Finding Your Way in Venice

Venice is a set of islands but is still defined today as an “island” by the Venetians to distinguish it from the “mainland” town of Mestre.

Venice also has a very unique topographic system. Therefore, as soon as you arrive in Venice, you look for some reference point that will allow you to find your way around. 

Of course, we now have Google Maps that can do anything, but alas, Venice often remains an absolute labyrinth even for the best GPS.

Fortunately, there are the “nizoleti!”


The term “Nizioleto” means, in Venetian dialect, linen or sheet, or small sheet rather.

They are those yellow signs that give you a rough indication of the direction to follow to reach a particular place, and often. Even if sometimes these signs show arrows in both directions!

If you are looking for a tourist place, it will not be challenging to find help. Still, it will take more effort if you are looking for a specific address, and here comes the nizioleti. 

The white rectangles surrounded painted on the walls indicate the name of the calle, the Rio, the bridge, etc.

The toponymy in Venice varies considerably compared to that of other Italian cities. Venice has often drawn from languages such as Latin, French, Arabic.

In Venice, you can travel on foot or by boat, and it is not easy to give directions, especially to foreigners: Venice is an absolute maze of fields, streets, and canals.

Campi, Calli, and Rii

Campi (Campo singular) are those open spaces that are usually called Piazza elsewhere. In the past, in fact, the fields were covered with grass, and animals often grazed there.

The Campo has a standard structure: in the center, the wellhead corresponding to a cistern for collecting rainwater, around the houses, and generally, there is always a church. Only later were the fields paved, thus assuming their present appearance. 

Campielli are smaller squares without a church towards which several streets and short courtyards converge, often with no exit.

The long and narrow streets for pedestrian use are called Calli (from the Latin Callis – path). There are more than 3000 calli in Venice.

In addition to Calli, there are many other names used to classify pedestrian streets:

Ruga, Lista, Rio Terrà, Salizada, Fondamenta, Ramo. Just one ordinary Strada (Strada Nuova), or a via.

Ruga, deriving from the French term rue (street), indicates shops and houses on both sides.

Lista, was a street near a foreign embassy, ​​such as the Lista di Spagna, a few meters from the station. 

The Liston, is located in Piazza S. Marco and is the path between the two parts paved in white marble.

Rio Terà means that there was a stream (or small canal) that was “buried” to improve pedestrian traffic. Thus, it means precisely “buried stream.” 

Salizada, indicates the first paved streets that are paved with stones (called masegni). Before being paved, in ancient times, all the streets of the city were on beaten earth.

Fondamenta, are the banks that line the canals of the city. They are called this because they act as a foundation for the buildings. They always have landings available for boats.

Ramo, is a road that starts from another main one. It can connect two roads but also a field, sometimes the branch has no way out.

On to the waterways, on the other hand, we have:

Rio and its plural Rii indicate the waterways for transporting things or people. There are over 400 in the city. The term derives from Rivo and is very common in the local language.

A non-Venetian could also use the term Canale which is only used for three city arteries: the Canal Grande, the Giudecca Canal, and the Cannareggio Canal.

There are many “Calli” with the same name, such as Calle della Madonnadel Magazendel Forner, or del Cristo, they are located in different points of the city.

When you ask a Venetian for information, you should know how to say the name of the district where the place you are looking for is located or at least give some reference point such as a church or a campo.

If we were to deal with names, then we need to talk a little more. The originality of the names refers not only to past commercial activities present but also to events that occurred there.

Here are some funny names that will spark your curiosity and, why not, next time you come to Venice, you may spend some time looking for Nizioleti and funny expressions.

The names of the calli are often referred to the works that were carried out along these streets, so they are found calle del fornocalle del tagiapieracalle del pestrincalle dei fabbricalle dei bottericalle del speziercalle delle rassecalle de la corda. 

Or they refer to an altar or a wayside Shrine calle del Cristocalle della MadonnaCalle del Paradiso, or they still take the name of the noble family who lived in that area, calle Dolfincalle Benzonicalle Da Pontecalle Vallaressocalle Bressanacalle Cremonese, or for a very important event, Calle del Perdon.

Here are some

  • CALLE DE LA DONA ONESTA = Calle of the honest woman
  • PONTE DE LA PIAVOLA (Ponte Tron or Ponte de la Piavola) = “doll’s bridge”
  • CALLE DEL STROLOGO = Calle of the astrologer 
  • PONTE DE LE TETE = Bridge of the Tits (but there is also Calle of the Tits)
  • PONTE DEI SQUARTAI = Bridge of the dismembered (awfully people guilty of horrible crimes were sentenced to death and then left there to rot)
  • PONTE DEL PARUCHETA = Bridge of the Wig (Someone with a wig used to live there, apparently)
  • PONTE DEI PUGNI = Bridge of the Fists
  • RIO TERA’ DEI ASSASSINI = Rio Terà of the Assassins
  • CALLE DEI MORTI = Calle of the Dead
  • FONDAMENTA DE LA PRESON =Fondamenta of the Jail

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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.

2 thoughts on “Finding Your Way in Venice

    1. Thank you. I was there last week, and I just passed by some funny names.
      BTW, Venice now is magnificent! There are still very few tourists and we have the impression it is all ours. No big lines to enter the Basilica or Palazzo Ducale. Not even too much traffic of vaporetti e boats on the basin and Canal Grande. And a year ago we could see the fishes in the canals. Priceless.


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