A journey among the historical hotels of Venice, rare treasures trove of art, legends, and keepers of 1600 years of incredible stories

2 December 2021

Directly facing onto Venice’s narrow canals, with their gaze toward the crowded city’s squares, and their wall painted by some of the name who fully entered the art history’s volumes, furnished with antique pieces and collectible objects displaying evidence of a lavish, luxurious, and jolly past. The majority of the hotels in Venice are hosted by some of the most beautiful and iconic buildings of the city which bear witness, throughout their fabric-covered walls, typical Venetians floors, ancient wooden doors leading to secret rooms, hidden staircases used for private meetings, and travel diaries, of legends and life moments of a fascinating past which is part of a 1600-year long city’s history.

From the oldest inn of Venice to the hotel hosting an all over the world objects collection, up until the one that allows sleeping under a ceiling decorated by one of the very first Tiepolo paintings. This, throughout Venice iconic hotels, is an imaginary journey between past and present, among the historical locations housing the accommodation structure of the city, from the most ancient to the most recent: treasures trove of history, legends and tales coming from a past that no longer exist but that keeps spreading its little tracks in these places.

Driving us during this trip is Alessandro Spada, creator and founder of the Facebook account “Hidden corners of Venice'' (counting almost 40 thousand followers, and telling the history of the secrets and hidden places of Venice) that, up to date, has collected, studied and explained to his audience the over 170 hotel of the city and the history of the building that host them, each one with its own historical/artistic features, hidden peculiarities, and unknown legends to be handed down in time. Born in Switzerland, and a keen lover of Venice and its history, Alessandro, freelance journalist, and tourist guide in Florence, eventually moved to Padua, where he still lives and spends his days studying the different sides of Venice history. What was once just a passion, an idea born almost by chance, soon became almost a mission for Alessandro, who today aims to create a stories and travel pictures’ collection, a kind of map, to be handed down in time, representing Venice historic buildings which eventually turned into hotels.

“At the beginning the hoteliers were reluctant, most of the time they left me out. But then, when they realized why I was collecting stories and oddities, I was finally able to get into their rooms and persuade them to tell me the building's history, interacting with their new life. I write what I see, and what I read in books or that they tell me walking through the building’s rooms”.

The one among Venice historical hotels is a journey across the stories of famous artists, musicians, and writers but, most of all, among common people. Indeed, it is a journey among whoever in a specific moment of its life crossed its path with the one of Venice, leaving a mark that nowadays allows us to retrace an exciting journey, throughout those places that once hosted those travelers and their stories.

You just need to cross the Rialto Bridge, making a stop in Calle Del Sturion, a side street of Riva del Vin, to experience the same joy, the laughing, and the noise of those travelers who stopped right here to drink a glass of wine in front of merchant shops facing the canals, just before taking a break in their inns. It is exactly in this place that, still nowadays, you can taste the feeling of happiness and traveling, that we find inside the oldest hotel in town, the Antica Locanda Sturion. Dating back to 1290, this place formed part of the 24 inns located in Venice city center. The date reported on its nameplate needs to be noticed, since it refers to the age of ancient inns.

“One of the most beautiful side of the inn, along with its furniture and atmosphere, which reminds the old Venice, it’s the historic nameplate- says Alessandro Spada- The inn still keeps the old nameplate realized by a Venetian craftsman, which we can also see in the canvas by Vittore Carpaccio “La leggenda della croce”, now preserved in the Gallerie dell’Accademia, where you can admire the historical Venetian inn and the Rialto wooden bridge, which eventually burst into flames”.

Later rebuilt in 1700th, after being hit by the flames of the Rialto Bridge fire, the inn once took up all the building by which it was hosted, from the ground floors, used as stables for the horses and warehouses, to the upper floors that housed the rooms for overnight stays. Today, in what was once the Antica Locanda Sturion, only one floor can be reached, throughout a long and steep stairway, once made of wood, which takes us back in the past, like a time machine, right in the middle of 1200. Between lime plastered ceilings, deep-red decorated walls, wooden doors, antique pieces of furniture and windows overlooking the Grand Canal, once covered only by drapes of precious fabrics or decorate wax paper, scents, and sounds are enshrined within the streets, spreading up to the upper floors of the inn where the everyday life of the city is still present, in some ways.

The journey goes on along Riva degli Schiavoni. Here, during a walk, the landscape of Venice Lagoon acts like a perfect background, and the gaze falls over the façade of a palace that shows its name through the tiles of a mosaic. It's right in this place, where a building literally hugs Calle della Pietà, looking straight toward the Island of San Giorgio, that we find the Metropole, an eastern style hotel which houses unique ancient collections which, still today, keep telling stories of crucial men who passed through Venice. The Metropole Hotel, called “Casa Kirsch” during the nineteenth century, allows the visitor to take a step back in time, in those places that played as background during the life of some of the most important artists in history. This place has raised great interest among several leading figures from the world of art, music, and literature, charmed by its pleasant atmosphere. Among them Sigmund Freud, welcomed by the hotel in 1895, Marcel Proust and Thomas Mann, who wrote one of his most famous novels “Death in Venice” right in one of the hotel rooms. This location was also picked by the painter Jacopo De Barbieri to be the subject of one of his 1500s canvases.

