Canal Grande

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Home Sweet Home: the palaces of Canal Grande

Sumptuous Homes on the Canal Grande

Canal Grande
Canal Grande

The other day I was taking my son and a young friend around Venice and I decided to use the Vaporetto (water bus) line 1, even though it is August (hot and sticky) and the boat would be packed with tourists. I wanted to ride on the water slowly and kind of gently, mainly because I wished for our young friend to get a taste of the city by the best possible point of view: the Canal Grande. As we rode along, standing up on the outside of the vaporetto (inside it felt like a furnace) I realised that even though I knew many of the palaces and their history, I actually was completely ignorant on the tales and timeline of some other beautiful ones. So, as soon as we got off the boat, we headed off to Libreria Mondadori near San Marco (an amazing bookstore) and I got my self a very good short book on the Palaces of the Canal Grande, called Canal Grande – Una Storia di Venezia – Arsenale Editore

Reading this book I found out many new information about la Serenissima, the people who built it, who shaped it and eventually who lost it!

The Venetian Aristocracy shaped the city and its people. Doges, merchants, architects, painters: all contributed to make Venice so special.

The Venetian Aristocracy

The families of the Patrician ruling class of the Venetian Republic were divided into four classes.

Canal Grande
Canal Grande

The first, called the Case Vecchie (old houses), was formed by 12 families called the Apostles, who according to tradition, would be involved, in 697, in the first election of the doge and 12 others who, before 800, were considered among the most conspicuous and rich and whose origin was confused with that of Venice. 12 of the last four of the oldest and most important were called Evangelists.

The second, called the Case Nove (new homes), included families who belonged to the class of aristocrats after 800. Of these, 16 were called Ducati, because they had hatched a sort of conspiracy to exclude from the ducal seat the old houses. That coalition lasted from 1414 to 1612, when it ended with the appointment of the Doge Marcantonio Memmo’s old house.

The third class was that of brand new houses, aggregated for personal services and financial compensation during the war of Chioggia (1380).

The fourth class consisted of families who from 1646 to 1669, during the war of Candia, and from 1684 to 1717, during the wars of the Morea, offered 100,000 ducats (60,000 and 40,000 in gift investments in deposits of mint).

All these families left their mark on the city and here is the story of some them.


Palazzo Ca' Pesaro
Palazzo Ca’ Pesaro

Ca’ Pesaro is the most amazing work of art which Baldassarre Longhena ever designed.

This was the home of one of the most powerful families who ever lived in Venice, the Pesaro family, who came to Venice in 1225AD. They immediately settled in the area where the palace would later be built. The original old house used to be called “ of the two towers” since there used to be two towers on the side of the façade of the house, typical of the Venetian-Byzantine period.

A second home was later built and here Giovanni, who would later become Doge and commission the building of the palace, was at the centre of a terrible episode: when he was still a small child he fell off a window, thankfully without serious consequences. A third home was bought in 1625 obtaining this way a large enough area to allow the family to built a new and enormous palace.

In 1628 Giovanni started the building works and commissioned the design projects to Baldassarre Longhena.

Giovanni Pesaro was elected Doge between 1658-1659 and even though he was a good Doge, he was not a modest man: he imposed to his nephew Leonardo to build a funeral monument upon his death in the Frari’s Church and the cost would be of 12000 ducats.

As well as modesty, the family lacked also trust in people, as it was obviously shown by Giovanni’swife, Lucia Barbarigo, who ordered that none of her will dispositions should be considered genuine if they lacked a special coded sentence.

In 1682 Longhena died and the building was left unfinished. The first floor was completed and already lived in, but the second floor was still undone. After a while Leonardo Pesaro, the heir, left the house and the building works stopped. They will only be re-started at the beginning of the 18th century, when Antonio Gaspari completed the palace in 1709.

During the 19th century the Pesaro family had no direct heirs and the palace passed to the Gradenigo family who first rented it to the Armenian fathers and then sold it to count Bevilacqua.

When count Bevilacqua died, his widow gave the palace as a gift to the city of Venice in 1889 and Venice in 1902 turned it into the Modern Gallery Museum of Ca’ Pesaro.


Palazzo Corner Loredan Piscopia
Palazzo Corner Loredan Piscopia

Back in the year 1366 Peter I was king of Cyprus, but he was a king with no money and army, therefore his island was always under the threat of being conquered by the Ottoman Empire. So Peter decided to ask for help to The Republic of Venice, fierce enemy of the Turks. He came to Venice asking for money and soldiers. He was greeted by archbishop Federico Corner (also known as Cornaro) who was the richest merchant of the Republic. Federico welcomed him in his palace and also lent him some money. Peter, to repay his debt, decided to satisfy the hunger for glory (and for money) of his saviour: he donated to Federico the title of Sword Knight and the Cypriot manor of Piscopia. Here the Corner family would grow and refine sugar cane with the total exemption of tax from Venice and Cyprus. During the years the family got richer and richer but then in 1571 Cyprus was taken by the Turks and the Corner family mhad to leave the island, saying their goodbyes to their rich manor.

Bad luck did not end and the heir Giovanni Battista Cornaro, against his family and the local nobility wish, married a plebeian girl. The wedding was a scandal for the noble families of Venice, so much so that his children were denied the entry in the Golden Book of the Patricians of Venice (the book of nobility). But Giovanni Battista did not give up and after many years of offering money in exchange for the entry in the book, he finally succeeded. Giovanni Corner was not happy with this: he decided to emancipate the relationship parents-children. How? Well, Giovanni was the proud father also of a young girl, Elena Lucrezia, who showed great talent for studying. In a time when women could only hope to make a great marriage, Elena Lucrezia Cornaro was supported by her father to enter the University Of Padova and in 1678 she managed to get a degree in philosophy and became the first woman in the world who obtained a degree.

