Grand Canal

Canal Grande
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Venice's Canal Grande (Grand Canal) - also known by Venetians as Canalazzo - is the major water-traffic corridor sweeping through this
Canal Grande seen from Rialto Bridge, Venice
amazing city.

Specifics

The Canal Grande snakes through the city of Venice in a large S shape, traveling from the Saint Mark Basin on one end to a lagoon near the Santa Lucia rail station on the other. This ancient waterway measures 3,800 meters (2.36 miles) long and ranges from 30 to 90 meters (about 100-300 feet) wide. In most places, the canal is approximately 5 meters (16 feet) deep.

Rialto Bridge at the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy
Rialto Bridge
The canal is an ancient waterway, lined with buildings - about 170 in all - that were mostly built from the 13th to the 18th centuries. Most were constructed by wealthy Venetian families.
The majority of the city's traffic cruises up and down the canal, be it private boats, vaporetti (water buses), water taxis or the famous gondolas. Foot traffic gathers around three famous bridges that cross the canal: the Rialto Bridge, the Ponte Degli Scalzi, and the Ponte dell'Accademia. A fourth, modern (and controversial) bridge was recently added not far from the Scalzi bridge: the Calatrava Bridge.

A Brief History

Houses along the Grand Canal in Venice
It is believed that the Grand Canal follows the course of an ancient river. One of the first settlements in the area grew along the canal around the area of the current Rialto Bridge.
By the 10th century, it was a center for trade and a safe, ship-accessible port. Because of this, some of the earliest houses along the canal belonged to merchants who did their business on the seas.

By the 12th and 13th centuries, homes along the canal became much more ornate and often included Byzantine-style decoration like elongated arches and large loggias. This Venetian-Byzantine style of architecture is evident in the oldest building along the canal,
Grand Canal seen from Scalzi Bridge, Venice
the Ca' da Mosto, which is a 13th century palazzo.

The Venetian-Gothic style of architecture began in appear in buildings constructed along the Grand Canal in the 15th century and some of the best examples can still be found there, including the magnificent Ca d'Oro (House of Gold). During this period, facades included plaster in bright colors, pointed arches were popular, and columns were skinnier than before.

Buildings and homes designed in the Renaissance and Classical styles arrived in the 16th century. Many featured white facades rather than colored ones and windows touted round rather
Santa Maria di Nazareth or Scalzi Church along the Canal Grande, Venice
Scalzi
than pointed arches. Examples of those styles of architecture include the Palazzo Dario and the Palazzo Grimani.

In the late 16th century and into the 17th century, Baroque-style buildings were added to those that already fronted the Canal Grande. This was the most prolific era of building activity along the waterway, and included the addition of the Santa Maria di Nazareth Church (known today as Scalzi) and the Santa Maria della Salute Basilica, one of the city's most elegant ecclesiastic structures. Baldassarre Longhena was the major architect of that era and he added many new buildings to the canal area.

By the 18th century, building along the Grand Canal had pretty much come to a halt.
Water Taxi at the Canal Grande, Venice
Water Taxi
However, during the last two centuries, significant renovations have been completed for many of the city's historic canal-front buildings and the most important ones have become museums or are owned by foundations that see to their upkeep.

Regata Storica

The glorious past of Venice returns once a year to the Grand Canal during the Regata Storica (historical regatta) on the first sunday of September. The first of these regattas - boat races - were held here in the 14th century. The races are proceeded by a spectacular boat parade, led by the Serenissima, a sumptuously decorated boat. The regatta is one of Venice's yearly highlights, attracting throngs of
Gondola on the Canal Grande, Venice
Gondola
tourists who admire the many historic boats with crews in traditional clothing.

Traveling on the Grand Canal

The best way to view the magnificent buildings along the Grand Canal, of course, is to travel by vaporetto (water bus) from one end to the other. (The #1 or #2 both travel from end to end.) Many tourists also take advantage of a romantic gondola ride along the waterway, which is an especially memorable way to experience the Canal Grande. Another option is to take one of the many water taxis.

Venice Canal Cruise: Grand Canal and Secret Canals by Motorboat
  • Duration: 2 hours
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