Sunday, 25 August 2013

An alternative itinerary in Venice: Madonna dell'Orto

I have been thinking about it for a while, and I have come to the conclusion that Venice suffers from superficial tourism. The problem is that most tourists spend only a couple of days here, and visit only three or four sights, making the streets that join St. Mark's Square with Rialto and the Accademia Bridge a nightmare packed with people taking pictures in every bridge, lined with endless souvenir shops and restaurants with annoying touts. Now even a trip to the once quiet Burano may turn you down, as it has become quite popular!

Mask stall, also selling aprons of course

Many people don't enjoy Venice precisely because there are too many tourists, but if you just venture off said beaten track, you'll find rewarding things. My favourite part of Venice, and one that is always a winner when my friends come to visit, is Madonna dell'Orto, in the sestiere (neighbourhood) of Cannaregio.

It is a very quiet area, with very few tourists, clothes hung out to dry, buildings with the peel coming off and absolutely no mask shops. Here you won't be bothered by water buses, or busy gondolas. You can stroll leisurely, while looking at the beautiful reflections on the water and at the palace fa├žades, hearing only the lapping of the waves on the boats berthed on the quiet fondamenta.  Occasionally, a motor boat owned by a local will pass by. 
This is as busy as it gets in Madonna dell'Orto
A canal with Church of Madonna dell'Orto in the background

Clothes hanging out to dry

This shot could easily have been taken in Istanbul

If you wander off hectic Strada Nuova at the height of Church of Santa Fosca and cross the bridge, then go past a bar called Il Santo Bevitore, and follow the street past another church and a second bridge, you'll find Fondamenta della Misericordia to your left.

Fondamenta della Misericordia

Fondamenta della Misericordia is a long promenade along a canal dotted with small restaurants with outside tables, and bars popular with Venetian young people, who flock here for the happy hour. If you follow my route you will pass by Paradiso Perduto, and Osteria da Rioba. You can follow this street further, where it becomes Fondamenta dei Ormesini.

Quiet restaurant along the canals of Madonna dell'Orto
If you take one of the calle (street in Venetian) to your right you'll find yourself in Fondamenta della Sensa, another relaxing walk in an area dominated by local life. Follow the canal to your right, until you arrive in Campo dei Mori, a gracious square where you'll also find a wooden kiosk with refreshing drinks.  

Campo dei Mori

This small campo (square) hosts what I consider some of the most fascinating and quirky statues in Venice, "I Mori", the moors. The statues are said to portray the three Mastelli brothers, who in 1112 came from Morea (the Pelopponese) to Venice in order to commerce in silk and spices. The name "mori" is due to their origin, and not the colour of their skin. The three moors wear nonetheless turbans and Oriental clothes. The legend goes that the Mastelli brothers were also bankers, and they robbed a Venetian woman, who prayed to Mary Magdalene. The brothers were then turned into stone by the saint, in order to warn everybody about the dangers of cheating people. The statues were assembled in the 14th century with pieces from different epochs, as it often happens in Venice, where you can easily find art pieces stolen here and there, for example during the fourth crusade.
One of the moors at dusk. I never understood  if they carry a turban or a bundle. 


Fondamenta dei Mori

On the corner of the palace you can find Sior Rioba, one of the brothers, a weird marble statue with a grotesque iron nose, which was added in the 19th century when the statue lost the original one. The statue carries a suitcase with its name written on it, perhaps to represents the riches the three brothers brought from Greece. This statue was used in the past as an "oracle", that is to say to make satire against powerful Venetian people: satirical poems were hanged near the statue addressed or signed by Sior Antonio Rioba.

Sior Rioba
Just next to it, you'll find the house of Tintoretto, the famous 16th-century Venetian painter. A plaque commemorates him, but the house is not a museum. To see some Tintoretto head to the nearby church of Madonna dell'Orto, where he is buried.
Did you like my alternative itinerary? Did you find Venice packed with tourists and couldn't stand it or did you find some quiet corners?


