The beautiful city of Venice enjoys a romance that's hard to rival anywhere else in the world. Even in a country as culturally and historically rich as Italy there's no doubt La Serenissima, built across 117 islands and linked by a network of canals, holds a very special place in people's hearts.
The Grand Canal
The most famous of all the canals that link the city is the Grand Canal. This iconic stretch of water slithers its way from the Saint Mark Basin to the lagoon near Santa Lucia railway station, and there would be few Venice tours which don't take in some part of the ancient waterway. At every twist and turn of its length you're reminded that this really is a city built on water, and that the Grand Canal is not just a delightful tourist attraction but its veritable lifeblood.
To get a well-rounded view of the canal, the best way to do it is to join one of the small group Venice tours that take you out on the water and into history - truly bringing “Canalazzo" to life.
Explore the Grand Canal on Our Venice Tours
The waterway's vital statistics are impressive: almost four kilometres long, around five metres deep and up to 90 metres across at its widest points. It serves as the corridor for around 60% of the city's traffic. Historians believe that the (reverse) s-shaped route of the canal follows the channel of an ancient river that flowed into the lagoon. It's linked to the network of smaller canals at various different points along its path.
There are four bridges spanning the canal: the Ponte dell'Accademia, the Ponte degli Scalzi, the newer (and highly controversial) Ponte della Costituzione and, of course, the oldest, the 16th century Rialto, around which is thought to be the site of the first settlement.
The length of the canal is lined either side with houses, the majority of which were built from the 13th-18th centuries and display a mix of evolving architectural styles. As a hugely busy seaport by the 10th century, the original houses belonged to the sea-going merchants. Their houses were known as “fondaco", and served as both a residence and a warehouse.
By the 13th century, the well-off families of the city were displaying their wealth by building ornate Venetian-Byzantine houses along the banks of the canal. One of the oldest of these is the stunning Ca’ da Mosto palazzo. In the 15th century, Venetian-Gothic began to emerge as a popular style (which can be seen in the spectacular Ca d'Oro), then in the 16th century, Renaissance and Classical architecture began to take its place, in buildings like Palazzo Dario. The 17th century saw the busiest period of development along the canal, with magnificent Baroque-style construction – including one of the city's most acclaimed buildings, the Santa Maria della Salute Basilica.
A Place in History
Today the Grand Canal supports the majority of the city's water traffic of vaporetti, gondolas and water taxis that ply their trade to tourists and locals. But for those who want to look beyond its beauty and novelty, joining one of the Venice tours that explore the length of Canalazzo with an expert guide is a truly memorable way of gaining a deeper insight into this unique city.
Rose Magers is an Australian-born Italophile and the founder of ArtViva. With an international reputation for excellence and creativity, ArtViva are at the forefront of escorted day tours in Italy. Rose has indulged her own passion for history and the arts by designing an innovative range of exceptional small group Venice tours and experiences, from guided visits to view the city’s palaces and basilicas to unforgettable gondoliering lessons.