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The Contarini Stair of Bovolo

The most impressive and valuable spiral staircase in Venice



In its long existence the Palace, whose events span five centuries of Venetian history, has known several owners. Many were the tenants who lived, not always in luxury, in the rooms of this "Fontego house" of evident late-Gothic taste.

Towards the end of the fifteenth century the Palace was enriched with a "bizarre and graceful" spiral staircase (in Venetian "bovolo", hence the name) commissioned by Pietro Contarini, a scion belonging to the powerful Contarini family of the San Paternian branch who in XIV Century had been able to boast the high honor of having given a doge, Andrea Contarini, to the Serenissima Republic. And it is precisely in the fourteenth century that the original construction of the building would take place.


The importance of the Palace, which does not overlook the Grand Canal, is attributable to the privileged position it occupies in the urban fabric: it is in fact equidistant from Rialto, the economic heart, and from San Marco, the political heart of Venice.

In-depth stylistic studies agree in attributing the Scala del Bovolo project to a local craftsman identified in the Venetian Giovanni Candi and the transformation works that involved the internal courtyard with the opening of loggias can also be dated to the same years.

This set of interventions testifies to the slow spread in the lagoon of a more marked Renaissance taste, “grafted” into the city through the Tuscan artists and workers who landed in Venice. The sequence of overlapping loggias resolves the connecting element between the tower and the adjacent building which is spread over four floors - in addition to the ground floor - and is the result of the merger of two buildings: a trapezoidal block built around a courtyard central (the oldest nucleus), to which a body with a rectangular plan was aggregated.


The architecture of a fascinating jewel


Both inside and outside the building, the oldest Gothic characters can still be seen: on the façade facing San Marco there are fragments of a rich decoration with floral motifs and brilliant colors, which the monumental staircase has subsequently come to to pull over.

The main facade on the Rio di San Luca almost entirely preserves its original late-Gothic appearance.

A direct and sure testimony of the chronology is the presence of the staircase in the perspective plan by Jacopo de Barbari: proof that the renovations had been carried out rather quickly and that in the year 1500 they were now completed.


The story of a noble staircase



In the last century the Palace was used for rent by Arnaux Marseille, known as "the Maltese", who had opened an inn (the "Locanda della Scala"), hence the name, still retained, of the street that leads to the square of the building. , “Baptized”, precisely, calle delle Locande.

Popular rumor suggests that Marseille, an adventurous and singular character, was the inspiration for Corto Maltese, the famous protagonist of Hugo Pratt's comics (1927-1995). A guest of the inn, the German astronomer Tempel, conducting his observations with a telescope on the top of the tower - the "terrace", also known as the "Belvedere" - discovered the comet C / 1859 and the Merope nebula of the Pleiades. .

In 1849, the year to which Domenico Emery's testamentary bequest dates back, the property was bound to the Fraterna dei poor di San Luca, who assisted the needy in the parish. From that moment the history of the building is closely linked to that of the Venetian assistance, which today sees the I.R.E as owner and user of the property, together with the Municipality of Venice.






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