In every city, there are places that are connected to events of the past. On many occasions, these places have generated legends and anecdotes, in which reality is often intertwined with fantasy.
Venice is no exception, and many of its well- and lesser-known spots have given rise to stories and legends, passed down to the present day by word of mouth or pieced together by some curious storyteller or chronicler of the past.
One particular hidden spot, with a magical and unexpected character, can be found in the centre of the city, just moments from Rialto and St. Mark’s Square. You can reach it by following a narrow street which leads to a small Venetian alley. From here, you can admire the so-called Scala Contarini del Bovolo, which has recently opened to the public following restoration works.
Up until recently, the staircase could only be admired from the outside, but now you can climb its steps to the viewpoint at the top, where you can take in the incredible panorama over the rooftops of the city from almost thirty metres up.
The spiral staircase takes its name from the Venetian dialectal term ‘bovolo’, or snail, (in reference to its spiral shape), and is located on the outside of the palace. It was commissioned by Pietro Contarini around the end of the 15th century.
It was created as an addition to the existing palace, and served no practical purpose other than to decorate the home of the noble Venetian Contarini family. This lack of functionality has led to popular speculation on why it was built.
One such story is that the nobleman, a compulsive gambler – an activity that was very fashionable in Venice in those days – lost everything, and in order to pay his debts he sold the palace, keeping only the top floor for himself and having this external staircase built so that he could reach it.
Another legend has it that the nobleman was quite the libertine, and he came up with the idea of building the staircase so that he could enter and leave the palace without being seen or heard by his wife.
Regardless of whether these old tales are true or not, it remains that we can enjoy this architectural masterpiece to this day; a combination of renaissance, gothic and Venetian-Byzantine styles, which reveals itself quite suddenly and leaves us stunned by its beauty, as perhaps Pietro Contarini himself would have hoped.