  1. Looks like a beautiful alternative! I love to take the road less traveled and experience places that actually feel LIVED IN by the locals instead of just a city catering to tourists. Great post.

    Happy travels :)

    1. Me too Lauren, that's why I always try to stay with friends when I can. As for Venice, this is for sure the right place to find some local life.

  2. Aah...I'd love to spend a day wandering the streets or boating through the canals of Cannaregio! But I wonder why Sior Rioba's nose wasn't replaced with a more authentic one? Great pics! Please feel free to link up for Wanderlust Wednesday here:

  3. I asked myself the same question about the nose. After all, it's not like the Sphinx now has an iron nose, ahahah!

    It's already Thursday here. I'll participate next Wednesday!

  4. So glad I found this article! Morgan and I are really looking forward to going to Venice and exploring all of Italy...but we definitely want to wander off the beaten path!!

  5. I think I must have been lucky - I've only been to Venice once, but the hotel I stayed in was in Cannaregio which was a brilliant base, and is only ten minutes walk or so from San Marco (I think?) I had such a good night's sleep there - it is so quiet. I love your photos, although it is quite hard to take a bad picture round there! Looking forward to reading more of your eating tips for my next visit there...

  6. I agree with you completely. Venice is such a lovely place to visit but the number of tourist you sometimes encounter there can really take away from the experience. We stayed in a lovely hotel in Cannaregio for 4 nights and we loved the hotel and its location. We were able to wonder around the quiet streets and enjoy the true Venetian lifestyle of homes, shops and restaurants. I enjoyed your informative post and lovely photos as well. Thank you and Happy Travels!

    1. It looks like you and Richard both hit the right neighbourhood for your short stay, well done! And tomorrow it's Regata Storica over here, I hope to take some good pictures!

  7. When we travel to Venice we tend to walk off the beaten track ourselves. I have been travelling to Venice every other year since I was about 13 and so now know the best places to visit where I can sit and enjoy a drink with the locals. We stay near Venice in Ca Savio and get the boat across from Punta Sabbioni so that we can experience Venice at our own pace over a few weeks. I agree for anyone wanting to experience the true face of Venice you need to move away from the crowds.

    1. Great! It looks like there are actually more people than I thought who experience Venice at a slower pace, and who manage to wander the less crowded parts of it. Or perhaps it's just the people who also write about it who have something like a "healthy" way of travelling.

  8. This is fantastic - I love the area you chose to highlight and how there aren't many tourists there! I will definitely be saving this for my itinerary planning as I'm currently planning a trip to Italy! Thank you :)

  9. So interesting!!
    I've loved the story connected to the statues.
    I don't think I've ever happened to see them during my visits in Venice, even though I guess we have passed along Madonna dell'Orto last time.
    I hardly ever hang around San Marco or Rialto when in Venice (unless I'm obliged to pass from there, that is), because they are just so crowded it puts me off. Instead I love hanging around the calli in an almost random way - anyway any corner of Venice is a pretty, so you just can't get wrong!
    And in less crowded places you can enjoy the beauty of the city much better.

    1. You need to see them next time you're in town, I love that area. And I agree about San Marco and Rialto, they are always crowded.

  10. I've somehow stumbled upon your blog and I'm so glad I did. I'm actually leaving for Venice this Saturday and I'm having a little browse where we to go. I will definitely have a stroll in these more quiet neighbourhoods that you've recommended. Thanks a lot! I'm looking forward to it.

    X Alice

  11. Mille grazie Stefania. Some good ideas for our next trip. Some of our favorite memories of Venezia are the times we strolled off the beaten track; watching local families taking their passeggiata at campos (squares) in the early evening, and walking dark, and sometimes spooky, medieval calle.

    ciao a presto


  12. Thanks for your great post
    I did your itinerary this morning at 9
    Very tranquil early on but still heaving with tourists by 10 o'clock
    You know what they say...if you find something good...then keep it to yourself
    Keep blogging bella

  13. The gorgeous post learned a great deal Thanks greatly!Venice


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