The campo in Venice has always been the centre of communal life: the place where you can meet people, where children play, the site of a market, with its church and the belltower and today, the bars and the restaurants. The campo is the equivalent of an Italian piazza, however in Venice there has always been one piazza: Piazza San Marco! Let us start with the origins of the name campo.
Venice started to pave public soil around 1500 and the precious map by Jacopo de Barbari dating back to 1500 confirms that. So the campo was initially a field of dirt and grass.
The urban structure of Venice is very peculiar, fragmented into more than a hundred little islands, with buildings clustered together: the need for public space was critical. Every island therefore was developed so as to include its own campo, and every campo was to present a similar structure, mirroring and ideal and functional formula.
Campo Sant’Angelo, in the heart of San Marco district, has an old history.
Until early 1500 it comprised a church and its belltower built diagonally with the façade overlooking the canal and the nearby Monastery of St. Stephen. The campo was framed by the 14th C palaces Pisani, Gritti-Morosini and Duodo, homes to wealthy merchants.
According to the tradition, an early church dedicated to the Archangel Michael had been built in 1096 thanks to the generosity of the Morosini family. The church was destroyed by fires and rebuilt several times. The vicissitudes of the belltower are interesting! It survived the earthquake in 1347 but a century later it started to lean. Aristotele Fioravanti from Bologna, who had gained his reputation for skilfully devising a way to move a tower in his home town, was entrusted the task to stabilize the structure. The “towers-mover”, as he was known, did all he could, however the following day the belltower collapsed, smashing the roof of the nearby Monastery and killing two monks caught in their sleep. The accident didn’t discredit Fioravanti who was summoned by Cosimo de Medici to Florence, to Mantua by the Gonzagas, to Rome and finally to Moscow, where Ivan III entrusted him the reconstruction of the Dormition Church… and possibly had him involved in planning the Cremlin. Fioravanti in fact was to be denied permission to go back to his home country ever, and little is known about his death on Russian soil in 1486!
The 18th C view by Canaletto enables us to imagine the campo as it looked in colours! The point of view is different from that of the De Barbari map and there are some dicrepancies. The church and its belltower were in fact reconstructed in 1630. Left lies Palazzo Duodo, which since 1801 had been converted into an hotel and it’s were the composer Cimarosa died, and to the right we can distinguish the façade of Palazzo Gritti Morosini and the adjacent Palazzo Pisani, rebuilt in 1600.
We can also see the shops as well as the Scoletta dei sòti. This small oratory dedicated to the Vergin Mary was to be granted by the Morosini family in 1329 to the use of poor crippled (sòti in Venetian dialect means lame) and the blind. The scoleta, renovated in the 16th C, took care of its unlucky members, providing also for their daughters’ dowries.
The two 15th C wells appear still unaltered. To be precise, those were cisterns and formed part of an efficient system devised to collect rain water. The shortage of aquifers in Venice resulted in the construction of underground cisterns filled in with sand. Rain water passed inside the cisterns through apertures on the ground and got filtered as it seeped through the sand en route to the central shaft where it was stored. Wells were common features in every campo, as water was distributed by the chiefs of the community until 1884, when the new acqueduct was eventually built to serve the whole city.
But what about the church? The church was demolished together with its belltower in 1837. Titian’s last masterpiece, the Pietà, intended for the Frari Church, was moved to this church instead, and finally transferred to the Accademia.
So, this is basically all that is left of the church: a plaque on the floor!
In recent years, Campo Sant’Angelo has been the venue of performances, events and for a while it even hosted our open-air cinema in the summer. It is a crucial connection between Accademia, San Marco and Rialto and just a few steps away there lies our beloved Fenice Theatre, the amazing Museum of Palazzo Fortuny and the quaint Scala del Bovolo. The view of St. Stephen leaning tower, besides, cannot be missed! So much to know…!!!