9 Best Sights in Cannaregio, Venice

Ca' d'Oro

Cannaregio Fodor's choice
Ca' d'Oro, Venice, Italy
© Ross Brinkerhoff / Fodors Travel

One of the classic postcard sights of Venice, this exquisite Venetian Gothic palace was once literally a "Golden House," when its marble tracery and ornaments were embellished with gold. It was created by Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon between 1428 and 1430 for the patrician Marino Contarini, who had read about the Roman emperor Nero's golden house in Rome, the Domus Aurea, and wished to imitate it as a present to his wife. Her family owned the land and the Byzantine fondaco (palace-trading house) previously standing on it; you can still see the round Byzantine arches incorporated into the Gothic building's entry porch.

The last proprietor, Baron Giorgio Franchetti, left Ca' d'Oro to the city after having it carefully restored and furnished with antiquities, sculptures, and paintings that today make up the Galleria Franchetti. Besides Andrea Mantegna's St. Sebastian and other Venetian works, the Galleria Franchetti contains the type of fresco that once adorned the exteriors of Venetian buildings (commissioned by those who could not afford a marble facade). One such detached fresco displayed here was made by the young Titian for the facade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi near the Rialto.

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Gesuiti

Cannaregio Fodor's choice
Gesuiti, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy.
© Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

The interior walls of this early-18th-century church (1715–30) resemble brocade drapery, and only touching them will convince skeptics that rather than embroidered cloth, the green-and-white walls are inlaid marble. This trompe-l'oeil decor is typical of the late Baroque's fascination with optical illusion. Toward the end of his life, Titian tended to paint scenes of suffering and sorrow in a nocturnal ambience. A dramatic example of this is on display above the first altar to the left: Titian's daring Martyrdom of St. Lawrence (1578), taken from an earlier church that stood on this site. Titian's Assumption (1555), originally commissioned for the destroyed Crociferi church, demands reverence. The Crociferi's surviving Oratory features some of Palma Giovane's best work, painted between 1583 and 1591.

Campo dei Gesuiti, Venice, 30131, Italy
041-5286579
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Oratory closed Mon.–Wed., Jan.–mid-Feb., and Sept.–Oct., Gesuiti €1; oratory €3

Jewish Ghetto

Cannaregio Fodor's choice
Jewish Ghetto, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy.
© Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

The neighborhood that gave the world the word "ghetto" is today a quiet area surrounding a large campo. It is home to Jewish institutions, several kosher restaurants, a rabbinical school, and five synagogues. Present-day Venetian Jews live all over the city, and the contemporary Jewish life of the ghetto, with the exception of the Jewish Museum and the synagogues, is an enterprise conducted almost exclusively by American Hasidic Jews of eastern European descent and tradition.

Although Jews may have arrived earlier, the first synagogues weren't built and a cemetery (on the Lido) wasn't founded until the Ashkenazi, or eastern European Jews, came in the late 1300s. Dwindling coffers may have prompted the Republic to sell temporary visas to Jews, who were over the centuries alternately tolerated and expelled. The Rialto commercial district, as mentioned in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, depended on Jewish moneylenders for trade and to help cover ever-increasing war expenses.

In 1516, relentless local opposition forced the Senate to confine Jews to an island in Cannaregio, then on the outer reaches of the city, named for its geto (foundry). The term "ghetto" also may come from the Hebrew "ghet," meaning separation or divorce. Gates at the entrance were locked at night, and boats patrolled the surrounding canals. Jews were allowed only to lend money at low interest, operate pawnshops controlled by the government, trade in textiles, or practice medicine. Jewish doctors were highly respected and could leave the ghetto at any hour when on duty. Though ostracized, Jews were nonetheless safe in Venice, and in the 16th century, the community grew considerably—primarily with refugees from the Inquisition, which persecuted Jews in Spain, Portugal, and southern and central Italy. The ghetto was allowed to expand twice, but it still had the city's densest population and consequently ended up with the city's tallest buildings.

Although the gates were pulled down after Napoléon's 1797 arrival, the ghetto was reinstated during the Austrian occupation. The Jews realized full freedom only in 1866 with the founding of the Italian state. Many Jews fled Italy as a result of Mussolini's 1938 racial laws, so that on the eve of World War II, there were about 1,500 Jews left in the ghetto. Jews continued to flee, and the remaining 247 were deported by the Nazis; only eight returned.

