Memoirs from Venezia, Part 2: Sestiere di Castello
Venice is not just any city for me. It was present at the inception of my teenage renaissance, when at the age of 18 I travelled to Italy with 20 likeminded young people to study art history. Venice was the first stop, and it was in that city that I felt myself transform, like a butterfly whose wings burst forth upon a mega-wave of sights, images and inspirations. So whenever I return to the city, there is always a part of me which yearns to revisit all of the sites which gave birth to that transformative experience. But at the same time I always want to see something new, and despite its compact size, the intricate labyrinth of the city always provides a new surprise around every corner.
On this trip, I was determined to discover some of the areas which I do not know so well, and there to expose myself to some of the lesser-known gems of the city. One such area is the Sestiere di Castello, which, tucked just behind San Marco, sprawls eastwards from the Rialto across to the Arsenale and beyond.
Gems of the Sestiere di Castello
It is easy to tire of the repetitiveness of central Venice, with every shopfront loaded with mass-produced masks and tacky souvenirs, but walk just a few canals beyond the centre, and a more quaint, authentic city is ripe for the discovery. Such is the case with the Castello, from the grand Campo Santa Maria Formosa with its curving church, to the impressive square in front of the Zanipolo church, the size and scale of which makes it a clear rival to St. Mark’s itself. All this we explored as we traversed the area on foot, gawping at the stunning stone mausoleums of the doges set within the walls of the Zanipolo, as well as being mesmerised by the haunting chants of a Greek Orthodox service on the Rio del Greci in a beautiful little church which has its very own leaning tower.
The Zanipolo and the Chiesa di San Giorgio dei Greci
But for me, the real star of the region is the Arsenale, this massive former industrial site which would have been the heart not only of the Venetian Republic’s economy, but also of its military prowess. Although sadly unused today, from the mammoth encircling walls, and the huge classical gates at its entrance, once can still feel the might and power of the place. For Arsenale was not only large, taking up some 1/15th of Venice’s entire landmass and giving employment to a huge proportion of the city’s population, but it was also a place of innovation, being the first to mass-manufacture boats with the kind of conveyor-belt style product output which can only be dreamed of by car factories of today.
But beyond the hard lines of the Arsenale, a stunning city of view is always just around the corner, and as our day came to an end, we were treated to a glimpse of sunshine (in an otherwise foggy visit) over the lagoon, where Palladio’s masterpiece, San Giorgio Maggiore glistened in the light, and along the lagoon, the warm cosy interior of Harry’s Bar lay in wait. Most expensive amaretto known to man? It was surely so, but an apt treat at the end of an impressive day exploring the real Venice.
The lagoon and a rest in Harry’s Bar
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