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Santa Marta

Santa Marta

This is a strange part of Venice. It’s in the port area, and there are cars over there and even a parking lot right next to this deconsecrated church. I’ve learned that this southwestern tip of Venice has always been unique.

At one time, the Arzere (Embankment) of Santa Marta was connected to the mainland by a peninsula made of silt washed into the lagoon by the River Brenta. This natural bridge was called the Ponte dei Lovi (Bridge of Wolves) because it was overgrown and inhabited by wolves! The Venetians destroyed the Ponte dei Lovi in 1509 during the War of Cambrai to prevent a land attack on the city.

The church of Santa Marta was founded, along with a convent and hospice, in 1315 to house Benedictines nuns from the lagoon island of San Lorenzo in Ammiana (an island that’s now completely underwater). The convent was expanded and the church rebuilt in 1468, and that’s the church we see today. It's dedicated to St. Martha, sister of Mary and Lazarus.

In the 16th century, the convent was taken over by Augustinian nuns. As far as nuns go, the Santa Marta sisters seem to have lived a quiet life compared to those in other Venetian convents, though “Virgins of Venice” does share the news that in 1594, the Santa Marta nuns got in trouble for staying up all night playing cards with the young girls (not nuns) who were boarding at the convent until they were ready to marry.

Santa Marta

This area was famous for a festa held every summer on Santa Marta’s feast day (June 29) This Dorsoduro neighborhood, from San Nicolo dei Mendicoli to Santa Marta, was working class for the most part, and home to many fisherman. Evidently the Festa di Santa Marta was so much fun (and the fish so delicious) that the Venetian aristocrats would attend the festa too, arriving in boats decorated with twinkling lanterns.

Some think the church created the festa to commemorate the banquet for Christ at St. Martha’s home. But others claim that it began with the local fisherman roasting fresh-caught sole on the beach and when people began coming, the church got involved. Either way, it was a popular celebration that began with a service in the church and then moved outside, a fish fry on the beach with music and dancing. Canaletto was inspired to paint it, one of the few night scenes he ever did; you can see the painting here – La Vigilia di Santa Marta.

I was so excited to read on Sig. Nonloso’s Venezia Blog that the Festa di Santa Marta was revived in the summer of 2012!

Santa Marta

The Santa Marta religious complex was suppressed in 1805. The church building was used by the army to store animal fodder and later became a railway warehouse. The campanile (visible in the Canaletto painting) was demolished in 1910. For much of the 20th century, the church just sat there empty and neglected as the port grew around it, modern housing was built, and the university took over the nearby former cotton mill.

But just recently, the church was transformed into Spazioporto (spaceport), a conference center meeting space that opened in 2007 after a one million, eight hundred Euro restoration funded in part by Venice’s Port Authority.

Click on “foto” on the Spazioporto website to see photos of the interior. It’s pretty cool looking – a shiny modern wooden amphitheater thing but you can still see the church’s old brick walls and wooden ceiling. This space has been used as a venue for the Biennale among other things.

Santa Marta

As you can see, the exterior of the church has been stripped of most all decoration. It’s interesting to look at it and try to figure out what used to be there. It’s also an odd mix of modern and ancient brickwork.

Over the main door, there was a bas relief of Santa Marta protecting some nuns under her cloak, similar to the image of the Madonna della Misericordia which can be found in so many places in Venice.

This relief was relocated to the church of Angelo Raffaele, and I happened to photograph it without knowing what it was at the time (I love it when things like that happen!). Other sculpture from Santa Marta was taken to the church of Sant’Eufemia on Guidecca.

Angelo Raffaele

Continued below...

Santa Marta as seen from the vaporetto. The "beach" area has changed alot since Canaletto painted it.

Venice2010 393

Cypress trees and a parking lot next to this church~

Santa Marta

To visit this church, get off at the Santa Marta vaporetto stop. But don't do what I did, which is immediately get lost in the maze of modern housing in this neighborhood. Fortunately I saw the church on the other side of this wall and had to do a long back-track to get there. It's not that far from the vaporetto stop, I just went the wrong way.

Santa Marta

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Comments (9)

Great post Annie! I read Sig. Nonloso's blog as well about the festa being revived. I also have a keen interest in going to the Monday farmer's market there.

The brickwork patch jobs are so interesting. I wonder what it looked like when Canaletto painted it?

Great post Annie. I've never seen that relief of Santa Marta a la Madonna della Misericordia. Thanks for showing it.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, it is strange think of cars being in Venice. I love the Santa Marta relief and I really enjoyed learning about Santa Marta's history like the Festival.

Thanks so much for writing and sharing. Have a wonderful weekend.


Great post, Annie. But can you confirm its status as one of the churches in Venice that you can walk around while touching the walls of the church and not getting your feet wet?


Isn't the Canaletto dark? I think he had a surplus of black paint he need to use up! As usual, a fascinting post.

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Susie, I want to check out that market next time I'm in Venice too!

Daniel, I thought it was another MdM when I photographed it but learned from Lorenzetti that it was Martha. :)

Kathy, the cars were too weird - I wasn't expecting them to be there!

Bert, I think Santa Marta is one of the "walk around" churches but I didn't actually test it out. I remember discussing this on Venice Daily Photo - there are 3 of them, right?

Andrew, love the black paint theory! I'd like to see that painting in person.

Funny - this is an area of Venice that I've never had a desire to explore. Perhaps I'll cross the new bridge and have a wander when we're there . . .

Hi Annie: It's nice to come back to your blog and read once again about another new area of Venice - for me anyway. I hope you are well. There's a comfort in clicking in and seeing your informative posts! M


What a fascinating history (I love the thought of nuns sitting up all night playing cards!!!)

The Bridge of Wolves sounds so exotic, especially for Venice; it's so hard to imagine a time when wolves (on four legs, that is) prowled the area.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 6, 2012 1:43 PM.

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