands, as it’s from there that the ferries leave. It was extremely important for the Marine Republic, because the Arsenal, responsible for the city naval power, was right there. Castello is also home for many beautiful churches adorned with precious paintings, like the 9th Century Church of S. Zaccaria, where young noblewomen lived there as nuns, still having many parties and visits from elegant masked noblemen! The church is characterized by its always flooded crypt, which is just below the sea level. It’s where the body of St. Zachary is believed to rest. Castello houses the Biennale exhibition each other year, so art lovers, that’s your sestiere!

Venice Neighborhoods: Dorsoduro
Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man – Image via Wikipedia

Dorsoduro

Dorsoduro includes Giudecca island and it’s divided in 11 contrade. It’s the first sestiere you’ll see if you arrive by taxi or by bus. It’s a lovely residential zone and it’s home to many important museums, like the Gallerie dell’Accademia, where you can see the uber-famous Vitruvian Man by Leonardo and many other precious masterpieces; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is also there to fuel your interest in modern art – you can admire Picasso’s, Magritte’s and Kandinsky’s works; and Ca’ Rezzonico, which houses the Museo Del Settecento Veneziano. If you want to meet some people, head to Squero San Trovaso and Campo S. Margherita, which are two of the most busy nightlife meeting points for students (the Ca’ Foscari University is in this sestiere too) and Venetians.

Venice Neighborhoods: San Polo
San Giacomo di Rialto – Image via Wikipedia

San Polo

San Polo is at the very center of Venezia and it’s divided into 10 contrade. It takes its name from Campo San Polo, which is the second biggest square in Venice after San Marco. Maybe its most famous landmark is the Rialto Bridge, with its shops and stalls. The Church of San Giacomo di Rialto is said to be the oldest of the city and it’s a surprising view with its huge clock, which was quite useful for the merchants of the fish and vegetables market held right in front of it! Also, don’t skip the Frari Church, as you can admire some paintings by Tiziano (Titian) there.

Santa Croce

Venice Neighborhoods: San Croce
Fontego dei Turchi – Image via Wikipedia

Santa Croce is the smallest sestiere, and it’s divided into just 7 contrade. It’s characterized by just a few small squares and narrow alleys. Nonetheless, it’s house to the important Museum of Oriental Art and to the International Gallery of Modern Art. Also, the Fontego dei Turchi, one of the most peculiar palaces of the city, houses the Museum of Natural History, where you can admire two complete dinosaur skeletons and a big aquarium, in which the environment of the lagoon was recreated so to be studied and admired by visitors. It’s maybe the less touristic part of the city and you may find some nice traditional restaurants to try typical dishes.

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