Gatti (Cats in Venice) Archives

October 23, 2007

San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo

The church of San Lorenzo is well-known to readers of the excellent mystery series by Donna Leon. Her hero, Commissario Guido Brunetti, often looks at “the eternally-scaffolded façade of San Lorenzo” from his office window and reflects bemused on the never-ending restoration “work” with motionless cranes and no workmen in sight.

“Venice is covered with active work sites….but there are also eternal projects, work zones without workers that persist for decades, producing nothing….The church of San Lorenzo is the most notorious….” (James McGregor, Venice From the Ground Up, 2006)

I haven’t been inside this church but I keep checking by “just in case” and on my last trip, I found a cat sanctuary on the front porch!

San Lorenzo cats with pigeons

Continue reading "San Lorenzo" »

December 13, 2007

Inside a Shrine to the Madonna

So as I said, I walked and walked and walked and took lots of photos along the way. Taking pictures of Venice is challenging; she’s just too photogenic and it’s easy to get carried away. But I did have my primary focus (churches and campanili) along with my other obsessions: cats, street shrines and tabernacles, holiday decorations, Byzantine details, fossils and floors, Madonnas, mosaics, angels, and funky monsters.

Occasionally my interests converged and it was very cool.


I found this tabernacle shrine to the Madonna inside a sotoportego in Dorsoduro. It’s a nice one and I snapped a few photos. But then I walked closer to look inside and what I saw startled me, then made me laugh.

Continue reading "Inside a Shrine to the Madonna" »

January 15, 2008

Fine Dining

I wrote some restaurant reviews for Slow Travel but wanted to share a few stories about some memorable meals.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos from our Slow Trav get-together on the last night of my trip. My memory card had filled up at 4 pm that afternoon (telling me, yes it’s time for you to go home!). That night, I met Cubbies and her husband at La Bitta, and we had such a nice time. They had just arrived in Venice that day, and I was grateful that they were willing to fight their jet lag and meet me for dinner. It was a fun way to end my trip.

I do have photos of some other memorable dining companions, though. One afternoon I was wandering around Dorsoduro when I saw a cat outside a shop, eating tuna off a piece of paper. I get excited every time I see a cat in Venice because they have become so rare. I spoke to him and took a couple of photos, but he pretty much ignored me so I moved on.

Hours later that night, I was having dinner in the back room of Enoteca Osteria San Barnaba and that very same cat walked in! I asked the owner if it was his cat and he said no. He told me that the cat’s name is Mustafa and that he’s just a neighborhood cat who makes the rounds.

Well, Mustafa is a very smart cat because that is an excellent restaurant. It wasn’t long before he made his way to my table and I shared my polpettine with him. Here he is, under the table, waiting for another bite.


And then when we finished dinner, he got in the chair to take a snooze. I was honored to have his company.


BarAngioThis little guy joined me for lunch one afternoon at Bar Angio on the Riva dei Schiavoni. It was one of those glorious winter days when it was sunny and warm enough to eat outside.

He was very well-mannered and didn’t swarm me like those crazy pigeons do; he just hung out and waited patiently for my tramezzini crumbs.

February 11, 2008

Cats In Venice

Cat in Castello

Woo hoo! I created my first Slow Travel photo album which you can see here. It took me a long time to figure it all out, but it’s one of those things that will be much quicker and easier the next time I do it.

So this photo album shows all the cats I met on my December trip. There are quite a few considering that I saw none on my first couple of trips in 2002 and 2003. I went to Venice expecting to see lots of cats, mainly because I’d read Jan Morris (The World of Venice) who described Venice as one of the world’s great cat cities and painted a picture of all these loved and coddled colonies of cats being taken care of by Venetian cat ladies. In 2003, my friend Susan and I were so puzzled by the lack of felines and joked that Venice had “gone to the dogs” because we saw hundreds of astonishingly cute little lap dogs all over town but not a single cat.

Well, it turns out that Morris wrote her book in the early 1960’s right around the time that an organized campaign to get the feral cat population under control began. This work was led by an animal welfare organization called Dingo.

I’m reading a book called “Helena Sanders and the Cats of Venice,” a biography of the British woman who founded Dingo in 1964. I’m going to write more about this later when I finish the book but it’s a fascinating story. In a nutshell, the numbers are rather staggering:

"Twenty years, it took, to reduce the cats of Venice from a miserable and sickly multitude numbering 68,000 or so to a stable and healthy population of around 6,000."

