Venice: a city to explore
Both surrounded and criss-crossed by the waters of its lagoon, the historic centre of Venice is made up of 119 small islands defined by 150 canals and interconnected by over 400 bridges. The modern municipality of Venice also includes a part of the mainland known as Mestre, which is connected to the historic centre by a 4-kilometre-long bridge. The lagoon is separated from the open Adriatic by a long sandbar island called the Lido, where the seashore is characterised by sandy beaches.
The city is divided into 6 neighbourhoods called “sestieri”:
- San Marco: the most famous and symbolic area of Venice. You simply must visit St Mark's Square, St Mark's Basilica, and the Doge's Palace.
- Dorsoduro: the neighbourhood where Ca' Foscari's main administrative buildings as well as its Humanities Campus and Linguistics Campus are located. Things worth seeing include Campo Santa Margherita (the neighbourhood’s main square and the heart of student life), Gallerie dell'Accademia, the Zattere (a long “fondamenta” that faces the island of the Giudecca), the church of Santa Maria della Salute, and the Punta della Dogana Museum. The Giudecca, the largest island in the Venetian lagoon, also belongs to this sestiere.
- Cannaregio: the northernmost neighbourhood of the city where Ca’ Foscari’s Economics Campus is located. Things worth seeing or visiting include: Venetian Ghetto, Lista di Spagna and Strada Nova (a long street from the railway station to Rialto, with many shops and businesses), Church of Madonna dell'Orto, Ca' D'Oro, Campo Santi Apostoli.
- San Polo: the smallest neighbourhood (although is has the largest campo in the city!). Things worth seeing include the world-famous Rialto Bridge, the Campo dell'Erbaria with its cafés and bars, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco with its incredible canvases by Jacopo Tintoretto, and the Basilica dei Frari, a church that houses two of Titian’s greatest altarpieces.
- Santa Croce: the city’s most central neighbourhood. Among the many things to see are Campo San Giacomo dall'Orio, the Ca' Pesaro Museum of Modern Art, and the modern Calatrava Bridge.
- Castello: the largest of the “sestieri”. This neighbourhood is famous for the Giardini della Biennale where the world-renowned contemporary art and architecture biennials are held in alternating years, the Riva degli Schiavoni (long walk from St Mark’s square to the Giardini), Arsenale, Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
One of the first things you notice when arriving in Venice is the specialised vobulary used to describe the city, which is unique even for Italy. Here are some key words that come in handy when finding your way around the city:
- Calle: a long, narrow street
- Campo: a square
- Campiello: a small square
- Corte: a courtyard
- Fondamenta: a street with one side running along a canal
- Piazza: used only for St Mark's Square
- Rio terà: a street created at some point by filling in an old canal
- Sotoportego: the part of a street that passes under the second story of a building
The Venetian lifestyle is something that university students appreciate very much. First of all, the historic centre is, of course, car-free, so it allows you to move through the city one of two ways: either on foot or by boat (there is a public transit system of waterboats, or “vaporetti”). As a result, Venetians live their city fully. In fact, life fills the streets (“calli”) and squares (“campi”) even in the winter, which means that making friends and creating a personal community all comes about naturally and easily.
One of our students' favourite moments is the Venetian “aperitivo” ritual. From the afternoon until late in the evening, places like Campo Santa Margherita, the Erbaria near the Rialto Bridge and the Fondamenta degli Ormesini/Misericordia come alive, with people meeting up to chat, hang out and enjoy a drink paired with tasty snacks known as “cicchetti”.
Students wanting help finding accommodation in Venice – either in its historic centre or in its more affordable modern area on the Venetian mainland – can contact the Ca’ Foscari Housing Office for assistance.
Venice's event calendar
In Venice, each season of the year is characterised by the city's own special local and international events.
- 25 April - St Mark's Day, the feast day celebrating the city's patron saint, the Evangelist Mark, during which it is traditional to offer your special someone the "boccolo" (a rosebud) as a sign of love.
- May - The Venice Biennale, a world-famous exhibition of international art or architecture (it depends on the year – they alternate), opens for its six-month run.
- May - The "Vogalonga", a regatta of "voga alla veneta” (Venetian-style stand-up rowing) during which traditional boats compete along the city canals.
- 19 May - The "Festa della Sensa", a traditional Venetian festival celebrating the marriage between the city and the sea, a metaphor for the Venetian Republic’s former maritime dominance.
- From June onward - The season of the "sagre", which are local fairs organised around specific holidays or the harvest of specific foodstuffs. These are held throughout the Veneto in various moments. In Venice there are a number of them that bring together good food and concerts.
- Third Sunday in July - The "Festa del Redentore", a (first) Venetian religious festival celebrating the city's liberation from a terrible bout of the plague in 1577. The festivities include organising dinner with friends on the fondamenta or in a boat and enjoying the spectacular fireworks over St. Mark's basin.
- End of August - The Venice International Film Festival, one of the most important international film festivals in the world takes place on the Lido, the sandbar island that rings in the Venetian lagoon.
- First Sunday in September - The "Regata Storica" (the Historical Regatta), historic Venetian boats parade along the Grand Canal; the historical re-enactment is followed by the famous sports competition.
In autumn, it is possible you may encounter "acqua alta" (excessively high tide) while walking in certain areas of the city Venice, but the phenomenon is rare now thanks to the MOSE system of barriers that activate to close off the lagoon from the open sea when dangerously high tides are predicted.
- 21 November - The "Festa della Salute", a Venetian religious festival that began in the 17th century in gratitude to Christ for the city’s deliverance from the Black Death and that involves completing a pilgrmmage to the marvellous Baroque church of the Madonna della Salute.
- December - Christmas markets. In Venice and throughout the cities of the surrounding mainland you will find Christmas villages and festivals characterised by stalls selling typical Venetian dishes, sweets, and local handicrafts.
- February - Carnival, the world-famous party event that plays out before the beginning of Lent, which marks the solemn period of restraint preceding the Catholic celebration of Easter. Along the calli, in the campi and in St Mark's Square you can attend events and see shows and performances featuring some of the most beautiful costumes.
Last update: 16/11/2023