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The Venetian diarist, Marin Sanudo (1466-1536), summed up one of the paradoxes of Venice when he wrote: "Venexia è in aqua et non ha aqua" (Venice is in water and it doesn't have water). 

Fondaco dei Turchi (Natural History Museum), 11th century. One of the oldest surviving well-heads in Venice.
Natural History Museum
Given the location of the city, the sinking of wells was out of the question.
Well-head (vera da pozzo), Ca' d'Oro, Venice
Ca' d' Oro
And so the Venetians had to solve the problem of providing fresh water for its large population (in the 14th century Venice was the fourth largest city in Europe) by collecting rainwater. 
Early 15th century well-head (vera da pozzo), Corte Gregolina, Venice. A rare example of a basket-weave design.
Corte Gregolina
The city's numerous campi and cortili were turned into extremely efficient water-storage facilities. The ground surrounding the well-head (vera da pozzo) sloped away so that the rainwater would flow though small stone drains (gatoli or pivelle) into large underground cisterns (up to 5 metres deep). There the water was sifted through sand to remove any impurities.
16th century bronze well-head (vera da pozzo), Palazzo Ducale, Venice
Palazzo Ducale
The well-heads in the campi were locked and the keys held by the local parish priests; it was the priest who decided when the well should be opened. This all changed in the 1880s with the advent of piped water from the mainland. The wells soon became surplus to requirement and thousands of well-heads disappeared. 
Vera da Pozzo, Corte S. Andrea, Venice
Corte S. Andrea
Many were sold off to foreigners, some were broken up, and some found other uses, often as rather elaborate plant pots. 
Well-head (vera da pozzo) Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice
Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Taking many forms (round, square, hexagonal, octagonal, cylindrical), most well-heads, which date from the 9th to the 19th century, were carved out of Istrian stone, a few out of Verona marble and at least two were cast in bronze. Some are elaborately carved, others less so.  
Well-head (vera da pozzo), Campo de l'Abbazia, Venice
Campo de l'Abbazia
According to a census of 1858, there were 6046 private wells, 180 public wells and 556 disused wells in the city. Assuming that each well had a well-head, that cones to a grand total of 6,782. I wonder how many there are today. Alberto Rizzi in his fascinating and fact-filled volume, The Well-Heads of Venice, comes up with a figure of 2,500. 
Well-head (vera da pozzo), Hotel Stern, Venice
Hotel Stern
What do you think about this well-head  in the garden of the Hotel Stern? It is over a thousand years old.
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Aren't you very surprised to see this photo showing a fountain in the Piazza San Marco?! 

It turns out that the temporary fountain was constructed on the 23rd of June in 1884,to mark the opening of the aqueduct. The arrival of piped freshwater from the mainland finally brought an end to the city's reliance on collecting rainwater. 
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Old photo Piazza San Marco fountain WWW.FREEWALKINVENICE.ORG

Do you know our beaches ? Join Free Walk in Venice - by Isola Tour and we'll explain you the history of this island !


Venice Lido (Lido di Venezia) is an island, usually just referred to as 'the Lido'. It is the narrow strip of land which separates the central part of the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea. Once just a natural barrier, the Lido is now Venice's seaside. It's also the origin of the word 'lido' as used in the English-speaking world to describe bathing establishments. It was developed as a seaside resort at the beginning of the twentieth century, and has been popular for beach holidays ever since.

The Lido is Venice, yet not Venice. For residents, it's a compromise between the practical mainland and the historic city. The atmosphere on the Lido is very different from Venice: there are leafy residential avenues, roads, cars, cyclists and pavements. Out of season it feels 'normal', with reasonably-priced shops and restaurants, and locals taking their children for walks. There are lovely views over the lagoon to Venice, and in winter and spring you may be lucky enough, on a clear day, to see the snow-capped summits of the Dolomites behind the city's towers and rooftops. As summer approaches the big hotels open for the season, streams of beach-goers cross from the lagoon, and there are ice-cream shops on every corner.


In this wondeul pic you can see Paul Newman in 1963. At age 38, he visited the Lido to show off Hud, Martin Ritt's drama in which he played a Texas bad boy.


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paul newman venice free tour in venice1paul newman venice free tour in venice

The church of San Polo is dedicated to Saint Paul (the Apostle), which became San Polo in Venetian dialect. ​ San Polo was founded in the 9th century, but largely rebuilt in the 15th century. In spite of later restorations, it has retained its wooden ship's-keel ceiling, one of only three in Venice.The church is most famous for Giandomenico Tiepolo's delightful paintings of the Stations of the Cross (1747-49), which are to be found in the Oratory of the Crucifix. At the base of its campanile (1362) crouch two 12th century stone lions, rare examples of Romanesque carving to have survived in Venice.  ​

The bell tower of the san Polo church is a typical example of a medieval Venetian bell tower with a cone spire; the front door is surmounted by two special sculptures in a Romanesque style: a lion grasping a snake and another lion holding with the front legs a human head. Medieval ecclesiastical buildings were often decorated with monsters or wild animals, often to emphasize the difference between the outside of the church, where there was bad, and the interior, the house of God.