The Metropole, today owned by the Beggiato hoteliers’ family, boasts a stunning collection, attracting enthusiasts and onlookers from all over the world. A huge number of objects, from old- fashioned suitcases to old fans, coming from all ages, but also clothes, corkscrews, and old locks, thanks to which the hotels keep telling a long story of past times.

“One of the most charming stories related to the Metropole Hotel is that it used to be part of the Istituto della Pietà, of which still retains relevant evidence- says Spada- on one side of the building, in fact, the so called “Porta degli Innocenti” is still present, this was used by those parents who decided to anonymously abandon their child inside the building. After ringing a bell, they had plenty of time to walk away, without anyone knowing who they actually were. Moreover, there is historical evidence that the present-day hotel bar, once hosted what previously was the chapel where Vivaldi used to teach, at the beginning of the Sixteenth century”.

Strolling along Riva degli Schiavoni, near the area of San Zaccaria, we encounter other travel stories and hidden treasures. You just need to turn your eyes toward a big white palace, and while getting closer to the entrance, just in front of the memorial dedicated to Vittorio Emanuele II, you can find other important evidence of major travelers. We find ourselves at the Londra Palace Hotel, a 19th-century building originally called “Hotel d’Angleterre”, which still today houses traces of well-known people.

“Right at the entrance of the Londra Hotel we have two big lion sculptures- says Alessandro Spada- one of them symbolizes the Lion of St.Mark’s, while the other the Lion of England, together with a special inscription dedicated to this country that, previously, gave its name to the Hotel itself. We find the same two lions inside the structure, depicted on a mosaic at the entrance of the dining hall. Moreover, it was exactly in the hall of this hotel that Čajkovskij wrote his fourth symphony, originally named “Due Leoni” (Two Lions), to honor those same two sculptures by which he was inspired. Still today, it’s possible to admire a portion of the symphony, written on a wall just at the entrance of the hotel”.

The Londra Palace has not only hosted some of the most famous personalities of all times, as the above-mentioned Russian composer, as well as Borges and Jules Verne, but it was also a crucial unit during the period of Italy’s unification. It was exactly here, in fact, that after the annexation of Venice to the Italian Kingdom, Gabriele D’Annuncio slept, the night before Vittorio Emanuele, King of Italy’s memorial was inaugurated. This bond between the hotel and Italy’s period of unification is also proved by a Savoy family’s little coat of arms still present on the front façade.

Just a little further on, staying along Riva degli Schiavoni, we can take another dip into Venice history. We’re getting in the ancient Danieli Hotel, once called Dandolo, which still nowadays preserves sections dating back to the 14th century, as the impressive staircase that welcomes us as soon as we move into the Hotel hall and that was once located on the outside of the building, as major entrance to the main floor of the inner courtyard of the palace.

A walk further on leads us to Campo Santa Maria Formosa, the final stop of our trip among Venice historical hotels. In the end, this long and fascinating trip led us in front of the Ruffini Hotel, a place that still today, with all due respect, keeps passing on the history of the palace that has hosted it for a long time. Its façade recalls all the magnificence that lays behind its history and that, through its double front door, reminds us of an ancient and poorly known legend.

“Not everyone knows it but it is said that in 1600/ 1700 Venetians patrician families used the two main doors for a very specific reason- stresses Alessandro Spada- and this was that one door was used as main entrance for the living, while the other was dedicated to the passage of the dead”. Moreover, another fun fact, historically confirmed, it that we can find some inscriptions on the two string courses of the building, some kind of graffiti on the wall made when they were building the structure, and left by Bartolomeo Manopola in 1600, when he realized the baroque-style front façade.

We find ourselves in the sixteenth century and the Ruzzini Hotel is located within the Loredan Ruzzini Priuli Palace, which takes its name from one of the most important guests it hosted, Carlo Ruzzini, the 113th Doge of Venice, in 1732. The front façade of the building, as well as the old gateway, find itself just in front of the canal and we can still admire the water gate, dating back to the sixteenth century. Inside the building several suites recreate the ancient atmosphere of the palace, also thanks to the renovation works recently carried out. Anyway, perhaps the most fascinating detail is hidden on the ceiling of a royal suite, which keeps captured, blended between plaster and colors, a crucial moment of Venetian art history.

If you get into one of the Hotel suites, in fact, you will find a Gregorio Lazzarini’ fresco, dating back to the early Eighteenth century, depicting the legend of Flora and Zephyr. It seems, however, that someone else helped Lazzarini with his fresco: no less than a young Tiepolo!

“Lazzarini was Tiepolo’s teacher, and he was around seven years old when his master started the Flora and Zephyr’ fresco. This was the proper age to begin working in a studio, and so now you can sleep at the Ruzzini Hotel, under a ceiling painted by a young, but already talented, Tiepolo which bears witness to one of the first works of his long artistic career”.

Our journey on the trail of ancient Venetian travelers allows us to retrace different historical periods and step into some of the places that, in distant times, led which were just some young men trying to find themselves, to become great artist, musicians and writers, inspired by those wonderful venetian palaces that, thill today, keeps talking about them.