When most people think of Venice, they imagine its beautiful palazzos with their intricate stonework in the windows. Over the centuries, Gothic architecture has become one of the symbols of the city.
What makes Venetian Gothic so unique?
First of all, its exotic flavor, which many inaccurately describe as “Moorish”.
Together with the pointed arch, the most distinctive feature of the Gothic style all over Europe, Venetians made frequent use of the ogee arch and the three-foiled arch, both directly inspired by Islamic architecture.
Secondly, its intricate design. The curved lines of the arches are multiplied and intertwined to create patterns that look almost like lace. This was possible because Venetian architecture has always been extremely light: the facade has no structural function, thus leaving free space for decoration.
The most famous example of Gothic architecture in Venice is definitely the Doge’s Palace, but many noble families of the city built their residences in the same style between the 14th and 15th centuries.
Take an architecture tour with the Best Venice Guides to discover our favorite Gothic palazzos, including the most famous examples along the Grand Canal as well as some hidden gems.
This is a small building along a narrow canal in the Santa Croce district which features a unique decoration. Above the pointed arches on its 14th century façade, we find the symbols of the four Evangelists: the Angel for Matthew, the Lion for Mark, the Eagle for John, and the Bull for Luke.
Built around 1350, what makes this palazzo special is its early use of the quatrefoil motif: two rows of them above its six three-foiled windows. The motif of the quatrefoil would be used also in the Doge’s Palace, and would become extremely popular in the later Gothic period.
Did you notice that the long facade of this palazzo is slightly curved?
This is because when it was built (between the 14th and 15th centuries) there was still a canal flowing along that side of Campo San Polo, and it was covered only in 1761!
This palazzo features two lovely corner windows on the sides of the facade overlooking the Rio de l’Osmarin. This type of decoration was copied in the windows of the more famous Ca’ d’Oro.
Built between 1421 and 1443 by the rich merchant Marino Contarini, the facade of this palazzo is completely covered with precious marbles and other stones that used to be painted in red, blue and especially gold, which explains its name, literally translated as “House of Gold”.
Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei
In the 1920s, this huge 15th century mansion became the home and studio of Mariano Fortuny, a Spanish artist famous for his gorgeous fabrics. The palazzo, now a museum, has become a fascinating setting for exhibitions of modern and contemporary art.
Palazzo Pisani Moretta
Built around 1450, its perfectly symmetrical facade overlooking the Grand Canal displays a rich combination of patterns on the two “piani nobili”.
In 1452, the doge Francesco Foscari purchased this property, which was once owned by the Giustinian family, and rebuilt the palazzo in Gothic style. We can still see the Foscari crest, held by angels, above the long series of windows of the main “piano nobile”.
Ca’ Foscari has been the headquarters of the University of Venice since its establishment in 1868.
Palazzetto Contarin Fasan
Built around 1475, this is probably the smallest of the facades along the Grand Canal, but it is also definitely the most elegantly decorated. It is so beautiful that according to tradition this was the house of Desdemona, the young and lovely wife of Othello in Shakespeare’s tragedy.
Palazzo Soranzo Van Axel
Between 1473 and 1479, the nobleman Nicolò Soranzo purchased and renovated an ancient property of the Gradenigo family. Many elements belonging to the older Byzantine palazzo are still visible in the two inner courtyards, where we can also admire the staircases leading to the upper floors.