The Grand Canal
The Grand Canal is the main water way in Venice. It is the city’s most beautiful show piece and has been called “the most beautiful ‘road’, with the most splendid buildings that exists in the world” by Philippe de Commynes. In fact the canal is lined with city’s most breathtaking palaces and churches.
The Grand Canal is 4 kms long and is between 30 and 70 metres wides. It runs like a backward shaped ‘S’ right through the middle of the city.
Once upon a time it was the main canal for transportation between the lagoon, St Mark’s square and the market at Rialto. In the 16th century it became the building site for Venetian nobility’s sumptuous homes.
It is still the principal artery along which a large part of the boats pass and there is a continuous consolidating and re- modifying of its ‘banks’, work which began in the 14th century.
A gondola or vaporetto (water bus) ride shows a series of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque palaces dating from the 13th to the 18th century.
Grand Canal Palaces
From the railway station, Santa Lucia, the most beautiful palaces are Palazzo Labia, built by the rich Labia family and which is now Headquarters to the Rai, the Italian television station. The Fondaco dei Turchi, is the oldest Venetian-Byzantine building in the city and was used as a desposit for Turkish merchants. The Vendramin-Calergi Palace, was once Richard Wagner’s home and is now the city’s Casinò.
Cà Pesaro, is another palace designed by Baldassarre Longhena, and that is now the Oriental Art Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, built in 1897. On the waterfront opposite Cà Pesaro is Cà d'Oro, a splended example of Gothic Venetian ‘fiorito’ architecture and perhaps the most beautiful of all the palaces.
Before the Rialto Bridge is the fish market and the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, which was once a deposit for German merchants in Venice and is now the central post office. After the Rialto Bridge are two palaces dating form the 1200s, Cà Loredan and Cà Farsetti. These buildings are now used by the city council for offices.
After the curve there is Palazzo Mocenigo, dating from the 1700s and belonging to one of the most wealthy Venetian famiglie. Lord Byron stayed there in 1888. Then there is the splendid Palazzo Pisani-Moretta, which is still owned by the Pisani family.
Palazzo Grassi is another palace dating from the 1700s. c It was once owned by the Agnelli family who run Fiat, the car manufacturing empire. It is now owned by the French art magnate François Pinault and it hosts the Contemporary Art Museum. Then we find Cà Venier dei Leoni, better known as the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and its collection of modern art.
After the Accademia Bridge is the majestic Santa Maria della Salute church at the mouth of the lagoon where St Mark’s Square can be found. It is a splendid example of architecture by Baldassarre Longhena. Immediately after is the Punta della Dogana, and then the magnificent square with the Ducal Palace, St Mark’s Basilica and its towering bell tower.
The Bridges on the Grand Canal
The Grand Canal is crossed by three bridges. The oldest is the famous Rialto Bridge. It was originally built in wood and then substituted in 1591 by the actual bridge built in stone and designed by Antonio da Ponte.
The Accademia Bridge can be found outside the Accademia Gallery and was built in 1932 in wood with later plans for a stone bridge which never came to light.
The Scalzi Bridge is the most recently built and its name comes from the Carmelite Sanctuary which can be found at its feet. It was planned by Eugenio Miozzi in 1934, and substituted the old wrought iron bridge from the 1800s.
The fourth bridge is the showpiece of contemporary architecture for the city. It is designed by Spanish arhcitect, Santiago Calatrava and connects the railway station at Santa Lucia with the mainland at Piazzale Roma..
Boat line Actv 1 and 82. Both numbers run the entire length of the Grand Canal. Line 1 (tourist line) stops at all boat stops while line 2 is faster but more crowded as it is used by workers and commuters in the Rialto area.
A wonderful tour is to take one of these boats and enjoy the whole canal ride.
One can also cross the Grand Canal using a gondola, called a traghetto. The service runs from San Tomà, San Marcuola, Santa Sofia, Riva del Carbon and San Samuele. It is a fun and cheap way, it costs less than 1euro, to take a gondola ride on the Grand Canal.