Venice is a city of secrets. From hidden passageways and canals to secret gardens and museums, there is always something new to discover in this magical city.
1. Libreria Acqua Alta
Can a bookshop become a tourist attraction? In the case of the Acqua Alta di Venezia, the answer is certainly yes. To reach it you have to move away from the most popular streets and continue just beyond the beautiful church of Santa Maria Formosa.
What is special about this place? There is a canal that, as soon as the level of the lagoon rises, makes the waters slide into the library rooms, so the owner has worked hard and recreated an environment with floating or infiltration-proof furnishings. The book you are looking for may be on the gondola at the entrance, on an old boat, in a bathtub.
Not only that: books also become an architectural element. In the courtyard, for example, you can climb a staircase made of old volumes and look over the surrounding wall, which overlooks a canal. Isn’t it great?
2. San Lazzaro
There is an island in the Venice lagoon where you can capture the cosmopolitan spirit of a city that has based its fortunes on trade with distant worlds: it is San Lazzaro degli Armeni, near the west coast of the Lido.
Since the eighteenth century it has been the spiritual center of a community of monks from Armenia, who were allowed to settle in an abandoned place where the remains of a ruined monastery were located.
The newcomers renovated the church, built new buildings, quadrupled the size of the island and started a publishing house. During the visit you will see an exceptional collection of more than 4000 Armenian manuscripts, a picture gallery and a museum with art and objects from the Arab world, including an Egyptian mummy.
To reach San Lazzaro degli Armeni you can take the vaporetto in San Zaccaria, along the Riva degli Schiavoni.
3. San Pantalon
The unfinished facade of the Church of San Pantalon, a few steps from Campo Santa Margherita, certainly does not tempt you to enter. It seems one of the Venice attractions you must avoid.
If you cross the entrance, however, you will discover a spectacular work: the 443 square meters of the ceiling are covered by what looks like a fresco but is actually an immense painted canvas, according to the Venetians the largest in the world, obtained by combining 40 canvases.
A clever play of perspective multiplies the space of the church, where painted columns and arches are added to the real architecture.
4. Cimitero di San Michele
There are several islands in the lagoon, but if you are looking for ideas outside the classic Venice itineraries, go down to the Island of San Michele.
It is the city cemetery, but people of all nationalities are buried there, such as the composer Igor Stravinsky, the poet Ezra Pound or Sergej Diaghilev, the Russian ballet manager.
In the past, burials took place on the grounds next to churches or, in the case of important people, inside places of worship. Things changed in the Napoleonic era, when cemeteries inside inhabited centers were prohibited for hygienic reasons.
The Venetians therefore resorted to the island of San Michele, outside the city but easily accessible, so much so that until the middle of the last century, on the occasion of November 1st, a bridge of boats was set up to facilitate visits. The landing stage is near a side entrance, next to the church: the best place to start your tour.
5. Lazzaretto Nuovo e Lazzaretto Vecchio
Venice was a nerve center for trade between the West and the East. The traffic of goods brought wealth but also represented a health risk for the transmission of diseases, and at the end of the fifteenth century the Venetians had an innovative idea that was then copied all over the world: to use two islands for the storage and control of goods suspects and for the care of infected passengers. Thus the two Lazzaretti were born.
The new one, along the Sant’Erasmo Canal, was used to carry out checks on people and materials. The visit takes you along an exhibition path inside the buildings and in the archaeological area, but you can also discover the beauties of the environment with a naturalistic itinerary around the walls.
In the Lazzaretto Vecchio, next to the Lido coast, those who were affected by some disease were treated.
6. Isola-Museo di San Servolo
The idea of visiting an old psychiatric hospital might make you shiver (even if it’s in Venice!), but the Asylum Museum turns out to be an interesting cultural, historical and naturalistic experience.
On the island of San Servolo, inside a beautiful park, there are the buildings of a monastic center which was later used as a hospital, first for soldiers wounded in war and then for the mentally ill. The exhibition, entitled “The recluse madness”, reconstructs the scientific history and human events that have characterized this place: you will see documents and medical records but also paintings and objects created by patients, containment tools such as sleeves or ankle locks, photos that tell the story of daily life inside the wards, the piano used for music therapy and the instruments for electroshock.
You will also discover particular environments, such as the anatomical room or the eighteenth-century pharmacy where, on the original shelves, there are over 200 vases of different shapes.
7. La Cripta allagata di San Zaccaria
8. Il Labirinto Borges
Did you know that there is a labyrinth in Venice? It was built on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore and is dedicated to Jorge Luis Borges.
The city wanted to pay homage to him with this monument, which may seem unusual but is closely connected to the poetics of the Argentine writer: a recurring theme in his books is precisely the image of the labyrinth, which symbolizes the complexity of the world and the difficulty of man to find their own way.
You can get there with a short vaporetto ride from Piazza San Marco. When you disembark, go around the Basilica and you will have arrived at your destination.
9. Tomba di Antonio Canova
You can find it inside the Basilica dei Frari, a short distance from Campo San Polo. Already from its shape you can guess something unusual, especially in a church, because the pyramid represents the great architect of the universe, or the divinity of the Freemasons.
Do you want to try your hand at the encrypted language of the statues? There is an angel with open wings, a sleeping lion with a closed book between his paws, a young man holding a torch, a veiled woman and other figures.
It is a story that speaks of the immortality of the soul, of the artist’s wisdom and his inspiration. The arcane elements and the oddities do not end there: the tomb only holds Canova’s heart, because the body is located in Possagno, his hometown.
10. Basilica di Santa Maria e San Donato
Have you ever seen the bones of a dragon? Then look behind the main altar of the Basilica of Santa Maria and San Donato on the island of Murano and you will see hanging the vertebrae of a giant animal.
They are probably those of a whale, but according to popular tradition they are the remains of a terrifying creature defeated by San Donato. It is an old legend that dates back to the 12th century, when the remains of the saint were transferred to the church, to whom numerous miracles were attributed, including a victorious battle against a monster, killed with a simple sign of the cross.
For this reason, shortly after the relic arrived, the bones of the animal also arrived in the church. They are still on display, but in a somewhat secluded position, and you will have to look for them among the mosaics and art objects.
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