Popular tradition has given the two figures, however, a very different meaning, linked to the history of Venice. The snake caught between the claws of one of the lions represents the conspiracy of Tiepolo Baiamonte, "crushed" by the Council of Ten. In 1310 Baiamonte Tiepolo took charge of a conspiracy of young Venetian nobles to overthrow the government of the Republic of Venice, but on that occasion he was discovered and, to ensure the internal security of the state, the Council of Ten was created, which sadly became famous for its ruthlessness in eliminating any possible enemy of Venice.

The human head on the other lion could be Bussone Francis, Count of Carmagnola, captain of the Venetian troops in the war against Milan (1425). In 1432 the Venetian Senate, however, accused him of treason and had him beheaded.


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san polo belltower

san polo belltower

Here we are in front of the Grand Canal, Canal Grande in Italian, it is the main waterway of Venice, following a natural channel that traces a reverse-S course from San Marco Basilica to Santa Chiara Church and divides the city into two parts. The Canal Grande snakes through the city of Venice in a large S shape, traveling from the Saint Mark Basin on one end to a lagoon near the Santa Lucia rail station on the other. This ancient waterway measures 3,800 meters (2.36 miles) long and ranges from 30 to 90 meters (about 100-300 feet) wide. In most places, the canal is approximately 5 meters (16 feet) deep. The canal is an ancient waterway, lined with buildings - about 170 in all - that were mostly built from the thirteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Most were constructed by wealthy Venetian families. The majority of the city's traffic cruises up and down the canal, be it private boats, vaporetti (water buses), water taxis or the famous gondolas. Foot traffic gathers around three famous bridges that cross the canal: the Rialto Bridge, the Ponte Degli Scalzi, and the Ponte dell'Accademia. A fourth, modern (and controversial) bridge was recently added not far from the Scalzi bridge: the Calatrava Bridge. A Brief History Houses along the Grand Canal in Venice It is believed that the Grand Canal follows the course of an ancient river. One of the first settlements in the area grew along the canal around the area of the current Rialto Bridge. By the tenth century, it was a center for trade and a safe, ship-accessible port. Because of this, some of the earliest houses along the canal belonged to merchants who did their business on the seas. By the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, homes along the canal became much more ornate and often included Byzantine-style decoration like elongated arches and large loggias. This Venetian-Byzantine style of architecture is evident in the oldest building along the canal, Grand Canal seen from Scalzi Bridge, Venice the Ca' da Mosto, which is a thirteenth-century palazzo. The Venetian-Gothic style of architecture began in appear in buildings constructed along the Grand Canal in the fifteenth century and some of the best examples can still be found there, including the magnificent Ca d'Oro (House of Gold). During this period, facades included plaster in bright colors, pointed arches were popular, and columns were skinnier than before. Buildings and homes designed in the Renaissance and Classical styles arrived in the sixteenth century. Many featured white facades rather than colored ones and windows touted round rather Santa Maria di Nazareth or Scalzi Church along the Canal Grande, Venice than pointed arches. Examples of those styles of architecture include the Palazzo Dario and the Palazzo Grimani. In the late sixteenth century and into the seventeenth century, Baroque-style buildings were added to those that already fronted the Canal Grande. This was the most prolific era of building activity along the waterway, and included the addition of the Santa Maria di Nazareth Church (known today as Scalzi) and the Santa Maria della Salute Basilica, one of the city's most elegant ecclesiastic structures. Baldassarre Longhena was the major architect of that era and he added many new buildings to the canal area. By the eighteenth century, building along the Grand Canal had pretty much come to a halt. However, during the last two centuries, significant renovations have been completed for many of the city's historic canal-front buildings and the most important ones have become museums or are owned by foundations that see to their upkeep. Do you want to discover hidden corners with us? Check our website: and book FREE WALK IN VENICE, the official free tour in Venice.

During our free tour, FREE WALK IN VENICE, when we start from our San Geremia meeting point (we have 4 different ones) we go also to discover the Venice Jewish Ghetto.


So, do you know that Venice is also famous because the first ‘Jewish Ghetto’ in the world was based here?



It is the area where the Jews were forced to live and that has shaped many other European cities! When visiting the Venice Ghetto one learns that since the 16th century there have been five synagogues, but today it is almost impossible to recognize them in the tall buildings if you do not know what to look for. In this district, there are, in fact, monumental buildings separated from the rest of the houses, since the Jews in Venice only had a small space around the squares of the Ghetto Nuovo and the Old Ghetto, and it is for this reason the buildings are very high, because it developed as the population grew.



Synagogues were then built on top of the normal housing because, according to the teachings of the Talmud, places of prayer should rise over the city, and from outside they are only recognizable by counting the windows. In fact, all the synagogues of Venice have five large windows, to provide them with more light. According to the Talmud light is fundamental to a synagogue because it is a symbol of life, and therefore, of God. On the choice of the number five there are various interpretations, but the most likely is connected to the distribution of Talmud, precisely divided into five parts, which represent the manifestations of light.