The Helena Sanders bio was published in 1989 and I think that the population has decreased even more since then.

I’m happy to say that all the cats I met in 2007 looked healthy and well fed.

November 12, 2008

The Pesaro Altarpiece in the Frari

celestia catI found this sweet story in E.V. Lucas’ A Wanderer in Venice (published in 1914), and since it combines three of my favorite things (churches, cats, and art), I had to share it on the blog.

In his story, Lucas was sitting in front of Titian’s Pesaro Altarpiece in the church of the Frari (Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari).

As I sat one day looking at this picture, a small grey and white cat sprang on my knee from nowhere and immediately sank into a profound slumber from which I hesitated to wake it. Such ingratiating acts are not common in Venice, where animals are scarce and all dogs must be muzzled.

Whether or not the spirit of Titian had instructed the little creature to keep me there, I cannot say, but the result was that I sat for a quarter of an hour before the altar without a movement, so that every particular of the painting is photographed on my retina.

Six months later the same cat led me to a courtyard opposite the Sacristy door and proudly exhibited three kittens.

Sigh. I haven’t met any cats or kittens during my many visits to the Frari, but I have read that in the former monastery next door (now the Venetian Archives), there’s a much loved colony of cats who keep the mice from nibbling away all the ancient documents of the Republic.

Here's the painting Lucas was looking at when the kitty jumped in his lap.

Continue reading "The Pesaro Altarpiece in the Frari" »

April 2, 2009

The Big Yellow Shrine

Next in my series of big shrines in Castello, this one has a chalet feel to it with its shingled roof and wooden doors. As I was peering inside the window of this shrine, a local resident strolled over to check me out. He/she posed for a photo and then ran over to a nearby house, jumped in the window, and went inside.




Continue reading "The Big Yellow Shrine" »

September 21, 2009

Burano cat colony

When I was strolling around the island of Burano looking for shrines, I found a little corte filled with cats.

These two were not that happy to see me. I barely got this photo before they ran off and disappeared.


The other adults pretty much ignored me and continued with their meditations on life.



This beauty seems to be sticking her tongue out at me.


But then I was approached by this incredibly friendly and talkative orange kitten. He was chattering away, rubbing against my ankles, trying to climb my leg, and just generally demanding attention and petting (which he got). He was like a cross between my two cats back home - LuLu's looks and Maria's chatty personality.

Italian kitten (Burano)

Continue reading "Burano cat colony" »

October 14, 2009

When you get there (Torcello)

When you get to Torcello, the first thing you see is a shrine to Madonna right there at the vaporetto landing. In the distance, you see the campanile of the cathedral. Turn around to see how vast and lonely and beautiful the lagoon looks.

Lagoon view from Torcello

To get to the piazza and the churches, you walk about a third of a mile along the main canal. The modern brick sidewalk you walk on is a bit controversial (more about that later). You don’t have to walk very far before you begin to see cats. Lots of cats! The Torcello cat colonies are what I expected to see when I first went to Venice but didn’t. There are cats in the gardens, cats hanging out with the young girls working at the souvenir kiosk, cats lounging around the piazza, cats on the rooftops of houses, even cats inside the cathedral!




Continue reading "When you get there (Torcello)" »

November 21, 2009

A Magical Encounter


The more I blog about Torcello, the more I think of to say (and I’ve got photos galore) so this may keep going for a while. But I’m going to jump ahead to the best part – what happened in the cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta (my best church visit ever).

The Torcello cathedral celebrated "il millennio” (its thousandth anniversary) last year – it’s the oldest monumental building in the lagoon and is such a gorgeous place with everything I love about Venetian sacred architecture….lots of old glowing marble, a magical Madonna mosaic on the golden apse, multi-coloured mosaic floors, an ancient wooden ceiling, fresco fragments here and there, and Byzantine carvings with peacocks and flowers and twining grape vines.

So I was already blissed out just strolling around the cathedral when I looked over and saw two of the Torcello cats walk in the church, one a lovely long-haired fluffy cat and the other a cute short-haired tabby. They went over and climbed up onto the pews (it was a very cold day and I figure they wanted to get off those cold marble floors).

