Two weeks ago, I wrote this post about overtourism in Venice. One of the things I mentioned with regards to how we can help reduce overtourism is to get out of the city center a bit in order to avoid becoming another tadpole in the human sea you’ll have to swim through in the San Marco/Rialto/Station area.
I decided to help out with some tips, and write up a list of off the beaten path places to visit in Venice so that you can learn about some cool (and comical) corners of the city. If you’re into taking unique Insta photos, any of these spots would be great!
Table of Contents
Unique places to visit in Venice
If you’ve ever visited Venice, you know that it is a city that’s full of legends. A few of the places to visit that are mentioned in this list have legends of their own, which aren’t as widely known as many of the others. I hope you enjoy learning about them as much as I did.
A friend of mine who is from the area showed us all of these things on a recent afternoon trip to to Venice. It was great walking around with him, because he just happens to know all sorts of fascinating things about the city from growing up there and reading and hearing stories. Our walk was totally uncontrived – it’s not like we set out with the goal of finding unique places to visit in Venice – and I wish the same for you. Take a look at this post, and sprinkle your walk with spritzes and snacks!
Hidden gem number 1: The bas-relief of a lady with her crotch on fire at Palazzo dei Camerlenghi
If you’re in Venice for the first time, you should see San Marco and the Rialto bridge (and also Murano, where the glass comes from, and Burano, which is full of adorable little multi-colored houses). Yes, they’re super crowded, yes, it’s not actually that much fun to wait in line to see things, but they’re iconic, and I still think that people should see them. Maybe you’ll think they’re overrated, but I still get excited when I visit them, even though I’ve done it 100 times.
Pro-tip: Visit in the off season or shoulder seasons to avoid massive crowds.
Anyway, visit San Marco. Visit the Rialto. Go to the top of T Fondaco and get pictures of the best view in Venice. Then come down and find the first item on your list, you soon-to-be friend, Signora Crotch on Fire. This one is right in the touristy heart of the city center, but worth seeing for sure.
The Rialto bridge took a long time to build. Legend has it that the locals liked to have a laugh about how much longer it would take the construction to finish. Apparently, one of these jokers was a woman who declared, “quando che i finisse el ponte, mi ciaparà fogo la mona,” in Italian, “quando finiranno il ponte la vagina mi prenderà fuoco,” or in English, “when they finish this bridge, my vagina will burst into flames.”
If you cross the Rialto with T Fondaco at your back and turn to the right, you will see Palazzo del Camerlenghi. Look up, and you’ll see some bas-reliefs along the tops of the pilasters. Old Fire Crotch lady is there, immortalized both in city legend, and in a sculpture on the side of a building. Somebody call the pompieri!
When you get back from your trip and someone tries to one-up you with all the stuff they did in Venice, you can say, “Cool that you went to a masked ball and bumped into Lady Gaga at the film festival, but did you see Fire Crotch lady?”
Didn’t think so.
Hidden Gem Number 2: Casa del Cammello, or Palazzo Mastelli
I had never seen or heard of this building prior to my hidden-gems of Venice tour. It’s in Cannareggio, one of Venice’s residential neighborhoods.
At first glance, it looks similar to other buildings in Venice, but if you look more closely, you’ll notice a unique high-relief sculpture in the building’s edifice. It depicts a camel and a man with a turban.
There are two origin stories of this unique building. The first is that a rich Middle Eastern merchant proposed to his beloved and she refused him. He then moved to Venice to make a living for himself, and had the Casa del Cammello/Palazzo Mastelli built so that he could sell his wares there. Just in case his long-lost lover changed her mind and came to Venice to be with him, he decided to have a camel carved into the edifice of the building so that she could find him easily. She never came!
Side note, the link above is in Italian, and includes the statement that if anyone knows of her whereabouts, please report to the building immediately and press the buzzer for Mastelli.
Before we move onto the other story, I also want to point out another really cool feature of this building, which is the small drinking fountain in the bottom right hand corner.
This fountain is the only one of its kind in the city. Any ideas as to who might have used it?
If you guessed thirsty gondolieri, you’ve guessed right! The height of it allowed them to grab a drink as they passed for many years. Unfortunately, the fountain doesn’t work anymore, but I still think it’s a cool little super Venetian thing that most people probably wouldn’t notice.
The second possible story is the one that’s regarded as being more likely. The area of Cannareggio that the building is in is known as Campo dei Mori, which refers to the region of Morea, an area of modern-day Greece. The legend is that three brothers from Morea, called Santi, Afani, and Rioba Mastelli built Palazzo Mastelli in order to have a place to sell their silk and spices.
If you round the corner to the side where the main entrance is, you’ll see three sculptures of the brothers, incorporated directly into the structure of the building. Here’s where the second legend gets a little crazy – some say that the brothers were turned to stone because of their greed!
Hidden Gem #3: Ponte de Chiodo
Until my friend pointed this out to me, I had never thought about the fact that all of the bridges in Venice have walls or railings. Ponte de Chiodo is one of two bridges in the whole city that does not!
Thanks to the flowers decorating the house behind it, it makes for some really cool pictures! Head there and ‘Gram your face off.
The other railing-less bridge is on the Venetian island of Torcello and is known as il Ponte del Diavolo, or the Bridge of the Devil. The legend here is that it was left without railings so that drunkards would fall off of it and into the water on their way home after a bender. Drunkenness, sin, devil, all that. With all the great bars in the city, I can see why this legend came to be!
Hidden Gem #4: Calletta Varisco
Streets in Italy tend to be narrower than some foreigners are used to. Even after seven years here, I still marvel sometimes at how people maneuver past each other on crowded streets with vehicles that are just as wide as the area they have to pass through!
Calletta Varisco in Venice is one of the smallest streets in the world, at just 53cm across. It’s certainly something to behold, and definitely makes for a memorable photo.
Hidden Gem #5: Ponte delle Tette
Located in the heart of what was once Venice’s red light district, Ponte de le Tette, or the Bridge of Tits, pays homage to the city’s Renaissance-era thriving prostitution scene. Apparently, Venice was known for having world-class prostitutes. At one point in the city’s history, its population was about 150,000, and 20,000 of those people were ladies of the night. It’s only right that they’d be commemorated with a bridge named after…their…assets.
I’m sure there are a million more unknown corners of Venice, and I’ll try to update this post as I discover new ones.
Do you have a hidden gem in Venice that you want to add to the list? Share it in the comments! And as always, if you liked this post, consider sharing it to Pinterest or Facebook!
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