Scala Contarini del Bovolo, a hidden gem 

23 August 2021

Venice, 19th July 2021 – To see it, you have to look for it. As soon as you find it, the astonishment is inevitable. Stuck between narrow calli, the “Scala del Bovolo” - which in the venetian dialect means snail – is, due the breath-taking impact that it causes, among the most loved landmarks of the city. It could be for the contrast between red, which characterizes the porphyry, and white, which characterizes the Istrian stone. It could also be for the seven floors of loggias that seem to touch the sky. Or maybe for the eighty stairs. Or perhaps for the terrace and its 28 meters high which gives, to any change of light, an astonishing and unique show. Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is one of the five “hidden gems” owned by the Ire, from which was born the Fondazione Venezia Servizi that today manages them actively. A jewel that is part of the Venetian history, rooted in the age of Serenissima, which this year celebrates its 1600 years from its establishment.

“Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo dates back to the 1300s – said Edoardo Rizzi, from the Fondazione Venezia Servizi alla Persona – originally owned by the Morosini family it was built to be used as a “casa fontego””, a warehouse to store goods. The location of the warehouse was perfect, being the canal literally on the other side of the palace”.

It was Pietro Contarini, at the end of the 1400s who wanted to build this picturesque staircase. Pietro was the scion of the powerful Contarini family, of the San Paternian branch (whose nickname came from the church located in what today is Campo Manin). As a matter of fact, from this family came one of the Doges of the Repubblica Serenissima: Andrea Contarini.

“Pietro Contarini strongly wanted to build this staircase in order to have something unique in the city – Rizzi explained – but the Repubblica had banned the construction of any luxurious building by Venetian noble families in order to keep the political status quo. Nevertheless, the Contarini’s managed to build this spiral staircase, which recalls both the Renaissance and the Byzantine style. The Belvedere was not only built for the view, but also to represent the power of the Contarini’s. As a matter of fact, this was the most central and requested area of Venice since the walking distance from Saint Mark’s Square – the heart of the political and cultural life – and Rialto – the economic centre, was the same.”

Throughout five centuries this palace was the theatre in which several curious events took place. If we focus on the structure of the palace, for instance, we can see that the back side of it is fully decorated from bottom to top, a very unusual fact if we think that at the time just the front side of palaces used to be decorated. Nevertheless, it must be underlined that Palazzo Contarini’s main façade stretches along rio San Luca, whilst its back side – which instead is the main one – overlooks St. Mark’s, the political beating heart of the city at the time. Some tiny remains of this decoration, which was sacrificed to build the staircase, are still visible along the walls. Finally, we have the Belvedere dome, the terrace from which a breath-taking view of the city can be enjoyed. It was from here that the German astronomer Tempel, observing the sky with his telescope on top of the tower, discovered the comet C/1859 and the Merope nebula of the Pleiades.