Venetian Palace Architectural Styles: Introduction
Byzantine – Venetian Gothic – Renaissance – Baroque – Neoclassical
The Venetian Republic was one of the most powerful City-States in the world for 700 years from the 11th through the 17th centuries.
The palaces, especially those along the Grand Canal embody, in both structure and style; not only the history of Venetian architecture, but also the entrepreneurial nature of the city’s ruling classes.
There is no finer way to appreciate these grand houses than from the water. A trip up and down the canal on a vaporetto (accelerato no.1), between the Stazione Ferrovia (railway station) or Piazzale Roma (bus station) and the Basino di San Marco (St Marks Basin), is one of life’s great experiences. The 4km (2 ½ mile) canal shaped like an inverted “S”, bisects the six sestieri (districts) equally. Only a few of the palaces are still occupied by aristocratic families for whom they were built; most have been turned into offices, apartments, hotels, museums or government buildings.
By ancient law, only one palace was allowed to carry the title Palace (Palazzo) – and that was the Doges’ Palace (Palazzo Ducale), the home of the head of the Venetian state. All other palaces had to be called simply House (Ca’ – short for Casa). Today, most of these magnificent building carries the title Palazzo, but there still are some huge and very famous palaces with humble names like Ca’Rezzonico & Ca’d’Oro.
The early palaces were both the home and workplace (warehouse) of the merchant nobility and known as casa-fondaco. Elements of this dual functionality can be traced through later architectural styles.
The front of a Venetian palace always faces the water because that was the way one approached it – by boat. The wide and deep Grand Canal made it ideal for delivering goods in large vessels right to the palace-warehouse. The backs of the buildings are not usually elaborately decorated like the water frontage.