Getting Around – Basic Terminology.

Getting Around – Basic Terminology. This post is about helping you arrive and get around Venice and about getting to grips with some basic architectural and artistic terminology; to enrich your experience of this wonderful city.

  • Introduction: Getting There – Getting Around – The problems
  • The Street Numbering System in Venice
  • Street navigation – Words for getting around (in related groups).
  • Links (internal-external)


Getting Around – Basic Terminology. Introduction

Venice is an aquatic city, built in the middle of a lagoon, on an agglomeration of many small islands.

It is unexpectedly different from everything you are used to – almost surreal.  From the moment you arrive, whether by road, rail or boat; you leave normal life behind.  Whether stepping on a Vaporetto, or starting to walk; brings from that moment new and magical experiences.

Venice, imposes its own special routines and rhythms on you.  Accepting and delighting in them, is part of the city’s charms.  You recognise that this is a unique and very special place.You can arrive from the mainland by public or private boat, or in the north-western part of Venice, by road (bus terminal and car parking facilities) or by rail (train station).  After that, the only way to get around is by boat or by foot.

Vaporetto (public ferry) services only run along two large canals and around the outside of Venice, so unless you have a large water-taxi budget; you’ll be exploring most of Venice by a combination of water-bus and walking

For the first-time visitor, finding your way around Venice is rather confusing and difficult and you are bound to get lost, probably several times.  It really depends on how much time you have to spend in Venice.

Most tourists understandably, have to stick to seeing the major attractions; but getting away from the maddening crowds, brings many rewards.  Getting lost is part of the Venice experience and gives you a much better impression of what daily life is like for most Venetians.

It certainly helps in gaining an understanding of the city’s history and culture and the peoples resilience to the daily problems of living in an aquatic and car free city.

Above: Piazzale Roma (Bus Terminal with car parking close-by).

Do bear in mind the Venetian rules of conduct; walk on the right and don’t block narrow streets, as some of them form part of the main thoroughfares!

It’s good to know that in Venice, everything’s accessible within half to three-quarters of an hour’s walk – some consolation when you are totally knackered by the end of the day!


Getting There

By Air.  For transport to Venice from Marco Polo Airport and Treviso Antonio Canova Airports.

Marco Polo Airport, is located on the edge of the lagoon north of Venice. (The landing approach is from the west, so if you sit on the right-hand side of the aircraft; you have a marvellous view of Venice and lagoon islands).

The cheapest if least romantic link to Venice is by public bus, either by the Actv Aero-bus No. 5 or the ATVO Express-bus No. 35 , both terminating in the Piazzale Roma.  The trip takes around 20 minutes, depending on traffic.  By taxi the same trip will cost around €35 – three times as much.

Alilaguna runs water bus routes from the airport and its cruise boat terminal (allow 90 minutes).  They also run VeniceLink, a shared or private water taxi service into the city.

Treviso Antonio Canova Airport.  Budget airlines, in particular Ryan Air, fly into Treviso Airport, named after the great Neoclassical sculptor Antonio Canova.

ATVO bus links the airport to Venice’s Piazzale Roma by way Mestre’s Corso del Popolo and railway station (€10 one way, €18 return).  The journey from the airport to Venice takes 70 minutes, depending on traffic.  This is the bus to take if you’ve booked a ticket via Ryan Air.

Barzi offers a faster, 40 minute service from the airport to Mestre railway station and Venice Tronchetto, where you can pick up the People Mover to Piazzale Roma.  Bus fares are the same as ATVO.

By Sea.   Smaller vessels and hydrofoils call at San Basilio on the west end of the Zattere.  Large cruise ships and ferries, for example from Greece, Croatia and Slovenia; call at the Stazione Marritima.

By Rail.  The train will take you straight to Venice’s Stazione Santa Lucia in the north-west part of the city.

By Bus.  Venice’s bus terminal is in Piazzale Roma, opposite the train station and over the Grand Canal by bridge.

By Car.  There are multi-story car parks in Piazzale Roma and Tronchetto, with places that can be booked in advance online.  Another possibility is the Mestre Parking Station, a three minute walk from Mestre train station.

