Scala Contarini del Bovolo, Venice

Handsome spiral staircase tower which is a hidden treasure of Venice

It may seem slightly odd for a staircase to be a tourist attraction, but in Venice all things are possible. This external spiral staircase is an attractive architectural curiosity which merits a visit. After years of restoration it is open to the public, and offers unusual and attractive views over Venice as well as of the building’s own architecture.

‘Scala Contarini’ simply means staircase of the Contarini family, while ‘bovolo’ is a Venetian word for snail and describes the spiral form. With Venetian carelessness over names, it’s also called the Scala del Bovolo, Palazzo Contarini.

The staircase and the loggia which adjoins it on the right were designed around 1499 by Giovanni Candi, who employed a mixture of Renaissance, Gothic and Byzantine styles to create a novel and pretty extension to the Gothic palace behind. External staircases rising from courtyards were a feature of the medieval city, and you can still see other examples around Venice. But none were this flamboyant. Rising from a small square, it comes as a surprise after the narrow approaches – try leading a friend here unaware and appreciate their reaction.

The staircase is in the San Marco district and its address is San Marco 4299, which of course is no help in finding the location. Its courtyard is called Corte dei Risi or Corte del Bovolo. The best way to get there is to find Campo Manin, south-west of the Rialto, where you’ll find a small sign to the staircase.

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Scala Contarini del Bovolo