Continue reading "A Magical Encounter" »

January 26, 2010

The other Torcello cat story

I'm determined to finish my Torcello series sooner rather than here's the second cat story. This one isn't quite as dramatic as the cat who got on my lap in the cathedral, but still, It was such a strangely feline day, especially since after I left Torcello and went to Burano, I ran into another colony of cats that included a little orange kitten who tried to climb my leg.

Anyway, I stopped to pet and photograph all the many cats lounging along the canal leading down to the Piazza where the churches are. Because it was such a gray day and it wasn't raining at the time, I decided to walk around the island for a while before I went into the churches. So I was moseying along and all of a sudden, I glanced over and realized I had a companion. One of the Torcello cats had left his/her compatriots and decided to join me on my walk.


I was happy for the company and we walked together for about 20 minutes or so. Every once in a while, I'd stop and get the camera out, and the cat would stop and pose.


Continue reading "The other Torcello cat story" »

March 2, 2010

Attenti !

When I was wandering around Torcello, I saw this "Beware of the Dog" sign on a house. I heard barking and kept on walking...


Pretty soon I saw the "scary" dog and had to laugh! He was barking loudly but also wagging his stubby little tail. Terrifyingly cute...


Then the next day when I was back in Venice, I was walking around looking for churches and shrines in the sestiere of San Marco, and saw this "Beware of the Cat" sign on the door of a house. This one really made me laugh. Didn't hear any meowing or hissing though, and saw no sign of the fearsome feline...


And then a couple of days later, I saw another "Beware of the Cat" sign on a calendar in a Venetian paper store window. This time the warning was in English! I really wanted to buy this calendar, but the store was closed.


November 10, 2010

I Gatti Piu Belli Del Mondo


The most beautiful cats in the world? I laughed when I saw this poster on the streets of Venice and was bummed that I had to go home and was unable to attend this event, whatever it was. A cat show or a sale, perhaps? The cats on the poster are hilarious.

Everyone agrees that cute little dogs have taken over Venice but the felines aren't completely gone. While it's not that common anymore to see "real" cats on the streets, I did see a bunch of them in shop windows...

venezia cat



These portraits are classic. Love the outfits and the views of Venice through the windows.



January 10, 2011

Looking for church, found cats

Happy 2011 everyone!

As I mentioned on my “hard-to-find” post, it took me a long time to find the entrance to the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti, the church of the Ospedale Civile (public hospital) of Venice. The main door facing the canal is seldom open, so to visit this church, you need to enter from within the hospital complex and let me warn you, it’s a crazy maze in there. Very interesting though…parts of it are old and beautiful, parts of it look (and smell) more like a normal hospital, but there are lots of twists and turns. I had a general idea of where the church was but once I got into this place, I lost all sense of north/south/east/west. And so I wandered around for a long time looking for the church.

I walked in circles for a while, though I didn’t know it at the time, and I kept finding cloisters…at least four different ones. Then I was walking down a more normal looking hospital-type corridor and I passed a cat walking down the hall. A funny sight, for sure, even though I’d heard there was a cat colony living somewhere in the hospital complex but I wasn’t sure if they were still there. Then I passed this big room that looked like the hospital laundry….people were in there folding sheets on big tables with cats lounging around “helping” them. Then I came to this cloister with a huge vera da pozzo and a couple of cats sitting on it.

hospital cats

hospital cat

I'm not sure how many cats live here because a bunch of them ran and hid when I walked out into the cloister. A few of them did pose for photos. They look very well cared for, and it's a nice place for a cat colony with grass and trees and some old stone rubble for them to play on and hide in.

hospital cat

hospital cat

hospital cats

cat shelters

cloister rubble

hospital cat

hospital cat

Continue reading "Looking for church, found cats" »

March 30, 2011

Return to Torcello

I was so happy to return to Torcello for so many reasons, and one of them was that I was eager to see if the cats were still there. When blogging about Torcello last year, I got a comment from someone who had just been there and hadn't seen a single cat, which had me wondering if perhaps Dingo (the rescue organization) had moved the Torcello cats somewhere else.

Well, not only were there plenty of cats....there were three kittens! Someone must have fallen between the cracks of the spay/neuter program. These three babies were adorable. The two tabbies were shy, but the little black-and-white guy let me pick him up and hold him for a while.