People Mover.  Every ten minutes a monorail (€1.50) links Piazzale Roma, the Stazione Marittima and Tronchetto.


Getting Around

Your feet will take you almost anywhere in Venice, but a combination of water-bus and walking will maximise enjoyment of your visit.  Don’t forget you are walking on mostly hard granite pavers and up and down numerous bridges.

Most public transport by sea and land in Venice is provided by Actv, which runs the main vaporetto or water bus services around Venice, ferry boats to the Lido and buses to the airport and on the Lido, etc.

Prices for vaporetto transport is expensive (subsidised for locals).  For up to 75 minutes are €7.50, or daily or various periods such as three or five days..

  • Self-service ticket machines at major ACTV docks in Venice, including kiosks at the airport.
  • ACTV ticket windows at vaporetto docks in Venice.
  • From the vaporetto conductor after you board the water-bus.

Here’s a great starting point- click the link in English for Moving around Venice – apps, maps, timetables etc.

If you plan to travel around the city, save money before you arrive by booking a VeneziaUnica card; a bespoke pass to transport and the city’s museums.  The card also offers discounts on Alilaguna routes to and from Marco Polo Airport and the islands. For more information, contact VeneziaUnica on +39 041 2424 or visit their link here: VeneziaUnica website.

Expensive but fun, the motoscafi or motorboat taxis are available to book 24 hours a day; reserve one online from the link: Consorzio dei Motoscafi Venezia or ring +39 041 5222303.  The motoscafi become considerably more economically if you’re travelling in a small group, as same rate applies for one to five persons or from 6-10 passengers, each additional person pay €10.

You can even hire your own Topetta boat (up to six passengers, no license required) at the link: Brussa is Boat  (website in Italian only), based on the Cannaregio Canal near the Palazzo Labia.


The Problems

Buildings and lanes were fitted in and around existing waterways and more canals were dug for navigation and some streets and promenades widened; particularly under Napoleons rule.  It used to be normal to travel by boat, so the town’s streets did not have to fulfil all the residents’ transport requirements.  They are narrow because of lack of space and because they have only ever been used by pedestrians and in the past by horses; when not all walkways were paved.

Water is a constant obstacle. The Grand Canal divides the city in two and can only be crossed by using one of four bridges, or by taking a Vaporetto (water-bus) or the few remaining traghetti (gondola-crossing points).  Standing up in a gondola, whilst crossing the Grand Canal; is an interesting experience.

Much of the city is only about one metre above sea-level, so in the maze of back streets and alleys; you can easily lose all sense of direction.  Historically the campaniles (bell-towers), gave people both audible and visual clues for navigating; as well as originally providing security from invasion for Venetians.

ABOVE: Strada Nuova – busy wide thoroughfare between the Rialto and the Railway Station.

A small compass is of limited help, as there are few straight streets and fewer direct routes.  Navigating by the direction of the sun and time of day, is useful and strangely satisfying; if and when you arrive at your destination.  Maps are the most useful, but do not indicate every small alley and dead-end.

Watch out for an unusual number of locals using the back-streets; as it’s a good sign of a thoroughfare.  As a last resort, ask a local or shop-keeper.  Most are friendly as tourists are their main source of income; however, some are happy to send you around in circles!

Also rather confusing too, is that signage can be written in Italian or Venetian.  A good example is in Campo San Biagio…..or Blasio…..or Biasio!

Street signs are not always easy to spot in narrow lanes. They may offer one or more variations on the name and are often joined on the walls by signs identifying the parish (parocchia) and any adjacent canal (rio) or bridge (ponte).

There are certain through-routes in Venice – chains of lanes linking places together.

Above: On the Vaporetto No 1: approaching the Rialto Bridge with market area and gondola point to the right.

At busy times of the day you’ll see locals filing along these tortuous routes, striding down seeming dead-end alleys and darting around sharp corners.  After a while you learn those of use to you, and create your own mental database of Venetian routes.

The only destinations signposted at all consistently, are those linking St. Mark’s (San Marco), the Rialto, the railway station (Ferrovia) and the bus terminus (Piazzale Roma).

