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To some, Venice represents overpriced attractions and crowds of people everywhere. Those things can all be found in San Marco, it’s true, but the quiet neighborhood of Castello has a history, charm, and culture that is more typically Venetian. Shady alleyways lead to bright squares where you will see some of the city’s finest architectural treasures, museums, churches, and artwork.
Castello, east of San Marco, is the largest of Venice’s six sestieri (districts). To the south, the Molo is a scenic waterfront promenade where gondolas,vaporetti (water taxis), tugs, and pleasure cruisers line up, anticipating another busy day. You’ll find some of the most historic hotels in Venice lining the Riva degli Schiavoni, overlooking the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.
Churches and Artworks in Venice’s Castello District
Cross the colonnaded Ponte del Vin to reach the quiet campo (square) around the Church of San Zaccaria, which is famous for its Gothic and Renaissance façade. A tour of the church includes the often-flooded crypt, and the Chapel of St Athanasius with priceless paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and Vecchio. The magnificent altarpiece includes Bellini’s Sacra Conversazione, reputedly the finest painting in Venice.
Along the Fondamente dell’Osmarin you’ll find the red brick Hotel Palazzo Priuli, and the leaning campanile (belltower) of San Giorgio dei Greci Orthodox Church. Another highlight nearby is the tiny Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, founded by Dalmatian immigrants. It has a scenic 16thcentury frieze by Carpaccio depicting the patron saints.
The Campo di Santa Maria Formosa is a charming square lined with palazzi and the church which gave the square its name. Lively market stalls and diners enjoying lunch at the pizzerias and open-air cafés have replaced former bullfights and masked balls.
The largest Gothic church in Venice is the bulky Church of San Zanipoli. It is known as the Pantheon of Venice as it is the final resting place of 25 doges. It has noteworthy artwork, monuments, and beautiful Veronese paintings on the ceiling of the Rosary Chapel.
Arsenale and Naval Museum
Further east in Castello is where you will see the Arsenale, the old Venetian shipyard.
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Such was its importance, a triumphal arch and stone lions plundered from Athens mark the entrance. The best photographs of the Arsenale are from the wooden bridge over the Rio dell’Arsenale. Although you cannot tour the Arsenale itself, some significant maritime treasures are in the nearbyMuseo Storico Navale. Housed in a former granary, you’ll find old gondolas with felze (cabins) and a replica of the opulent state barge.
Island Cathedral in Castello
The Isola di San Pietro is worth visiting to see the remarkable campanile of the church of San Pietro di Castello, which sits on a grassy square. This former cathedral of Venice, constructed in Palladian style in 1557, is on the site of the original castello (castle).
I can definitely recommend the Hotel American Dinesen overlooking the San Vio Canal for a great stay with a view!