Venice Without Crowds #1: Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo

With anti-tourism voices currently raised loud, Venice is often cited as a place that is being blighted by receiving too many visitors.

While it is true that certain popular thoroughfares are nightmares of congestion, and St Mark’s Square and the waterfront alongside the Bridge of Sighs, the Doge’s Palace and Danieli’s are seldom free from the crush of competing selfie-sticks, there still remain hidden corners of Venice where it is possible to escape the worst of the crowds.

The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is such a place.

400 tall staircase

Fans of Orson Welles’ Othello might recognise the palace; so, too, might advocates of fusion architecture.  The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo combines elements of Renaissance, Gothic and Byzantine design styles.  But not so many people actually get to visit the palace, and this despite it being in the San Marco district, not more than half a kilometre from the Campanile, as the crows flies.

The reason?  It is tucked away in one of Venice’s many back-of-beyond corners, which you are unlikely to stumble across unless you have actively made it your goal.

Here are my directions to find the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo.  Get yourself to the foot of the Rialto Bridge on the St Mark’s side of the Grand Canal.  Don’t cross the Bridge; instead turn left and walk along the waterfront of the Grand Canal for as far as you are able.  When you reach a dead end, backtrack a few steps and take the first turning on your left-hand side.  It is a long, straight and unprepossessing alleyway, but go with it.  At its conclusion, you will find yourself in an unremarkable square, Campo Manin.  Almost directly ahead is a tiny, and even more unprepossessing alleyway.  Take it.  At this point, there is a helpful sign saying ‘Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo’ to encourage the faint-hearted.  Despite still being out of sight, the palace itself is no more than a few paces further.

400 down stairs

The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is characterised by its distinctive, external spiral staircase.  Let’s be frank: the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is just one big spiral staircase.  But, what a staircase!

The towering, white structure is beautiful, looking like the intricate internal architecture of a giant nautilus shell, unravelled and straightened such that it traces a vertical route up and over the rooftops of Venice, with views from the upper terrace to the domes of St Mark’s, the Campanile and the lagoon beyond.

400 view

The area at the top of the staircase is tiny and, I’m not going to lie, I didn’t have it exclusively to myself.  Annoyingly, I had to share my view with a small handful of like-minded Venice aficionados plus a few lost souls who had arrived here completely by accident but, as Venice attractions go, the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is definitely a site less visited.

© E. C. Glendenny


E. C. Glendenny enjoys a good climb in Venice.


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