The “Mercerie” is a group of narrow shopping streets, linking what was the administrative and religious centre of St Mark’s with the financial and commercial centre of the Rialto.  The Rialto then links the Ferrovia (train station) by a wide “Strada Nuova” thoroughfare, created by Napoleon.

For lovers of technology, a cell-phone with satellite navigation may have some advantages, in between taking “selfies”; despite the fact you probably won’t remember what you’ve seen along the way!


The Street Numbering System in Venice

One interesting phenomenon, peculiar to Venice, is street numbering. Introduced during the Austrian occupation in the 19th century; the system they invented has an archaic charm.  The numbering isn’t by street, but by the entire district or sestiere.Each district has a number 1, from where the numbers roughly spiral out up and down the ancient alleys; in one long consecutive sequence.

An interesting example is in San Marco (Above), near to the main post office; where a large sign proclaims – “5562. THE LAST NUMBER OF THE SESTIERE SAN MARCO”.


Street navigation – Words for getting around (in related groups).

Sestiere: district

Parocchia: parish

Piazza: square – only one square great enough: Piazza San Marco

Piazzetta: small square

Piazzale (Roma):  bus terminal

Calle: a road or street

Campo:  square, (originally compressed earth or grass, before they were paved)

Campiello or Campazzo: small square

Fondamenteroad or embankment alongside a canal

Riva: wide road or embankment alongside a canal

Ruga: important road or one lined with shops.

Ramoshort street, branch, or extension of a road with the same name

Salizzadapaved street

Cortecourtyard or blind alley

Cortile: small courtyard

Sotoportego: street running beneath a building


Canal(e): larger or main canal

Rio: (river) most canals.

Riva or Moloquay

Rio terracanal that has been filled in to become a street

Piscinapool or turning basin for boats

Sacca: a basin on the city’s edge.  These can be rectangular, like the Sacca della Misericordia.  Some have been filled in to become islands in their own right, such as Sacca San Biagio

Streets named after trades or professions

In Venice in the old days, the trades or whatever sort of enterprise went on; were generally grouped together in small areas or streets and were generally named in the Venetian dialect.  They have conserved their names up to this day.

Examples are the Calle dei Forni where bread was baked in the ovens, or Ruga degli Oresi for goldsmiths and Fondamenta del Vin for wine merchants; both near Rialto.

Some of the most common are:

bareteri: capmakers

beccarie: butchers

caffetier: coffee house

calderer: copper-smith

calegheri: shoemakers (a Latin word that survived only in Venice)

carbon: coal barges (on a canal)

carrozzer: carriage-maker (amazingly, Venice supported quite a few until the 17th century)

cason: police prison

cerchieri: coopers

corrazzeri: armourers

diamanter: diamond cutters

fabbri: smiths

formagier: cheese-monger

forner: baker

frezzeria: arrow factory

fruttarol: fruiterer

luganegher: pork butcher

malvasia: seller of malvasia wine

mandoler: almond seller

marangon: ship’s carpenter

margaritera: glass bead maker

medicioli: beggars

muneghe: nuns

murer: builder

oresi – goldsmiths

piovan: parish priest

remer: oar maker

ridotto: gambling house

spezier: apothecary

squero: boat-yard

stagneri: tinsmiths

strazzarol: ragman

tentor: dyer

testari: silk weaver

veriera: glazier

vin: wine merchants

Historical, Architectural and Artistic terms

Altana: roof terrace of a Venetian house, where the ladies would repose and bleach their hair blonde in the sun

Ambo: a pulpit (pl. ambones)

Ambulatory: curving aisle around the apse of a church, usually lined with chapels

Ancona: a painted or sculpted altarpiece, especially one set in an architectural frame

Atrium: entrance court of an ancient Roman house or an early church

Baldacchino: baldachin, a columned stone canopy over an altar

Basilica: a rectangular building, usually divided into three aisles by two rows of columns. In ancient Rome, this was the common form for law courts and other public buildings, and Roman Christians adopted it for their early churches

