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The six Venice's sestieri

Venice has six Sestieri (Venetian name given to its districts) which constitute the old city centre.

  • Cannaregio: the most populated sestiere. There is the Jewish Ghetto, the small area in which Jews were confined;
  • Castello: the largest Venetian sestiere. It's in eastern Venice and includes the Arsenal;
  • Dorsoduro: it's one of the most comfortable areas of Venice. The name (italian for "hard ridge") is due to the fact that it was the only part of the city characterizes by a stable and less swampy land.
  • San Marco: the most famous sestiere, due to the homonym square and basilica;
  • San Polo: takes its name from the homonym church; it's linked to San Marco by the well-known Rialto bridge
  • Santa Croce: the road bridge Ponte della Libertà links this sestiere to the mainland, so Santa Croce is the only sestiere where car circulation is partially allowed.

The house numbering system of Venice is a particular one: the numbers don't begin and end in every street, but they continue throughout the whole sestiere. This implies addresses with very high numbers, where the name of the street may even be omitted – just the name of the sestiere and the building number is usually provided –, so be careful when you're looking for your hotel or any other kind of building!

San Marco

St Mark's Square

St Mark's Square, Venice

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As the name suggests, the heart of the sestiere is the famous St Mark's Square, with its outstanding Basilica and campanile, which draw millions of tourists from all over the world.

Other points of interest of the sestiere are the "La Fenice" historic theatre, the Grand Canal, which in a sense is the real boulevard of Venice, and the romantic Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri).

This sestiere is also the best for shopping lovers: here lies the Mercerie, a collection of streets completely full of shops.

 

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Cannaregio

Jewish Ghetto

Jewish Ghetto, Cannaregio, Venice

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The name of this sestiere contains the word canna, meaning "cane". In fact, this area was full of swamps and reeds before being inhabited.
The sestiere contains the Jewish Ghetto. This area used to be home to a metal factory, named geto in Venetian (which literally means "slag"). Interestingly enough, this is the origin of the current word "ghetto".
Jewish settlements here date back to the 4th century, but the community grew when Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. At first the Jewish community was tolerated, but in the 16th century, all Jews were forced to live in the Ghetto. This situation became ever more common in countries in Europe.
The situation changed with Napoleon's rule, which gave the Jewish community the same rights as the other Venetian citizens. Today it has just a few hundred members, but the area still shows the changes brought by the community: many synagogues have been built and because of the ever-growing population and the impossibility to expand its territory, the ghetto is characterized by rather high buildings, which is unusual for the city's landscape.
The two main attractions in Cannaregio are the Renaissance style church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and the baroque Santa Maria di Nazareth, also known as Chiesa degli Scalzi ("church of the barefoot").

Castello

Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo and Scuola Grande di San Marco

Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo and Scuola Grande di San Marco, Venice

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Castello is the largest of Venice's sestieri, which takes its name from the castle which used to lie in this area in the Middle Ages.
The core of the sestiere is undoubtedly the Arsenale, a huge complex which occupies a large part of the sestiere – a sixth of the whole city. This structure represented the power of the ancient Republic of Venice, as it was where its strong fleet of boats was built.
Another majestic building overlooking the whole sestiere is the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo: this massive medieval church is often called "the Venetian Pantheon", as many doges and other important personalities are buried here. Next to the church is the former dominican convent, which now hosts the city hospital.

Santa Croce

A canal in Santa Croce

A canal in Santa Croce, Venice

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This is the smallest sestiere of Venice and it takes its name from the church of the same name which unfortunately was demolished under Napoleon's rule.
In 1933 the Ponte della Libertà (Bridge of Liberty) was built by Benito Mussolini to connect Venice – in particular Santa Croce – to the mainland through train and road transport. This led to the construction of the Stazione Marittima, which is a station for ferry-boats, hydrofoils and cruises; Piazzale Roma, an important bus and taxi terminal; and the artificial island of Tronchetto, which acts as a car park where vehicles can be left when arriving in Venice, although the limited space available means high prices and long queues. Visitors are therefore advised to leave their cars on the mainland – in Mestre or Marghera – and then reach Venice by bus or train.
All this new infrastructure brought great changes to the sestiere of Santa Croce, which is actually the only area where vehicle circulation is partially allowed.
Most of the points of interest in this sestiere are located on the Grand Canal. Just to name a few, there are the baroque palace of Ca' Pesaro, now the seat of the International Gallery of Modern Art, and Fontego dei Turchi, which is home to the Natural History Museum.

Dorsoduro

Santa Maria della Salute

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, Dorsoduro, Venice

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Called so because of its more stable and less swampy land, in comparison to the other areas of Venice (literally "hard ridge"), Dorsoduro is the southern sestiere of the city.
This sestiere is important for its many museums, the main one being the Gallerie dell'Accademia. This museum hosts the greatest collection of Venetian art works, mostly dating back to the 14th-17th centuries. One can enjoy masterpieces from Titian, Giorgione, Tintoretto, Carpaccio and Bellini. The famous drawing of the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci – which appears on the Italian 1€ coin – is also kept here.
If you fancy a more contemporary type of art, you can also visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which hosts valuable works from the main 20th century avantgarde movements, such as Modernism, Futurism, Cubism and Expressionism, or the François Pinault Collection, within the complex of Dogana da Mar-Palazzo Grassi, which exhibits important contemporary art works.
Another unmissable attraction in the sestiere is the wonderful Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, built in the 17th century by the Venetian master Baldassarre Longhena. The view of this majestic church overlooking the lagoon is one of the reasons to see Venice.
The Dogana da Mar, the Pinacoteca Manfrediana, the Biblioteca del Seminario Patriarcale and Santa Maria della Salute form the complex named Punta della Dogana: it is a triangle-shaped point which used to be the seat of the Republic's customs.

San Polo

Rialto Bridge

The Rialto Bridge, Venice

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This sestiere takes its name from Campo San Polo, the second largest square in Venice after St Mark's Square.
The most interesting area is Rialto, which gives its name to the world-famous bridge that links the two sestieri of San Polo and San Marco across the Grand Canal. Rialto is also important for its markets and for the church of San Giacomo di Rialto, which is regarded as the oldest in Venice.
Another important historic building is the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, a majestic gothic building with important works of art, such as two paintings by Titian. Titian himself is buried here.

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