Venice's Most Missed Neighborhood: Where to Go in Cannaregio

Posted Mar 19th 2013 11:15 AM

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Venice's most missed neighborhood Cannaregio

Sandwiched between the upper portion of Venice's Grand Canal and the northern quays overlooking the lagoon, Cannaregio is the city's most northerly sestiere and an area left largely unspoiled by visitors.

Wander through its streets, some just wide enough for one person, and you'll notice pieces of everyday Venetian life. Street markets overflow with crates of produce – thick fennel bulbs, vibrant green asparagus stalks and leaves of radicchio. The smell of pungent seafood – small octopus, sardines and crabs – wafts through the air. Venetian oarsmen practice along the lagoon and the district's quieter canals. Locals take in the sun as they sip a spritz, a fizzy cocktail made with Aperol or Campari, while lines of wash hang out the windows of homes with softly crumbling facades.

Cannaregio is a place to immerse yourself in the city's less aristocratic history. There are the Oratorio dei Crociferi, which was founded as a hospital for those returning from the Crusades, and the Madonna dell'Orto, a Gothic church dedicated to a statue of the Virgin Mary that was found nearby. Tintoretto painted two masterpieces in the church.

A site with a less kindly history is the Jewish Ghetto. In 1516, the Venetian leaders ordered that the city's Jews be confined to an islet in Cannaregio. The area, named after a nearby foundry, or geto in Venetian, was the first ghetto and subsequently gave its name to other such enclaves around the world. Beyond where they could live, other restrictions were placed on Venetian Jews as well, including what fields they could work in, when they could leave the ghetto and what they had to wear when they did.

In 1797, when Napoleon's troops arrived in Venice the gates were opened and the Jews were allowed to live in other parts of the city. Today, Venice has a small Jewish population with few living in the area still called the Jewish Ghetto, but the neighborhood retains its ethnic character. There is a Jewish baker, a kosher restaurant, Hanukkah lamps and synagogues still holding religious ceremonies.

Whether you want to take in the city's lesser-known history, a snack and a spritz with the locals or simply glimpse everyday modern Venice, meandering through Cannaregio is a must. Here are five spots worth searching out.

Torrefazione Marchi
This tiny café and coffee shop (top right) houses Venice's only coffee roaster. Tucked between a butcher and pizzeria on the busy Terra San Leonardo, the two-stool coffee bar is easily missed, which is why you'll find yourself sipping one of their aromatic specialty blends while elbow-to-elbow with locals who have popped into Torrefazione Marchi for a quick thimble of coffee or espresso.

Paolo Olbi
Shops teeming with Murano glass and carnival masks are omnipresent in Venice, but the city is also known for the handmade marbled paper that is often wrapped around photo albums, journals and trinket boxes. Off of Campo Maria Nova square, next to a gift shop selling Murano glass, you'll find Paolo Olbi's eponymous shop (center right). The shop is tended by Olbi or perhaps a kind, older woman who looks like your stereotypical nonna and just happens to be Olbi's sister. Olbi began his career as a bookbinder in the '60s and now handcrafts stunning journals and photo albums of pressed paper and smooth Italian leather. The designs feature classic Italian motifs like the Venetian lion.
>> Campo S. Maria; +39 041 528 5025

Jewish Ghetto
Few tourists make it past the gargoyle-decorated Pont delle Guglie bridge, which spans the Cannaregio Canal right where it flows into the Grand Canal. If you hook a right just before crossing the bridge and walk down Fondamenti Cannaregio, you can then take a right turn into the Jewish Ghetto (bottom right). Walk the neighborhood on your own, pick up a map and itinerary of notable sites at the Jewish Community of Venice Info Point or join a guided tour of the quarter's synagogues from Museo Ebraico, the small Jewish museum.

Cantina Azienda Agricola
In this small bar just a block off Terra San Leonardo, locals perch their cicchetti - Italian-style tapas - on the narrow wood counter along the back wall and chat about the latest football match, politics and neighborhood gossip. Behind the glass-enclosed counter, you'll find crusty bread opped with gorgonzola, paper-thin prosciutto, polpette (meatballs made of pork), fried rounds of pumpkin stuffed with cheese and a variety of fried fish. Wash it all down with a spritz of the house wine.
>> Rio Tera Farsetti

Al Timon
Venetians are fond of the giro d'ombra, a pub crawl from one cicchetti spot to the next. So make your way to Fondamenti degli Ormesini, along Ormesini Canal. Along the canal, you'll find several local spots, like Al Timon, serving up cicchetti (crostini with every imaginable topping are quite popular), wine and lively conversation.
>> Fondamenta degli Ormesini; +39 041 524 6066

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