The area has Europe's highest density of Renaissance-era synagogues, and visiting them is interesting not only culturally, but also aesthetically. Though each is marked by the tastes of its individual builders, Venetian influence is evident throughout. Women's galleries resemble those of theaters from the same era, and some synagogues were decorated by artists who were simultaneously active in local churches; Longhena, the architect of Santa Maria della Salute, renovated the Spanish synagogue in 1635.

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Madonna dell'Orto

Cannaregio Fodor's choice
Madonna dell'Orto, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy
© Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

Though built toward the middle of the 14th century, this church takes its character from its beautiful late-Gothic facade, added between 1460 and 1464; it's one of the most beautiful Gothic churches in Venice. Tintoretto lived nearby, and this, his parish church, contains some of his most powerful work. Lining the chancel are two huge (45 feet by 20 feet) canvases, Adoration of the Golden Calf and Last Judgment. In glowing contrast to this awesome spectacle is Tintoretto's Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple and the simple chapel where he and his children, Marietta and Domenico, are buried. Paintings by Domenico, Cima da Conegliano, Palma Giovane, Palma Vecchio, and Titian also hang in the church. A chapel displays a photographic reproduction of a precious Madonna with Child by Giovanni Bellini. The original was stolen one night in 1993. Don't miss the beautifully austere, late-Gothic cloister (1460), which you enter through the small door to the right of the church; it is frequently used for exhibitions but may be open at other times as well.

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Campo della Madonna dell'Orto, Venice, 30121, Italy
041-795993
Sight Details
Rate Includes: €3, free with Chorus Pass

Santa Maria dei Miracoli

Cannaregio Fodor's choice
Santa Maria dei Miracoli, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy
© Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

Tiny yet harmoniously proportioned, this Renaissance gem, built between 1481 and 1489, is sheathed in marble and decorated inside with exquisite marble reliefs. Architect Pietro Lombardo (circa 1435–1515) miraculously compressed the building to fit its lot, then created the illusion of greater size by varying the color of the exterior, adding extra pilasters on the building's canal side and offsetting the arcade windows to make the arches appear deeper. The church was built to house I Miracoli, an image of the Virgin Mary by Niccolò di Pietro (1394–1440) that is said to have performed miracles—look for it on the high altar.

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Museo Ebraico

Cannaregio

The small but well-arranged museum highlights centuries of Venetian Jewish culture with splendid silver Hanukkah lamps and Torahs, and beautifully decorated wedding contracts handwritten in Hebrew. Tours of the ghetto and its five synagogues in Italian and English leave from the museum hourly (on the half hour).

Museo Ebraico

Cannaregio

The small but well-arranged museum highlights centuries of Venetian Jewish culture with splendid silver Hanukkah lamps and Torahs and beautifully decorated wedding contracts handwritten in Hebrew. Tours of the ghetto and its five synagogues in Italian and English leave from the museum hourly (on the half hour).

Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi

Cannaregio

Hallowed as the site of Richard Wagner's death and today Venice's most glamorous casino, this magnficent edifice found its fame centuries earlier: Venetian star architect Mauro Codussi (1440–1504) essentially invented Venetian Renaissance architecture with this design. Built for the Loredan family around 1500, Codussi's palace married the fortresslike design of the Florentine Alberti's Palazzo Rucellai with the lightness and delicacy of Venetian Gothic. Note how Codussi beautifully exploits the flickering light of Venetian waterways to play across the building's facade and to pour in through the generous windows. Consult the website for upcoming free guided tours of the small Museo Wagner upstairs, where an archive, events, and concerts may interest Wagnerians. 

Venice has always prized the beauty of this palace. In 1652 its owners were convicted of a rather gruesome murder, and the punishment would have involved, as was customary, the demolition of their palace. The murderers were banned from the Republic, but the palace, in view of its beauty and historical importance, was spared. Only a newly added wing was torn down.

Cannaregio 2040, Venice, 30121, Italy
041-5297111
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Casino €5–€10; free for visitors staying at a Venice hotel

Sant'Alvise

Cannaregio
Sant'Alvise, Cannaregio, Venice, Italy.
© Zach Nelson / Fodors Travel

For Tiepolo fans, trekking to the outer reaches of a pleasant residential section of Cannaregio to visit the unassuming Gothic church of Sant'Alvise is well worth the trouble. The little church holds Gianbattista Tiepolo's three panels of the Passion of Christ. He painted these panels, which display a new interest in dramatic intensity, and perhaps the influence of Tintoretto and Titian, for the church during his middle period, between 1737 and 1740.

Campo Sant' Alvise, Venice, 30121, Italy
041-2750462-Chorus Foundation
Sight Details
Rate Includes: €3, free with Chorus Pass