Castello, Venice: A Sestiere with a Split Personality
Castello is Venice’s largest sestiere, extending from the Rialto to Sant’Elena at the eastern tip of the city. Its name is believed to derive from a fortress on the island of San Pietro, one of the earliest inhabited sites in the lagoon. It was one of the earliest parts of Venice to be settled (fifth to sixth centuries).
Sestiere with a Split Personality
The thing about Castello is that it has a split personality. The western half of it next to San Marco has been called "the ultimate tourist hell" – rather an overstatement, in my view – but in the eastern part you can see the real Venice, with some major historical spots that are rarely if ever visited by most travellers. Castello’s more salubrious northern and western area, around Santi Giovanni e Paolo and San Zaccaria, was closely linked with the centres of power, while the districts around the Arsenale to the east were home to Venice’s most important industries.
The City’s Most Famous Promenade, Riva degli Schiavoni
The Castello West area is very close to St. Mark’s Square, and it’s main feature is the city’s most famous promenade, Riva degli Schiavoni, overlooking the lagoon with a view of San Giorgio Maggiore Island and, in distance, of St. Elena Island and the Lido. Many of Canaletto’s drawings from the XVII century show the Riva degli Schiavoni with sailing boats and gondolas. These days you can also find plenty of gondolas and gondoliers there, and they are very romantic (at the right time), but not cheap! And of course the famous Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) is along the Riva on the left down a canal just after you leave the Piazetta.
Vivaldi’s Church – La Pietà
Castello has a variety of beautiful churches. The Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pietà (simply known as La Pietà) replaced the Oratorio, where for many years Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) taught and played.
Campo Santa Maria Formosa (‘Shapely St Mary’), is a large, bustling, irregular-shaped square on the road to just about everywhere. It has a fine church, a small market,a couple of bars and an undertaker. Constantly buzzing with both Venetians and tourists, the square is surrounded by palazzi that range in style from the very grand to the very homely.
The Arsenale – Birthplace of Venice’s Warships
Via Garibaldi is Castello East’s main street and it’s wide for Venice, with a very Venetian feel about it. You get the impression most of the people living here are permanent fixtures and rarely leave their home turf. At the end of Via Garibaldi, on another island completely, is the once very important church of San Pietro di Castello. Just to the north of Via Garibaldi is the Arsenale, the giant shipyard where Venice’s warships were built when she was a world power. Check out the Navy Museum.
Fondamenta Nuove, the walkway along the Northern lagoon, is where the boats depart for Murano and Burano. The walkway is usually fairly deserted and has a view out to the cemetery island of San Michele.
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