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The districts of Venice are called sestieri (singular: sestiere) and there are six of them. It’s kind of goofy that some guidebooks and websites report that Venice has seven or more districts since the word sestiere means “sixths.” It would be like claiming that the USA has 54 states because you think that Texas and Alaska are too big!

Venice is so small that I think of the sestieri more as neighborhoods than districts. There are three on each side of the Grand Canal, and three of the six were named for churches.

Castello: named for a castle that used to be in this area
San Marco: named for the patron saint of Venice and his church
Cannaregio: named for the bamboo (canna) that used to grow in this area before it was developed
San Polo: named for the 9th century church dedicated to St. Paul
Santa Croce: named for an ancient church that was demolished in the 19th century
Dorsoduro: means “hard bone” – the land in this part of Venice was higher and more solid than others.

Each sestiere is divided into parishes, and each parish has a church. At one point, Venice was divided into 70 parishes (contrade) but after the fall of the Republic, the church organizational plan was revamped and today there are 30 parish churches. Getting to know the locations of churches (and learning to recognize their bell towers) is a great navigational tool – it won’t prevent you from getting lost but it will help you recover more quickly.

The island of San Giorgio Maggiore is part of sestiere San Marco while Guidecca is part of Dorsoduro. The cemetery island of San Michele is part of Cannaregio. Murano was also part of Cannaregio until 1271 when it was granted separate community status (which the other lagoon islands have too).

There's an article by Shannon on the Slow Travel site that describes each sestiere – it’s a great resource for people trying to decide where to stay. I don’t think there’s really any undesirable area in Venice, although I don’t think I’d like to stay too close to the train station nor would I want to stay in the San Marco/Rialto corridor in high season. Too hectic. So far I’ve stayed in four of the six sestieri – I haven’t stayed in Cannaregio or Dorsoduro yet. I don't have a favorite but I really love Santa Croce and campo San Giacomo dall' Orio.

This column is all that’s left of the demolished church of Santa Croce; it’s embedded in a wall close to the Papadopoli Gardens.

Santa Croce
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Comments (6)

Great and informative post! I didn't know that Giudecca was part of Dorsoduro, for instance. I quite enjoyed staying in Dorsoduro.

Chiocciola, thanks! I want to stay in Dorsoduro sometime soon. That's where Kathy (Trekcapri) stayed for two weeks when she was there a couple of years ago and she had a great time. Even though Venice isn't that big, I usually end up hanging out in the campos that are closest to where I'm staying so I haven't really spent much time in places like Campo Santa Margherita in Dorsoduro.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, I found this post really interesting and informative. That's a really cool apartment that you stayed in and I like the area too so I don't blame you for liking it so much. I also didn't know that the Giudecca was part of Dorsoduro. That's very interesting.

I would like to try and stay in a different part of Venice next time, but then I really enjoyed listening to the bells of the Maria della Salute church every day too.

That's interesting that I also tend to spend more time in the campos near my apartment. Maybe why I hung out in Santa Margherita a lot. I really miss it!

Thanks for this great post Annie!

Very interesting, Annie. I really liked Santa Croce area too when we visited. However, I don't really know Venice well enough to make any decisions about it yet, it was a quick three day visit, that I hope to extend next time get there.

So when are you launching your own guided tours of Venice? Then we can all stay in Dorsoduro!

Kathy, I think that after spending all day long roaming Venice, I want to rest my feet "close to home" at night, so that's why I end up hanging out in wine bars and restaurants close by. I miss it too!

Candi, I hope that you can stay longer next time. My first trip to Venice was only three days too, and my second one was two weeks!

Chiocciola, maybe that Fall 2010 ST GTG will happen? I think it would be so much fun. And I'll launch my "guided/lost" tour (I hope no one will expect not to get lost in Venice)!

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