On the southern bank of the Grand Canal, near to its end leading to St. Mark’s Basin, one of the most beautiful churches of Venice, Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, was built in the 17th century.
A symbolic picture of the floating city, that appears in many of the documentaries about Venetian architecture, but also in many paintings left by famous artists such as Michele Marieschi, Francesco Guardi, John Singer Sargent, Walter Sickert and, of course, Canaletto.
After the plague of 1630, which is said to have killed nearly a third of the population of Venice, the Venetian senate decided to build a church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. After a competition between several architects of that time, the project was entrusted to the young Baldassare Longhena.
The construction began in 1631, but the soil was not solid enough to support this massive structure, and the church was to be completed very late, not until 1687, five years after Longhena’s death.
Every year, on November 21, Festa della Madonna della Salute is celebrated. The Venetians build a bridge over the Grand Canal, from San Marco to Dorsoduro, where locals go to worship the Virgin Mary, and the gondoliers bring their paddles to be blessed by one of the church priests.
The church, viewed from above, has an octagonal shape, the central dome being surrounded by buttresses in Baroque style, that make the structure more stable. Another smaller dome is hiding behind the big dome, along with two delicate bell-towers.
The façade built of Istrian stone was enriched with numerous sculptures of angels and saints, and at the top of the dome there is a statue of the Virgin Mary who blesses the city. The interior is also impressive, hosting a baroque altar designed by Longhena and invaluable paintings by Titian and Tintoretto.
HOW TO GET THERE
To get to Santa Maria della Salute, you can use the vaporetto ACTV Line 1, stopping at the Salute station.
If you want to get on foot, you will most likely cross the Grand Canal on Ponte dell’Accademia, turn left to the Peggy Guggenheim art gallery, and soon afterwards, the church will rise in front of you. If you choose this option, use the map below for the right directions.