There are grand churches, world-class galleries and palazzi. Markets, piazzas, and students everywhere. Welcome to Dorsoduro, the relatively peaceful south west corner of Venice.
Dorsoduro, The University Quarter Of Venice
Dorsoduro is one of six sestieri (districts) of Venice. Bisected by the Giudecca Canal, it consists of the southern part of the city – connected to San Marco by the Accademia Bridge – and the Giudecca island chain.
Dorsoduro literally means “hard bone”: this part of the city is built on higher, more stable, land than other areas of Venice. It is the home of the university, and very much a place where people live, study and work. Yet there are enough churches, galleries, restaurants and bars to keep tourists occupied for a day or more.
What To See And Do In Dorsoduro
Part of the pleasure of a day in Dorsoduro is wandering around a lively, but more residential area of Venice. When I visited it was a busy Saturday afternoon, but most of the people were locals and students rather than tourists.
Campo Santa Margherita is a large and popular square, with cafés and stalls selling fresh fish. Campo San Barnaba is also a favourite spot: the square and its white-fronted church have appeared in many films. In the canal beside the square look out for the colourful barge selling fresh fruit and vegetables. Elsewhere in Dorsoduro you are likely to see market stalls on any available street corner.
Alongside the Giudecca Canal, and looking towards the islands of Giudecca and San Giorgio, is the Fondamenta Zattere. Once lined with docks and warehouses, this is now a long promenade with bars and restaurants, and a convenient starting place for a vaporetto trip.
One of the most important sights in Dorsoduro is Ca’ Rezzonico, a 17th century palazzo once lived in by the Rezzonico family, and later a residence of Pope Clement XIII. The building has been substantially renovated and now houses a collection of 18th century art.
Today visitors can explore the very grand building with its ground floor ballroom and ornate rooms with impressive ceiling paintings. Upstairs are bedrooms furnished as they would have been when a family lived there, as well as some paintings. The top floor is a museum of 18th century Venice: unfortunately this was closed when I visited but the palazzo was still worth a visit.
Tip: a Venice Museum Pass will allow you entrance to Ca’ Rezzonico and several other museums across the city and the lagoon.
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is one of the world’s foremost art galleries. Close to the Accademia Bridge, it is housed in a complex of religious buildings, including a former monastery.
The museum contains over 800 paintings, covering the period from the 14th to 18th centuries. It is the city’s largest collection of Venetian art, with important works by Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian and many others.
Peggy Guggenheim Collection
If your preference is for modern art, don’t miss the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. This is Guggenheim’s personal art collection, housed in her own residence beside the Grand Canal.
You’ll find works by all the major artists of the 20th century here, spanning the period from Cubism to the 1970s. There are also temporary exhibitions, a sculpture garden, and a café.
Churches Of Dorsoduro
There are lots of churches in Dorsoduro, many of them crammed full of art treasures. San Sebastiano is almost entirely decorated by Veronese, who is also buried there. And Santa Maria del Rosario, on the Zattere, contains an altarpiece by Tintoretto and other important paintings.
Tip: both of the above (and many other churches in Venice) can be visited with a Chorus Pass.
Santa Maria Della Salute
Even if you don’t visit the church of Santa Maria della Salute you will almost certainly spot its famous dome as you walk around the city. Built in the 17th century to show gratitude for the ending of a particularly deadly plague, it was designed in the Baroque style and filled with paintings by contemporary artists including Titian and Tintoretto.
If you are in Venice on 21 November (as I was) you will witness the Festa della Salute, the annual thanksgiving for delivery from the plague. Unless you are a pilgrim you will be unable to go inside the church at this time. However you can watch the processions, candle lighting and the distinctly secular food stalls, balloons and other festivities that accompany the event. As an added bonus, you can walk across the Grand Canal on a temporary wooden bridge that links the church to the centre of the city for the duration of the festival!