What to See in Venice: The Churches in Castello Sestiere:
Like many of the churches in Venice, a vast number of the churches in Castello were bound by legends or built by famous architects and are repositories of artwork by master painters. But more than tradition, architecture and art, some of the Castello churches also played important roles in the history of the church in Venice such as the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo where 25 doges were entombed and the Basilica di San Pietro di Castello which became a cathedral before Basilica San Marco.
Listed below are some of the notable Castello churches:
Santa Maria della Visitazione
La Pietà as it is so called got its name because of an old orphanage in Calle della Pietà. The original 15th century church was rebuilt in the eighteenth century by Giorgio Massari. Vivaldi directed the musical groups at this church from 1703 to 1740. Today, La Pietà is a popular concert venue with a strong emphasis on the works of Vivaldi.
Church of San Giovanni in Bragora
This is another church that fans of Vivaldi would be interested in. Vivaldi was baptized in San Giovanni in Bragora in Campo Bandiera e Moro on May 6, 1678. He was born in Calle del Dose nearby. The architect Massari who was responsible for so many of Venice’s great buildings is buried here. The church is said to have been founded by San Magno, the bishop of Oderzo, in the 8th century.
Chiesa di San Lio
Originally built in the 9th century and dedicated to St Catherine of Alexandria, this church was re-dedicated to St. Leo in honour of Pope Leo IX. Chiesa di San Lio holds paintings by Tiepolo and Titian, but more notably this was Canaletto’s parish church. He was baptized and buried here.
School and church of San Giorgio dei Greci
Despite their numbers in Venice, the Greek community had to wait for centuries before being allowed to build their church on the island and to hold Greek Orthodox services. San Giorgio dei Greci was financed by a tax on all ships calling in Venice from the Orthodox world. An interesting feature of the church is its campanile which looks like it might topple over. The nearby Scuola di San Nicolòhouses a collection of liturgical art and precious Byzantine icons of the Hellenic Institute.
Church of San Zaccaria
The Church of San Zaccaria is located in a the quiet Campo San Zaccaria off the Riva degli Schiavoni. The church was founded in the 9th century but was renovated several times in different architectural styles. Next to the church was a Benedictine convent which was noted for the scandalous behavior of the nuns. Many of these were young women from Venetian noble family who were sent to the convent, not because of their calling, but to avoid the expense of a dowry. Each Easter, the Doge and his entourage would visit San Zaccaria as an act of gratitude to the nuns for giving up some of their garden so that Piazza San Marco would be enlarged.
Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo
San Zanipolo, as it is known in the Venetian dialect, is one of the largest churches in Venice. It is referred to as the Pantheon of Venice as it houses the tombs of no less than twenty-five doges, great commanders and famous men of the Venetian Republic. Shortly after the original church was built in the 13th century it was deemed too small and work on a larger church began in the early 14th century. The Cappella del Rosario has works by Veronese.
Church of San Francesco della Vigna
The church was built on land that was originally a vineyard, donated to the Franciscans by Marco Ziani, the son of the Doge Pietro in 1253. It is one of two Franciscan churches in Venice, the other being Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. The church was rebuilt to a design by Jacopo Sansovino, although the elegant façade is by Palladio.
Church of Santa Maria Formosa
Legend has it that the Virgin Mary appeared before San Magno, in the form of a voluptuous woman (formosa) and told him to build her a church. The first church dedicated to the Virgin Mary was built in the 7th century. This was rebuilt in the 11th century and rebuilt again in 1492 on its ancient foundations. The church is located on the southern side of the square of the same name.
Basilica di San Pietro di Castello
Located on San Pietro di Castello, a small island off the eastern end of Venice, the Basilica of St Peter of Castello was for centuries under the authority of the Patriarch of Grado. When the bishops of Venice were accorded the title of patriarch in 1457, San Pietro di Castello became a cathedral. At that time Basilica San Marco was the private chapel of the Doge. In 1807, after the fall of the Venetian Republic, the patriarchal seat was transferred to St Mark’s Basilica.