Torcello kittens

The Torcello cat houses had big white bows on them....was that to announce the birth of the kittens? More likely, someone who got married in one of the Torcello churches stuck those bows on there. Very festive.


There were plenty of adult cats too....some I recognized from previous visits and a few new faces too. But I didn't see the two cats I met in the cathedral in 2008 or the soulful tabby who took a walk with me. I hope that means that someone adopted those cats and they are now lounging on a sofa somewhere in a loving and comfortable home.

Torcello kitties

A cute little tabby posing with Attila's throne~


The last time I was on Torcello, I kept running into goats. No goats this time but chickens galore, including a flock of them hanging out with the cats in a grassy area next to the fondamenta. Lions and lambs, chickens and cats....Torcello is a peaceful place.


May 3, 2011

Corte 11 Settembre 2001

I stumbled across this corte when I was wandering around Burano. It's very touching that they chose to remember 9/11 this way.

It's a quiet little corte and no one was around except for a cute little tabby cat.

Corte 11 Settembre 2001

Corte 11 Settembre 2001

Corte 11 Settembre 2001

Continue reading "Corte 11 Settembre 2001" »

August 3, 2011

Nini the famous Venetian cat


It's funny to me that a cat who lived in Venice over a hundred years ago is still "alive" and well in stories and art.

I just finished reading a recently-published children's book called "The Famous Nini: The Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star." It's a charming book with nice illustrations; you can watch a trailer on the author's website here.

I first learned about Nini from Jan Morris, who wrote about this "international celebrity" cat in both "The World of Venice" and "A Venetian Bestiary." Nini lived in the late 19th century and belonged to the owner of Caffe dei Frari. He held court in the cafe but was also a roaming neighborhood cat who spent time mousing in the Frari church across the canal and in the nearby Archives of State.

For some reason, Nini became famous, and visitors to Venice stopped by to meet and pay homage to him. He had his own guest book in the cafe, and among the many famous people who signed Nini's book were the composer Giuseppe Verdi, the king and queen of Italy, the czar of Russia, and even Pope Leo XIII. When Nini died of old age in 1894, there was a wake honoring him, with many tributes to "a gentleman, white of fur, affable with great and small."

The cafe is still open today, but evidently Nini's guestbook was sold and is now lost. There is a circa-1932 painting of Nini on the cafe facade which shows the cat reclining with his book and a cup of coffee. Long live Nini!

Caffe dei Frari

Nini the Cat

Continue reading "Nini the famous Venetian cat" »

November 10, 2011

Santa Croce

Santa Croce

Not to be confused with the demolished church that gave its name to the sestiere, Santa Croce; this church with the same name is in Giudecca and is still standing, though it rivals Sant’ Anna for the most crumbling church in Venice.

This church and a Benedictine convent were founded in the 13th century, and the church was rebuilt in 1508-11. After the 19th century suppression, the Santa Croce nuns moved to San Zaccaria, the campanile was demolished, and the religious complex was used as a prison for a while and later as a reform school. Today the church appears to be abandoned, and the former convent is a “casa di lavoro” or half-way house for soon-to-be-free prisoners.

There’s a nice miracle story connected to this place. In 1464, four nuns from this convent died of the plague. One day, a knight visited the convent and asked for a drink of water from their vera da pozzo. He told the nuns to trust God and promised that no more of them would die. They later decided that the mysterious visitor had been San Sebastiano in disguise and that he had blessed the water from their well. No more nuns died during that particular outbreak of the plaque, and 100 years later during the 1576 plague, many people were cured by drinking the miracle-working water from the “pozzo di San Sebastiano” at Santa Croce. I wonder if the vera da pozzo is still there on the grounds of the halfway-house?

The most interesting thing about my visit to this church was how much trouble I had getting there and the cats I found along the way. Getting lost in Venice is a given, but it’s especially funny when you have a map, know where you are and where you’re going, but still can’t figure out how to get there! On the way to this church, I somehow ended up on the other side of a big wall. I could see the church, but it took me a while to figure out how to get to the other side.

Santa Croce

So while wondering around trying to get over the wall, I saw the tell-tale cat condos and soon enough found the resident cats, who were decidedly not happy to see me.



Continue reading "Santa Croce" »

November 25, 2011

PhotoHunt: Handwritten

This week's theme is "Handwritten."

A handwritten sign welcoming us to "the most beautiful bookshop in the world". A charming place called "Libreria Acqua Alta" in Venice.