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Do you know that Venice is not just one big island?

During our free tours in Venice, FREE WALK IN VENICE, we use to speak about the strange shape of our Venice!

it is thanks to Tiziano Scarpa that we use to say that Venice has the shape of a fish! When you are landing in the Marco Polo Airport you can see how many islands there are here!

But how many islands are them? In Venice there are about 116, 118 or 124 islands (there are different opinions about that!) linked by more than 400 bridges !

The first settlement was on the highest ground of Venice, called Rialto. There is a day that we consider as the Birthday of Venice that is the 25th March 421. In this day the church of San Giacometo was consecrated on the banks of the Grand Canal. But the latest studies on the origins of Venice tell us something different. Was the church built later?

For sure today we know that Venice had its origins during the barbaric invasions. In the 5th century the Huns and the Longobards invaded the territory of Altino and surroundings, in the mainland. So the inhabitants escaped from their houses to take refuge in the islands of the near lagoon. Here we had just empty islands, none lived there, all was new for everyone. Torcello was one of the first islands to host someone. If you visit it today you can see that the inhabitants are really a few, but in the past thousands of people lived there.

Now the buildings are a few as its inhabitants, but you have to try to think about the Venice of the past! Here you can visit the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta with the beautiful Last Judgment mosaic, the church of Santa Fosca and the museum. You can’t’ say to have been in Torcello without trying to sit on the “Attila’s throne” and crossing the “Devil’s Bridge”. Do you know what are they?


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venice is a fish www.freewalkinvenice.orglibro venezia è un pesce


If you attended one of our free tours in Venice you know that we speak a lot about the history of our CAMPI.

But do you remember what is a "campo"?  Here a reminder of our Free Walk in Venice team !

Venice was founded in the fifth century by people from the mainland who fled the Hun invasion from the north to take refuge in the lagoon’s marshy islands. The center of the original community, “Venetia” , moved from island to island , but by the ninth century was firmly established in its present location.

Originally, each island was semi-autonomous. Houses were built around the edge so that each house had direct access to the water for commerce and trasportation. The open space in the center, the campo, was used for community needs such as the graveyard, for grazing cattle, for the water cistern and well, and for the public events such as markets and festivals. Shops and businesses opened onto the campo.  All movement from island to island was conducted by boat; bridges linking the island communities were built centuries later. The city’s island structure created a strong sense of neighborhood identity and rivalry.

Originally, as their name implies, the campi were unpaved fields. In the eighteenth century , to protect ladies’ ankle-length gowns and elegant shoes, especially during the evening passeggiata , wide stone paths called listone were constructed across some campi. Tassini describes the passeggiata that took place on winter evenings along the paved listone on Campo Santo Stefano. Today, Campo San Pietro in Castello district is the only campo that is still grass crossed with stone paths.

Nowadays in the Campo, those living in the neighborhood shop, go for coffee and newspapers, while Venetians living elsewhere pass through on their way to work. In this setting, persons encounter each other many times a day and brief conversations ensue. Here, even casual acquaintances become familiar figures. Public life is visible and audible to all. No part of the campo is fenced off or inaccessible, and of course, there are no cars to impede social interaction!

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During our FREE WALK IN VENICE, free tours, we speak about our many islands in Venice. But do you know the history behind the San Servolo island?

After the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, the island of San Servolo – previously a monastery and military hospital – became the home of “The Central Male and Female Lunatic Asylum for the Venetian Provinces”, serving an area from Dalmatia to the Tyrol. Known to the Venetians themselves simply as ” The Island of Madmen”, it had all the services it needed to function: a vegetable garden (kept by the patients), ironwork and woodwork shops, a printing shop, a shoemakers, a clothing factory, a mill and even a pasta factory.

Following the promulgation of what became known as the “Basaglia Law“, after the name of the politician who introduced this bill to close all state-run mental asylums, the complex at San Servolo was redeveloped. Is is now possible to visit the library, pharmacy, and the museum of the psychiatric hospital, where the archives have been carefully reassembled and catalogued. The collection contains registers, clinical dossier and more than a hundred medical instruments used at the time within the asylum.

On the ground floor is a reconstruction of the original anatomy theatre, complete with 19th-century medical instruments and the stone slab used for autopsies. Note the extraordinary collection of skulls and encephala that have been plastinated, a special preservation technique that was developed at the University of Padua. The therapy section traces the development in methods of treating mental patients. There are herbal medicines created in the island’s famous spezieria (pharmacy), instruments for hydrotherapy and electric-shock treatment, and equipment inspired by an approach that was more concerned with patient “morale” (centred around the value of work and the beneficial effects of music). Along with instruments used in scientific analysis and research, there is a section that illustrates the means used to restrain “difficult” patients: a grim-looking assortment of leather wrist straps and belts, protective gloves, handcuffs and strait-jackets.

Like most mental asylums of the day, San Servolo made ample use of segregation and isolation – auxiliary measures that were part of an oppressive, authoritarian regime that focused more on detention than treatment.

More information and how to get to the island check the following link:

San Servolo Island

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