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© Ross Brinkerhoff / Fodors Travel
The most iconic landmark of the Grand Canal, La Salute (as this church is commonly called) is most unforgettably viewed from the Riva degli Schiavoni at sunset, or from the Accademia Bridge by moonlight. En route to becoming Venice's most important Baroque architect, 32-year-old Baldassare Longhena won a competition in 1631 to design a shrine honoring the Virgin Mary for saving Venice from a plague that in the space of two years (1629–30) killed 47,000 residents, or one-third of the city's population. It was not completed, however, until 1687—five years after Longhena's death. Outside, this ornate, white Istrian stone octagon is topped by a colossal cupola with snail-like ornamental buttresses—in truth, piers encircled by finely carved "ropes," an allusion to the sail-making industry of the city (or so say today's art historians). Inside, a white-and-gray color scheme is echoed by a polychrome marble floor and the six chapels. The Byzantine icon above the main altar has been venerated
as the Madonna della Salute (Madonna of Health) since 1670, when Francesco Morosini brought it here from Crete. Above it is a sculpture showing Venice on her knees before the Madonna as she drives the wretched plague from the city.
Do not leave the church without visiting the Sacrestia Maggiore, which contains a dozen works by Titian, including his San Marco Enthroned with Saints altarpiece. You'll also see Tintoretto's The Wedding at Cana. For the Festa della Salute, held November 21, a votive bridge is constructed across the Grand Canal, and Venetians pilgrimage here to light candles in prayer for another year's health.
Punta della Dogana, Venice, Veneto, 30123, Italy
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