Scala Contarini del Bovolo – ‘Snail’ StaircaseHidden away in the heart of Venice is a fascinating, spiral staircase, running up the tower-like façade of a historic palazzo. Very few tourists have likely seen it, secluded as it is in sestiere of San Marco. The staircase is the palazzo’s main claim to fame, as it spirals up into the sky, much like the spiral shape of a snail.
This staircase was unique at the time it was built at the end of the 15th century and it ended up naming both the palace it was attached to and the noble Contarini family that lived there. “Del Bovolo” translates in the Venetian dialect to “of the snail,” referring to its spiral shape.The staircase spirals up 90 feet and combines elements of Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance styles. Visitors can climb the first 80 steps, from which they can enjoy a beautiful view over the city’s rooftops. Of interest to note, the staircase made an appearance in Orson Welles’ 1952 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello.
Access to the staircase is limited, so it is recommended to book your ticket in advance on the website.
Ponte dei Pugni (Bridge of the Fists), VeniceThe Ponte dei Pugni crosses the Rio di San Barnaba in Dorsoduro, and at first glance might look ordinary. However, the bridge has a fascinating history, as it was here that Venetians launched epic fist fights in around 1600.
Every year between September and Christmas, rival Venetian clans would get together on a number of small bridges in the city. Their aim was to fight, knocking their opponent into the cold canal below. The Ponte dei Pugni was one of the bridges and the fight continued until September 29, 1705.The last fistfight turned violent, with roof tiles thrown between them and knives pulled by participants. While this put an end to the practice, some things have never changed. In fact, it is still possible to see four, clear, white marble footprints on the bridge to mark the former events.
San Giorgio in Alga (St. George in the Seaweed)Located off the shores of Venice in the Lagoon, San Giorgio in Alga is an island with a checkered past. It was first inhabited around 1000 CE when a Benedictine Monastery was built there. Since that time, a number of monasteries have occupied the island and the ruins remain to this day.
However, in the early 13th century, the island was abandoned, and then in the 1700s, disaster struck after a fire severely damaged the structures. However, in around 1799, the island became a political prison. In fact, many Venetians who were against the government soon found themselves here on the island.
Moreover, in WW1, bunkers were constructed on the island and used by the Nazis as a secret training base for their divers. Here, they learned how to place underwater mines. However, by the end of WW1, the island was once again abandoned. These days, any traveler with a fascination for old ruins can take a boat ride out to San Giorgio in Alga to explore.
Make sure to visit these off-the-beaten-track places in Venice on your next visit to the city.