Lay of the Land
“Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water.”~Frida Giannini
“Venice is a fish,” writes Italian poet Tiziano Scarpa in one of the best literary novellas about the city. And he’s right. When seen from afar, the city map resembles an open-mouthed fish, its head San Polo, its lower jaw the Dorsoduro, taking a big bite out of chubby San Marco. The Grand Canal dissects Venice into two halves, with three sestieri (or neighborhoods) on each side. The central Piazza San Marco is the most famous, home to the illustrious square, cathedral and the Doge’s Palace. (In Venice, with the sole exception of San Marco, a square is called a campo rather than a piazza.) Across the Rialto Bridge, visitors cross into San Polo and Santa Croce, which abut each other to the west of the Grand Canal and are home to some of the city’s best restaurants, including Da Fiore.
Walking south, they lead to the Dorsoduro, home of the Academia dell’Arte and the Guggenheim, as well as contemporary art museum Punta della Dogana at its tip. The lesser-known and explored sestieri of Castello and Cannareggio extend northwest and northeast of San Marco. Cannaregio contained the ghetto in the 16th century and today is home to beautiful Renaissance and Baroque structures radiating from the Campo del Ghetto Nuova. Castello is home of the Arsenale and Giardini, two venues that take center stage during the Biennale; it’s also where most boats leave for the nearby islands of Murano, Burano and Torcello. The island of Guidecca, while not its own sestiere, is another lovely neighborhood, home to such hotels as Bauer Palladio and Hotel Cipriani, as well as the San Giorgio Maggiore whose tower can be climbed for unforgettable views.