San Tomà, Goldoni’s House and San Polo
In Campo San Tomà we find the usual Venetian well-head where, until not so long ago, locals would come to collect clean water, which was certainly not easy to find in this marshy environment. The windowless church is steeped in mystery, and very few Venetians know what’s inside since it has been closed for over half a century. Directly opposite is the old Scuola dei Calegheri, of the shoe-makers, one of the richest and most powerful guilds in the city; remember that until recently, footwear would likely have been unbearably uncomfortable by today’s standards. Venetian noblemen then would pay through the nose for good, comfortable shoes. Above the entrance you’ll see a depiction of St Mark, patron of Venice, healing Sant’Anion, a cobbler from Alexandria in Egypt, who while at work pricked himself and was oveheard by Mark crying out “God is one” in annoyance. The saint proceeded to heal and baptise Anian, and in return had his sandals repaired.
You are now outside the house of Carlo Goldoni, the great Venetian playwright who, alongside Casanova, provided the most entertaining and realistic picture of Venetian life in the 18th century. He wrote extensively, and much of his success came from writing in Venetian dialect. He was known for having a great sense of humour and his statue in Campo San Bortolomio near the Rialto Bridge depicts him with a wry smile looking downwards to the distracted people, which is how we might imagine he wrote his plays. However, he was also very careful not to make any explicit jokes which might offend the noble class, since his career depended on their contentment and, importantly, funding. His house has been turned into a Museum dedicated to his life and works which is well worth a visit.
Campo San Polo is the largest Campo in Venice; this is because Piazza San Marco, though definitely bigger, is not a campo, which in Italian means field. Indeed, all the campi you walk through in Venice were once used as vegetable gardens and more often for animal pasture; rewind the clock to the 19th century and you would have seen donkeys, sheep and hen roaming about here. Given its size, in the middle-ages San Polo became a great venue for sporting events, the most famous of all being the bull-chase, where people would chase an agry bull around, not unlike the Spanish corrida; deaths were not uncommon, and in 1611 the State put a stop to this, as can be seen from a plaque on the side of the church condemning public games in the square.
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