Cannaregio is the northernmost and the second largest district of the city. It also has the largest population, of around 11,000 people. It may well have taken its name from the Canal Regio or Regal Canal which fed into the Grand Canal and was the main entrance for visitors to Venice, before the construction of a railway link into Venice in 1846. Others claim it was once known as Cannarecium, from its numerous marshy reed beds.
his section was developed from the eleventh century onwards. As the area was drained, parallel canals were dredged and the area became known for its working class housing with some grand palaces, many facing the Grand Canal and also a few very fine churches. It later became known for manufacturing.
In the 19th century, civil engineers built a street named Strada Nuova through southern Cannaregio, and a railway bridge and road bridge were constructed to connect Venice directly to Mestre, on the main land. At the very western edge of the district is the 20th century Stazione Santa Lucia (railway station). The church of St Lucia and several palaces were demolished to make way for the new construction.
To the north is an area containing wide parallel canals and their fondamenti, which run in an east-west direction. This area has a special unpretentious but real-life quality, away from the crowds.
Here can be found the wonderful Gothic church of Madonna dell’Orto, associated with Tintoretto.
The great artist (1518-94), lived nearby and is buried here; much of the interior is decorated with some of his most powerful works, including the “Making of the Golden Calf” and the “LastJudgement”. Tintoretto’s tomb is marked by a simple plaque in the chapel to the right of the chancel.
Founded in the 14th century, the church was originally dedicated to St Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, but was demoted in 1377. The whole church was rebuilt between 1399 and 1473, a light and balanced brick structure, whose harmonious façade is topped by an onion shaped cupola; balanced by a slender campanile. St Christopher is found over the main door.
Close by is the odd shaped Campo dei Mori, probably the home of Arab merchants and where three 13th century stone figures of Moors, set in the walls of buildings can be found. They are clad in flowing robes and wearing turbans. Around the corner at No. 3339 is Tintoretto’s house (b. Jacopo Robusta 1518-94), where another Moorish figure can be seen.
Overlooking the Fondamente Nuovo and the lagoon is the Jesuit church of Santa Maria Assunta, commonly called the Gesuiti and a masterpiece of the Baroque era. The Jesuits, with their close links to the Papacy were refused entry in Venice for 50 years during the 17th century and it was not until 1715, that they commissioned Domenico Rossi to build the church. The interior is in a highly decorative style, with a fine Titian painting (The Martyrdom of St Lawrence).
About 400 metres northeast into the lagoon on the Isola di San Michele is the cemetery (cimitero) of Venice, characterised by rose red walls and many tall cypress trees. The church of San Michele designed by Mauro Coducci in 1469, was Venice’s first Renaissance church. Originally two islands; San Michele and San Cristoforo, the canal separating them was filled in during 1836. Peaceful, well-kept with graves covered in flowers, it is a wonderful retreat from the bustle of the city. Celebrities found here are Sergei Diaghilev(1872-1929) the Russian ballet dancer, Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971) and American poet Ezra Pound (1885-1972).
The Grand Canal forming the southern boundary is lined with many beautiful palaces in various architectural styles; one of the finest being the Ca’ d’Or, a flamboyant masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
It was commissioned in 1420 by the merchant Marino Contarini and built between 1421 and 1431, when its façade was decorated with expensive vermilion, ultramarine and gold leaf. It then under went significant decline, until the end of the 19th century, when art enthusiast Baron Franchetti, restored and revitalised it; filling the building with paintings, sculptures and coins. Finally, he gifted it to the state in 1916. Today, it is a light and modern art gallery, occupying two floors.
Behind these palaces runs the Strada Nuova;a bustling wide shopping street built in the 19th century that forms the quickest pedestrian route between the Rialto area and the railway station.
To the east of the district, is one of the oldest parts of the city, close to the Rialto. Here can be found Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the Renaissance jewel of a church, built between 1481-9 by the Lombardo family to house a miracle-working painting of the Virgin Mary by Niccolo di Pietro; which still hangs over the alter. Also known as the “marble church”, it is one of the best examples of the early Venetian Renaissance including coloured marble, a false colonnade on the exterior walls (pilasters) and a semicircular pediment. The church was subject to a major and expensive restoration between 1987. All marble cladding was removed, cleaned and reinstated.
The interior is enclosed by a wide barrel vault, with a single nave. The nave is dominated by an ornamental marble stair rising between two pulpits, with statues by Tullio Lombardo, Alessandro Vittoria and Niccolò di Pietro. The vaulted ceiling is divided into fifty coffers decorated with paintings of prophets, a work by Girolamo Pennacchi’s contemporaries, Vincenzo dalle Destre and Lattanzio da Rimini. Finally, just to the north of the confluence of the Cannaregio and Grand canals are the Ghetto Nuovo and Ghetto Vecchio; an area of great historical and cultural significance to the Venetian Jews with its own unique atmosphere. Beginning in 1516, Jews were restricted to living in the Venetian Ghetto. It was enclosed by guarded gates and no one was allowed to leave from sunset to dawn. However, Jews held successful positions in the city such as merchants, physicians, money lenders, and other trades. Restrictions on daily Jewish life continued for more than 270 years until Napoleon Bonaparte conquered the Venetian Republic in 1797. He removed the gates and gave all residents the freedom to live where they chose.