San Giorgio dei Greci, Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni and San Zaccaria
San Giorgio dei Greci
Venice’s history is inexorably linked with Constantinople, the ancient capital of the Byzantine Empire in the East, which became modern Istanbul in Turkey. A vast majority of the population was what we’d call Greek nowadays. After the famous 4th crusade in 1204, which was essentially an excuse for Venice to pilfer the most valuable treasures and booty from Constantinople, the Byzantine empire began to crumble and many Greeks emigrated west, especially to the prosperous Venice. And by the early 16th century, there were more than 4,000 orthodox Greeks in the city, who proudly preserved their language, religion and traditions; and so soon enough the Venetian state allowed them to build their own church: San Giorgio dei Greci which you see now. The belltower is quite obviously leaning to one side, and it is said it was built this way.
Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni
Often unnoticed, this is the wonderful Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, literally St. George’s School of the Slaves. This was one of many Nation Schools in the city, which the Venetian State allotted to a community of a specific foreign country that was under its rule. San Giorgio here was given to the Dalmatians, the peoples from the other side of the Adriatic, in modern Balcan territory. Such was the power of Venice, and especially the perception of its power, that it allowed foreign communities to work, live and prosper within it, in the knowledge that it would only increase its own wealth. San Giorgio degli Schiavoni is the only standing Nation School today because most were sadly destroyed or reutilised by Napoleon after 1806. It is most famous for a series of unmissable paintings by Vittore Carpaccio, one of the most brilliant Renaissance painters ever.
The Church of San Zaccaria is one of the oldest in Venice. The first structure dates back to the early 9th century, almost 1200 years ago, although the façade is Renaissance in style with its serene whites and pinks and gentle curves. It is also known as the church of homicides, as several of the earliest Doges were murdered in this very campo.
To the right of the church you’ll see a red-brick building and tower; this was an old convent for nuns, although they had a reputation for being rather unchaste and promiscuous. This was because, in fact, many of them came from the city’s noble families, and entered not so much out of religious calling as to satisfy family interests, given that a great deal of money circulated in convents and it was thought quite strategic to have a family member within the church environment. The convent was infamous for its parties and licentious meetings with young boys, but if you look for the house number 4697, you’ll see a plaque that strictly prohibits “playing games, making noise, dirtying the ground, and committing any improper acts”, to the point that for centuries both entries to the campo were closed in the evening after sunset.
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