It’s difficult to miss the beautiful facades of Venetian palaces as you cruise down the Grand Canal. The architecture that you see isn’t only beautiful, it’s also a unique story about Venice.
Every piece of Venetian Palazzo is unique, from its beautiful windows to its tall, elegant facades. This is how you can “read” Venice’s most beautiful palaces and understand why they are so stunning.
Keep in mind that Venice’s architecture can be seen as both Gothic and Eastern.
When you look at Venice’s architecture, with its pointed arches and intricate details, one thing you will notice is how it differs from architecture found in Rome or Florence.
Venice, unlike other cities, was most successful during the Middle Ages. It was already a strong and monied republic by the 12th century. Gothic-style architecture was a popular choice at the time. It is not surprising that Venetian architecture was dominated by Gothic architecture. This was because of its emphasis on light and asymmetricality. With its emphasis on balance and rationalism, the Renaissance was a big hit. Architects began to incorporate some of its hallmarks, such as rounded arches rather than pointed arches. They would continue to mix Renaissance innovations with the same Gothic design.
Venice, unlike other Italian cities, had strong trade links with the East. Many of the Venetian architecture was influenced by Moorish and Byzantine styles. This photo shows the Ca’d’Oro (one of Venice’s most beautiful palaces), which was built at the beginning of the 15th century.
The -inflected arch can be seen above. This is likely to have originated from the Moors. The pointed arches at the bottom are a clue that you’re viewing Gothic.
The crenellations that you see on many of Venice’s palaces look like a row of lace. However, the ones on Ca d’Oro are Moorish in style.
Water is a great material for building: bricks, stucco, and wood.
Venice’s location on the water was a great idea for mercantile, but it was dangerous when it came time to build. Due to its soft terrain, heavy and inflexible materials were extremely risky. All that moisture made it difficult to build materials.
Brick was one solution. Bricks are lighter than stones and can be placed side-by-side. This means that if the earth moves beneath the structure, it could still support the building. It can also shift with it. Bricks are also resistant to moisture, which is a great benefit in a city with high water tables. The brick would then be covered with stucco to protect them from the elements.
Wood is often used to lighten buildings. Venetians use lighter wood for their vaults and foundations, whereas buildings elsewhere may use stone. This explains the wooden-beamed, painted ceilings that you see often in palaces.
Other Italian cities also avoided using too much glass in palaces due to its high cost and vulnerability to thieves. It was safe from all enemies because of Venice’s location on the lagoon. The nearby island of Murano was home to a large glass-making business, which meant that the material was cheaper than elsewhere. What did you get? The result?
Why Venetian palaces aren’t facing the street
One peculiar characteristic of Venice’s palaces, however, is that they do not face the street… The palaces face the canals! This makes sense, as Venice’s canals are its streets. Keep in mind, however, that most streets you see in modern-day Venice were not there for the majority of Venetian history. The city created many piazzas for all the visitors to the station, which was built in 1921. ).
Below is our video about what it’s like to be on the water in Venice. ).
Keep up with the Joneses
You would want to make sure your canal-facing facade displayed not only style but also wealth. Venetians were particularly interested in showing how wealthy you were, as Venice was a city that was heavily dependent on money and power.
A noble family was also at risk. To maintain some architectural cohesion and to prevent people from wasting too much of their wealth! Laws prohibited ornamental statuary or other extravagant touches.
Families got around this. The ornate carvings were a show of (expensive!) skill. artisan’s skill. You had to be cautious not to use too much stone or marble. However, this could be used as an accent and further display of your wealth. For example, expensive red porphyry roundels might be used to accent the exterior of your house. Your courtyard might also use tiles made of precious stones.
Other architectural features found in Venetian palaces are often due to practical reasons, such as a lack of space. Noble families might build large palaces in big cities like Rome or Florence. But Venice, being an island, meant that the land was simply not available. Even wealthy families needed to build up in order to make space available. Venetian palaces are tall, elegant, and not large and intimidating.
A large courtyard or garden was built with every inch counted. This is a feature that can be found in many other palaces. To let their residents breathe, Venetian palaces had balconies. Because there was not enough open space, the houses could become dark and dull. Therefore, builders made facades of palaces with large windows, loggias, and arcades to let light into the interior.
A second way to get around land shortages was to build “double palaces”. Instead of each family building their own home, two noble clans might share one palazzo. Each palazzo would have its own water gate. This is why you may see two doors on the water in the same building.
The reason for the big chimneys?
Another peculiarity about Venice’s palaces is their large, bizarre-shaped chimneys. They usually take the shape of a pyramid or cone and are often upside-down. It’s simple. The fire was always a threat to any city, but it was even more terrifying for a city built on water. It would also spread quickly due to all the wooden beams and ceilings.
The chimneys were created to prevent embers from flying… and light that beautiful palazzo you had so much fun setting on fire.