Nowadays the place is the site, together with Ca’ Farsetti, of the local Town Hall.


Palazzo Giustinian

The Palazzo Giustinian is a palace in Venice situated in the Dorsoduro district and overlooking the Grand Canal next to Ca’ Foscari. It is among the best examples of the late Venetian Gothic. The home was the final residence of Princess Louise Marie Thérèse of France.

The Giustinian Family allegedly dates back to the Roman emperor Giustinian. This old family risked to end their family line back in the XII century and was only saved by a “miracle”. All males of the family died in 1171 during the expedition sent by Venice against Byzantium: some died in battle, some died of plague. The only male heir was Niccolò, who unfortunately had already decided to become a monk, therefore pledging a vote of chastity. Pope Alexander III dispensed Niccolò from the vote and allowed him to get married to Anna, the daughter of the Doge Vitale II. She gave Niccolò five sons and as soon as the children grew up Nicolo returned to the convent and his wife did the same.

One part of the palace houses some departments of the adjacent University of Ca’ Foscari.


Palazzo Falier Canossa

This building was built back in the XIV century and refurbished in the 19th and it was the home, until recently, of the old Falier family. Three doges came from this family, the most famous (or infamous) was Marino Falier, who in 1355 inspired a coup d’etat with the intention of declaring himself Prince and who was decapitated when the Venetian Senators found out about that.

He was condemned to damnatio memoriae, and his portrait which was displayed in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio (Hall of the Great Council) in the Doge’s Palace, was removed and the space covered over with a black shroud, which can still be seen in the hall today.

The story of Marino Faliero’s uprising was turned into a drama by Lord Byron in 1820 and an opera by Gaetano Donizetti in 1835.


Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti
Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti

Originally, from the mid-fifteenth century to the mid-eighteenth century, the Palazzo was shared by various branches of three famous Venetian families: Marcello, Gussoni and Cavalli.
In the1840s, Archduke Frederick of Austria reunited the property into one and embarked on a complex modernisation project which was to give the Palazzo its distinguishing air of modernity. In 1847 the Palazzo was bought by the Count of Chambord who commissioned the restoration work to Giambattista Meduna.
In 1878 Baron Raimondo Franchetti bought the building, which remained in his family until September 1922 when it was sold to the Istituto Federale di Credito per il Risorgimento delle In 1999, the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti took over the Palazzo Franchetti with the aim of making it one of the most active and prestigious centres of cultural life in the city and the country.


Palazzo dei Camerlenghi
Palazzo dei Camerlenghi

How many of you stepped on Ponte di Rialto, admired the magnificent buildings which surround it and wondered about their history?

Well, Palazzo dei Camerlenghi is one of the most austere building along the Canal Grande and there is a good reason for it. It used to be the site for the Tax Collection Agency of the Republic of Venice!

The Camerlenghi de Comun were the financial Judiciary of the Republic of Venice and the building, before housing them, used to be the site of the Governatori alle Entrade (Tax Office).

Inside the building as well as the offices for the tax collectors, there used to be also the cells for the tax evaders. Passers-by in Rialto could actually see them through the bars, as a reminder of what would happen to them if they did not pay their taxes, as witnessed by the name of the nearby walk way: Fondamenta de la Preson (Prison walk).

In the old days the building was full of beautiful paintings by Bonifacio de’ Pitati da Verona. At the end of their appointment as tax collectors, the noblemen used to leave to the Palazzo a painting by Bonifacio depicting a religious subject and the family coat-of-arms, in memory of the work they did there. The building was full of these painting until 1806, when the paintings were brought over to Brera and Modena, then off to Austria and then back to Italy again in 1919.

You can view these beautiful paintings now in the Accademia and in the island of San Giorgio.

Today the building houses the Corte dei Conti (Court of Auditors).


Ca' D'Oro
Ca’ D’Oro

This astounding work of art was built in the first half of the XV century by Marino Contarini who also asked to a French painter named Jean Charlier to cover in gold the statues, the borders and all the details of the façade of the building. Hence the name of Ca’ D’Oro (House of Gold).

As the years went by the heirs split the building in various dwellings, so much so that back in 1808 someone bought the building for a very cheap price, since it was described as “damaged property”.

Few years later the Russian prince Troubetzkoi bought the building and gave it as gift to Maria Taglioni, a famous etoile (ballet dancer) of that century and who, allegedly, was Tzar Nicholas I ‘s lover. Madame Taglioni used to collect Venetian palaces. Unfortunately the Russian prince decided to restore the palace according to the fashion of his century, causing a lot of damages to the building: he knocked off the beautiful staircase, he removed the marvellous well and took off most of the columns and floors. Thankfully Giorgio Franchetti acquired the building in 1894 and restored both the staircase and the well.

The palace today is open to the public as a gallery.

Well, I hope this short list of Palaces has tantalised your curiosity to come and see for yourself the spectacular display of buildings which the Canal Grande offers and which some people used to call HOME!

About The Author

Pretending to be a food & travel blogger, giving it a go as a cooking instructor and culinary guide. Venice loving daughter and wanna-be guru. #aphotoofveniceaday Offering cooking lessons at As a friend once said: A Fire Cracker full of energy, writing a book on Cicchetti!