Rio Tera – Canals into Streets

Rio Tera – Canals into Streets, are the name given to those Venetian canals; that have been filled in, to make them into streets.

They contribute to the uniqueness and character of this wonderful city, with its fascinating maze of walkways; from the widest Riva to the smallest Calle.

Two good examples of a Rio Terà, are the boulevard-like “Via Guiseppe Garibaldi”, in south-eastern Castello and the “Rio Tera dei Gesuati” in the eastern Dorsoduro district, which runs between the Zattere and the Grand Canal; where you can clearly follow the course and branching of the original canal.

Most of the Rio Tera, were created after the fall of the Republic in 1797, during the French and Austrian occupations. The basic motivation was to “modernise” Venice and bring it into line; with other grand European cities.

  • History
  • Via Guiseppe Garibaldi
  • Rio Tera dei Gesuiti
  • LINKS (internal-external)


Rio Tera – Canals into Streets. History


“Rio Tera”, is the name given to those Venetian canals, that have been filled (or literally earthed) in; to make them into streets.

Two types of Rio Terà can be distinguished: the Rio Terà tombati and the Rio Terà con volti. The former is a canal, that has been filled in completely. The latter are streets, that have flowing water underneath them, usually by vaulting over, to preserve the tidal movements underneath. (see map above).

In the wider Rio tera with sidewalks, you can often see the line of the original canal; demarcated in the laying of the paving slabs and/or block-work.

Essentially an “aquatic” city; networks of canals have always been a part of Venice. In the 16th C, the city had a network of around 37 km; that functioned as “roadways” and with the two daily tides, cleansed the city of waste products.

Above: the original canal and side-walks, can often be seen demarcated; in the laying of the paving slabs and/or block-work.

Before the fall of the Republic in 1797, the priority was to dig more canals; indeed before 1600, only about five were filled in.  A good early example was in 1156, when the Rio Batario was filled in, to build the Piazza San Marco.  Occasion canals were vaulted over, to preserve the tidal movements underneath.

After the Republic fell in 1797, by Napoleonic forces and then the periods of Austrian rule; the situation changed dramatically. Napoleon, instigated major reconstruction works and the Austrians were concerned that Venice needed to be brought in line with the grandeur of other European cities.

The Austrians continued to modernise with metal bridges, factories and in 1846, the rail bridge to the mainland. However, even after the formation of the Italian state, the Venetians still infilled some canals.

About 6 km or 20% of the canal network was lost. The costs of maintenance were reduced and much needed employment created. Today, about 30% of canals in San Polo and 25% in Dorsoduro districts; have closed.

Recently, some critics have suggested that some canals should be reinstated, not only to improve tidal flows, but also alleviate the chronic shortage of boat moorings (posti barca).

One other thing is that on the street signage (“nizioleto”), you may see Rio Tera written as “Rio Terra”. This is much to the annoyance of many Venetians, as around four million people speak the Venetian language/dialect. Apparently in 2013, the committee in charge of changing the street signage decided, that Rio Terà should be replaced; with a more Italian-sounding Rio Terrà. Many felt that it’s not a word Italians would use.

The anger of Venetians, when reacting to the decision to change the signage, did not particularly come from them caring a whole lot about the grammar; but rather because the change seemed nonsensical, unnecessary and threatening to their history!


Rio Tera – Canals into Streets – Via Guiseppe Garibaldi

Possibly the most famous example of a Rio Terà, coming from the post-republic era; is the Via Garibaldi, in Castello. In 1810, it was ordered to be filled in by Napoleon, who felt that the city lacked an open, straight and wide “boulevard-like” street. Just to the east of the Garibaldi monument, the canal appears; leading to one of only two bridges, over the wide Canale di San Pietro. On this island is the Basilica di San Pietro, the original seat of the archdiocese of Venice until 1807; when it was transferred to the Basilica di San Marco.

Above: Originally, the Riva ran from the Doge’s Palace to the entrance to the Via Garibaldi only. From that point east, the buildings originally faced directly onto the water; apart from occasional boatyard areas, with small beaches.


Both to the north and south of the Via Garibaldi, are a fascinating network of narrow and straight “calli and corti“, that were the homes of the workers of the Arsenale.

According to Napoleon and his local architect Antonio Selva, via Garibaldi was to give modernity and elegance to the city and act as an entrance into the Giardini quarter, which itself was being demolished and reconstructed as public gardens (and today also houses the Biennale Exhibition area.

Rio Tera dei Gesuiti

Another one of the best examples, is the Rio Tera dei Gesuati, in the Dorsoduro district, which runs between the Zattere and the Grand Canal; where you can clearly follow the course and branching of the original canal. On the eastern side of the Church, close to the Zattere, you can see low down on the wall, a large curved vault; where the canal actually used to pass under the building (Below left). The other end of the Rio tera, (Below right), joins the Grand Canal at the Accademia with its famous bridge. Note the water outlet.









The “Hounds of St Dominic”. On the keystone over the canal vault (Above centre), a small sculpture indicates the religious order that the Gesuati church belongs to. It depicts a small dog above a shield with a lily (a symbol of St Dominic’s chastity) and a star (a symbol of wisdom).

The story goes that St Dominic’s mother, dreamt that she gave birth to a dog, bearing a torch in its mouth. Her interpretation was that the child would later come to “light up the world” with his words. The dog is a reference to the literal translation of the Latin  “Domini cani” (“Hounds of the world”). This relates to the Dominicans’ role of pursuing, those enemies of the God and his Church. Also, however, the name Dominic, chosen by his mother; comes from Domenica – “Sunday the Day of the Lord”.


LINKS (internal-external)

Other posts in the category of History and Architecture

You might like a few of my posts such as: 

Getting Around – Basic Terminology

Canal Poles – Pali di Casada

The Arsenal of Venice

Discovering Venice: Rio Terà dei Assassini – The Murderers’ street


Rio Tera – Canals into Streets    Rio Tera – Canals into Streets    Rio Tera – Canals into Streets

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