Bocca di Leone: one of the message boxes in the form of a lion’s mouth, placed around Venice during the rule of the Council of Ten, intended for anonymous denunciations

casa, a word the Venetians preferred to palazzo for even the grandest mansions

Campanile: a bell tower

Chiaroscuro: monochrome painting using only light and shade, always more popular in Venice than elsewhere in Italy

Ciborium: a tabernacle—a construction on or behind an altar containing the sacramental host

Confraternity: a religious lay brotherhood, often serving some specific charitable work. In Venice, where they were key to the city’s social cohesion, they are called “scuole” or schools

Contrapposto: artistic technique in which a figure is portrayed slightly off balance, with the weight more on one foot, to express either tension or relaxation. Invented in classical Greek sculpture and revived in the Renaissance

Condottiere: the leader of a band of mercenaries in medieval and Renaissance times

Convento: in Italian, this can mean a convent or a monastery

Cornu: the peculiar ‘horned’ cap worn by Doges

Cupola: dome

Etoimasia: in Byzantine symbolism, the ‘preparation of the Throne’ for Christ at the Last Judgment

Exedra: a semicircular recess

Ex-voto: an offering (a terracotta figurine, painting, medallion, silver bauble or whatever) made in thanksgiving to a god or saint

Graffito: originally, incised decoration on a building façade; only lately has the word come to mean spray painted messages in public places

Greek cross: in the floor plans of churches, a cross with equal arms. The more familiar plan, with a long nave and shorter transepts, is called a Latin cross

Grotteschi: ‘grotesques’, decoration with carved or painted faces and foliage, used by the Etruscans and Romans, and back in fashion during the Renaissance.

Iconostasis: a transenna (see below) in a Byzantine church, often more eleborate and decorated

Intarsia: inlay work in wood or stone

Riva degli Schiavoni: Venice’s main promenade, overlooking the Basin of St Mark.

Loggia: an open-sided gallery or arcade

Lunette: semicircular space on a wall, abave a door or under valuting

Matroneum: the elevated woman’s gallery around the the nave of a church. Segregating women at mass was a Byzantine practice that spread to Italy in the 6th-7th centuries

Narthex: an enclosed porch of a church

Palazzo: not just a palace, but any large, important building; the word comes from Rome’s Palatium

Patera (pl. paterae) circular decorative element, usually carved, often taking the form of a rosette

Pendentives: four curved, triangular pieces, springing from four piers, that help support a dome

Piano Nobile: the first floor of a palace, the showcase of a residence

Portego: the main hall of Venetian house

Predella: smaller paintings on the panel below the main subject of a painted altarpiece

Putti: flocks of painted or plaster cherubs with rosy cheeks and bottoms, derived from ancient decoration, that infested much of Italy from the Renaissance onward

Quadratura: trompe l’oeil (see below) painting, usually on ceilings, in which perspective is employed to make the architecture seem to continue up into the painting, creating an illusion of open, limitless space above

Quadriga: chariot pulled by four horses

Quattrocento: the 1400s, in the Italian way of referring to centuries (trecento, quattrocento, cinquecento, seicento, settecento, etc)

Telamon: (pl. telamones) a column or pilaster carved into a male figure.

Tenebroso: the contrast of darkness and illuminated subjects used to such effect by Caravaggio and his followers.

Tessera: one of the stone or glass cubes, or enameled chips, used in mosaics (pl. tesserae)

Transenna: marble screen separating the altar from the rest of an early church

Trompe l’oeil: art that uses perspective effects to deceive the eye—for example, to create the illusion of depth on a flat surface, or to make columns and arches painted on a wall seem real


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Back to my other other blog posts

VIDEO: Getting Around Venice Italy is Easy  

Note: tickets prices have gone up considerably since this video was published.



Getting Around – Basic Terminology     Getting Around –  Basic Terminology     Getting Around – Basic Terminology

Getting Around – Basic Terminology     Getting Around –  Basic Terminology     Getting Around – Basic Terminology

Getting Around – Basic Terminology     Getting Around –  Basic Terminology     Getting Around – Basic Terminology

Getting Around – Basic Terminology     Getting Around –  Basic Terminology     Getting Around – Basic Terminology

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