San Marco - Castello
It is the richest and most magnificent sestiere of the city, and in the past it was also the place where capital executions were performed to “educate” the people. St.Mark’s Square, the beating heart of the sestiere, rose on the ancient gardens attended by the nuns of San Zaccaria’s monastery, surrounding the two ancient churches of San Teodoro, the first patron saint of Venice, and San Geminiano. Both were subsequently demolished, and replaced by St.Mark’s Basilica and by the Napoleonic Wing (erected by Napoleon in 1807). The square and the sestiere itself were named after St. Mark, the saint who became the patron of the city – the legend says that in 828 some fishermen purloined the corpse of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria of Egypt and took it to Venice, where it is nowadays preserved in the Basilica consecrated to him. Among the other beauties of the square, in addition to the Bell Tower dominating the whole city, stand out the Dukes’ Palace, formerly seat of the juridical power, the Clock Tower, recently restored, and the Bridge of Sighs, whose name, given by Lord Byron in the 19th century, comes from the suggestion that convicts would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before their imprisonment.
The city of Venice is fish-shaped, and the sestiere of Castello is its tail. It is named after the castle built by the Doge (Duke) Pietro Tribuno in order to fortify the city and to defend it from attacks from the sea. In 800, while San Marco and Rialto became the commercial and political centres of the city, Castello became the seat of the religious power. According to the legend, the Bishop Magno had eight visions of saints who told him where to build eight churches; among them, St. Peter, who showed him the place where his church had to be erected. The other churches were those of San Francesco della Vigna, San Giovanni in Bragora, San Giorgio dei Greci, San Zaccaria, Santa Maria Formosa and the one consecrated to St. John and St. Paul. Castello also hosts the ancient Arsenal dockyards, the largest in the world for many centuries. Built in XII Century, they represented Venice’s merchant and military power and its influence over Europe’s political destiny. Nowadays it is a military zone and one of the few restricted access areas of the city; it also includes the famous Naval Historical Museum. Castello, with its packed buildings, the narrow calli (streets) and the little workshops, can be considered the most “traditionally Venetian” part of the city.