Commonly known as Ca’ d’Oro, Palazzo Santa Sofia, located just across the Rialto Market, overlooking the Grand Canal, undoubtedly remains the most beautiful Venetian palace.
Its name, translated into English as The Golden House, does not lie, because at origins, portions of the facade facing the Grand Canal were covered with this noble metal. Today, gold is missing, but the Venetian-style Gothic building still impresses, not so much by stature, but by the delicacy of its decorations.
Currently, the palace hosts the Giorgio Franchetti art gallery, and it can be visited at the same time.
The palace was built between 1421 and 1440 for the Venetian merchant Marino Contarini. He closely supervised the work of several architects and sculptors, of whom we can mention the Venetians Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon, responsible for the decorations that adorn the palace, the Milan sculptor Matteo Raverti, and Marco d’Amedeo, probably the designer of the project.
Marino Contarini died in 1441, leaving his only son, Piero, his entire fortune. Piero inherited, of course, the palace, which he will leave after his death to his daughters. A series of misunderstandings that followed led to the loss of the palace, which came in the possession of the Contarini family, then was owned by the Marcelli family and, later, by the Loredan family.
After the fall of Venice in 1797, Ca’ d’Oro will pass through the hands of several owners. Alexander Trubetzkoi, the owner of the palace in the late nineteenth century, will entrust the architect Giovanni Battista Meduna with the mission to restore it, the facade and interior of the palace being modified under his care.
In 1894, Ca’ d’Oro is bought for a fabulous sum by Baron Giorgio Franchetti to house his huge art collection. Franchetti orders a new restoration, which will carefully follow the original construction lines. In 1916, he will make an agreement with the Italian state, exchanging the palace for the financial support he needed.
On January 18, 1927, the Giorgio Franchetti Gallery was inaugurated in the palace, in the memory of the baron, who died in 1922.
The palace is a brilliant example of the Venetian Gothic style, with balconies and windows embellished with complicated floral ornaments. Certain Gothic elements on its facade, such as the decorations of the balconies or the roof, are found also in the architecture of the Doge’s Palace.
Ca’ d’Oro is built asymmetrically, and it is unclear whether these were the original plans of the builders or they wanted to add a new wing later. The main entrance, from the Grand Canal, is in a gallery, to allow an easier docking of the boats.
Like many other Venetian palaces, it is also built around an inner courtyard, which still holds the marble fountain built in the 15th century.
HOW TO GET THERE
Next to the palace, is a vaporetto station with the same name, Ca’ d’Oro, where the vaporetto ACTV Line 1 stops.
If you walk from Piazzale Roma, you can reach the palace by going on Strada Nova, Venice’s main boulevard. The palace is on the right, just after you cross San Felice Bridge. If you come from the opposite direction, from Rialto/ San Marco, you will cross Ponte Santi Apostoli to enter Strada Nova, and you will find the palace on the left in about 200 meters. If you need precise directions, use the map below.