According to legend, the first inhabitants of Venice settled at the left bank of the Canal Grande, on a cluster of islands what is now knows as the San Polo district. This is therefore one of the oldest places of Venice. Strangely, even though most visitors to Venice pass through this sestiere or district, they do not spend much time exploring. A pity, because there is a lot to see here. To start with, the campo or square with the name of the district, with a church of the same name. A surprisingly big square, with trees, locals walking their dog, pigeons being chased by sea gulls, and some majestic palazzi. Indeed, this is the largest square of Venice after San Marco square, and as such was once used for agriculture and grazing. In later times, bullfights were held here, as well as religious ceremonies and performances. It is one of the few places in Venice where you can find a fountain.
It is close to Campo San Polo where in times gone by, the red light district of Venice was located. Nowadays, you will find the San Polo district littered with churches, some very visible and grand, while others are hidden and come as a surprise to the passer by. Visiting San Polo must include seeing Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which rises up before your eyes when you turn one of the corners in its neighbourhood. This is the city's second largest church, it was built in the 14th century and is the burial place for some of the city's most famous citizens. Almost next door, you will find the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, a stately building which housed the headquarters of the richest schools of the city. It is named after the French saint Saint Roch, protector of plague stricken people, and lover of dogs - which made him loved by Venetians. You can find a cycle of paintings of one of Venice's famous sons, Tintoretto, here. Behind the school you have nice views on the canals and houses.
At the edge of San Polo, you can find the Rialto bridge, with Rialto market at stone's throw - other landmarks of the Serenissima. Apart from the landmarks, however, it pays to just wander around the district, try streets and alleys that sometimes lead to a canal, sometimes to a small courtyard or a square - it is a great way to get to know San Polo. Some alleys are so narrow you can easily touch either side with your hands, sometimes you walk underneath houses in what appears like a tunnel, and sometimes you just end at a waterline and find a marvelous, apparently forgotten Venetian palace right opposite the canal. As with other areas of Venice, it pays to arrive very early if you want to have all the delights of San Polo for yourself.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from San Polo (Italy). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to San Polo. Read more about this site.