Contarini del Bovolo staircase: The spiraling beauty of Venice


Last Updated on November 23, 2023 by Laura Teso

Contarini del Bovolo staircase
Contarini del Bovolo staircase

Part of a palace, the Contarini del Bovolo staircase is a masterpiece. It’s just 5 minutes from St. Mark’s square but it is actually difficult to find. There are no indications, at least not until you reach the adjacent calle (typical Venetian street, KAHL -leh). Without the GPS on the mobile I think I would have never found it! You can find address and map below the post by clicking the Useful Info box. On the outside the staircase is just marvellous! I had never seen anything similar before. Problem is that the narrow court in which it is located does not allow you to admire it form a “proper distance” and fully appreciate it, nor to take a decent photo (not if you have just a simple compact digital camera like me).

A bit of history

The palace was built between XIV and XV century for the Contarini di San Paternian family. At the end of 1400 an architect added the tower with the spiral staircase (maybe Giovanni Candi or Giorgio Spavento – there’s no final evidence). It was once adorned with frescoes. Due to its snail form it was called bovolo, snail in Venetian dialect [BOH -voh -loh and not bohVOHloh. LeviOsa, not LevioSA]. Hence the whole family was nicknamed Contarini del Bovolo. At the end of the dynasty, the palace became a Hotel, called “del Maltese” (the overlooking narrow court is in fact called Maltese). In 1852 it was entailed to the San Luca parish. The palace now belongs to IRE, Institution for recovery and education.

Its noteworthy elements are 3:

  1. The loggia with Renaissance arches of increasingly reduced size (this gives the impression that the building is higher than it is)
  2. The cylindrical tower provided with the famous staircase, synthesis of 3 different styles: Renaissance (capitals), Gothic (construction technique) and Veneto-Byzantine (form).
  3. The Belvedere, located on the top

Did you know that…

    • The cylindrical tower is 26 meters high and has a diameter of 4.70 meters.
    • Here, in 1859 the German astronomer Wilhelm Tempel discovered a comet and a nebula
    • The Palace was one of the locations for Orson Welles’ Othello

Contarini del Bovolo staircase – my visit

I found the admission fee a bit expensive, 5€ (now 6€). There’s not even a rest-room! (First thing I asked. I know I insisit too much on this subject, but it is a big deal when you travel and you’re a lady!). I thought: Ok, the staircase is unique, but I could have admired it from the outside for free. After all it is just a staircase. The palace is not visitable. Anyway, I paid and started the climbing. Below, in the little court, many people were staring at the palace and taking pictures. A man, standing on a corner with pencil and notebook was drawing a sketch of the staircase. It’s always nice to see those artists who pay homage to landmarks and picturesque corners.

The view

After a few turns an exciting view moved me: the campanile of San Marco appeared. Wow! The more I proceeded the more my eyes could see. The view is truly worth it, as they say: rooftops, the bell-tower, the domes of San Marco and the dome of Santa Maria della Salute. On clear days you can even see the Alps (on the left) and the Euganean Hills (on the right) on the background. There was a Carnival shooting going on with a couple of photographers and a lady in a strange Teddy-bear adorned costume. I took some photos and I stopped for a while to fill my eyes and my heart with that view.

As I was going down, I realized that the visit was worth it.

I reached piazza San Marco and I mingled with lots of people in the Carnival atmosphere, taking pictures and feeling free and happy.

If you want to find out another panoramic point in Venice, read my post about San Giorgio island.

San Marco
San Marco

Contarini del Bovolo Staircase
S. Marco, 4299, 30124 Venezia

Tickets 5€

Opening Hours
10 am – 1.30 pm and 2 – 6 pm
last admission 5.30 pm
Closed on Mondays and on August 15, November 1, December 25 and 26 , January 1

Comments are closed.