The Bovolo Staircase

Scala Contarini del Bovolo, it is a spiral staircase (or like a “snail” which in Venetian translates a “bovolo”), is part of Palazzo Contarini, a secluded corner of Venice a little off the tourists’ trails. It is actually not too far from the famous Rialto Bridge.

Palazzo Contarini has known several owners. There were many 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 commissioned by Pietro Contarini, of the Contarini family of the San Paternian branch, who in 1360 boasted the high honor of having a Doge, Andrea Contarini

And it is precisely in the fourteenth century that the original construction of the building would take place.

The importance of the Palazzo, 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.

Scala del Bovolo was most likely the work of a local craftsman, the Venetian Giovanni Candi.

A Fascinating Jewel

Both inside and outside the building, the oldest Gothic characters can still be seen, the main facade on the Rio di San Luca almost entirely preserves its original late-Gothic appearance.

The imagination of the Venetians was so impressed by the singular architecture of this staircase, which gave a unique feature to the building, that soon the name of “bovolo” passed to indicate a branch of the Contarini family itself.

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. 

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. 

To Visit

You can walk up the stairs to the top for a splendid view of Venice. Not only for the beautiful view, but for a rare opportunity to have a wonderful picture while walking up the steps (it is not too hard, … the step up 😊).

Tickets can be bought ahead (recommended!), the cost is about 7€.

Opening time

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo reopened Thursday 29 April 2021, at the following times:

Thursday-Sunday, 10.00 – 18.00

The anti-covid provisions provide for compulsory reservations and limited entry (maximum 10 people every 30 minutes).

Venice Pass Tickets

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I lived the most part of my life in Washington DC, now in Italy getting to know again my country. Plenty of surprises, for good and bad, and lots of nostalgia for DC.

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