Acqua Alta bookstore

Acqua Alta bookstore

Many of the books are piled in boats like this one.~

Acqua Alta bookstore

The name "Acqua Alta" (high water) is apropos since the rear entrance faces a canal; the water was coming inside the day I took this photo. The life preserver is a nice touch!

Acqua Alta bookstore

I love this place not only because I love books and bookstores (and especially funky shops like this one) but also because the owner has 5 cats who are often lounging about. I met some of them when they were kittens, but they are all grown-up now.

I guess that many of these books began in handwritten form, before they were published, but I imagine that's changing in this computer age of ours. Does anyone hand write anything anymore? I do but not that often.

bookstore cat

Thanks for visiting and have a happy weekend. You can find more Photo Hunters and join the hunt here.


Continue reading "PhotoHunt: Handwritten" »

March 2, 2012

PhotoHunt: Fluffy

A fun theme that gives us an opportunity to honor the fluffy and furry creatures we share this planet with!

I've said this before, but some of the cutest dogs I've ever seen live in Venice. Both of these guys were hanging out at the entrances to stores; maybe their owners were inside shopping or maybe they are the store owner's dogs. Cute fluff, for sure.

Venetian dog

shop dog in Venice

And even though you don't see as many cats as you do dogs in Venice, the kitties are around. This "Erba per Gatti" (cat grass) was for sale at a Venetian florist shop and shows how much they love their fluffy felines too. I grow this stuff for my own cats sometimes (they love it!).

Erba per Gatti

And speaking of fluffy felines, this Oriental print was hanging on the wall of the B&B where I stayed the last time I went to Venice. It was over the table where I had breakfast each morning, and I loved looking at these cats.

fluffy feline

Thanks for visiting and have a good weekend.

See a list of upcoming Saturday Photo Hunting themes on Gattina's website here.


March 28, 2012

K is for Kitties

Parco Savorgnan

The door above leads into Parco Savorgnan. The last time I was in Venice, I visited this park because I'd heard there were some cats living there.

It's a nice neighborhood park, lots of green even in winter time and pretty yellow leaves that had just fallen. There were some children playing and even a Madonna overlooking the park.

Parco Savorgnan

I walked around for a while and then I found the kitties, three beautiful tabby cats. They looked very healthy and well-cared for. I fed them some cat treats and hung out with them for a while.

Parco Savorgnan

Parco Savorgnan

There were a couple more cats underneath the shrubbery, too shy to come out while I was there. I put some treats out for them and moved away, then one of them popped out.

Parco Savorgnan

I also found the Kitty Condos where they live. There were a few shy cats hanging out inside these houses too. Nice to see a colony of stray cats being taken care of like this.

Parco Savorgnan

Visit the home of ABC Wednesday to find more Round 10 participants!


December 4, 2013

Inside San Lorenzo

I first wrote about the church of San Lorenzo in 2007. At that time, it was deconsecrated and had been closed for decades, and was best known for being the church that Commissario Guido Brunetti can see from his office window in the Donna Leon series of mystery novels set in Venice. San Lorenzo was also known for its cat condos and the small group of homeless cats who lived there.

Then in 2012, we got the news that San Lorenzo was going to re-open as the Biennale venue for Mexico.

Vern, a Hoosier in Venice, visited the church this fall and sent these photos to me. Thanks so much to him for allowing me to share them on my site. It's fascinating to see the church decoration that remains and also the amount of restoration work that's needed (those big holes in the floor!).

The church was divided by this choir screen with a high altar that faced in two directions so that the nuns could attend Mass but not be seen by the public. Most convent churches had nuns' galleries where the nuns could be hidden upstairs, so San Lorenzo's plan is rather unique.



San Lorenzo NorthFrontNave2

San Lorenzo NorthFrontNave1

San Lorenzo LArch

San Lorenzo Cherub

San Lorenzo CenterRoodScreen~

I was happy to see that the cats are still there! Their shelters have been moved from the porch of the church to the bottom of the steps, adjacent to the former convent which is now a retirement home.

San Lorenzo CatShelter

Coming soon, a look inside another deconsecrated church, Sant'Anna. Thanks Vern!

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to Churches in Venice in the Gatti (Cats in Venice) category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

Demolished Churches is the previous category.

Street Shrines is the next category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.


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