20 August, 2006

87. A Corner view

Stand on the Rialto Bridge and look down the Grand Canal towards San Marco and this is what you see. You have to admit that it’s a pretty sweet vista.

The Fondamenta on the right is the Riva del Vin, which stretches out of the picture and under the bridge we're standing on and right round the bend to the San Polo markets. This was the quay that received and unloaded most of the shipments of wine that came into Venice, because round here were the main wine merchants – and quite a few bars and osterie as well. Now these hostelries are mostly tourist hotels and the quayside is no longer a commercial wharf, it is a parking lot for gondolas and the Riva is where the gondoliers pitch their rides to the passers by, of which there is now an almost endless supply.

In the hazy distance down the left side of the canal is a succession of palaces whose names read like a 'Who was who' in Venice over the centuries, although in this stretch of the Canal one name more than any other repeatedly pushes itself to the front. For instance, the large white façade above and to the left of the gondola is the Palazzo Corner Loredan. The grey one next to it on its far side is the Palazzo Dandolo Farsetti (don't forget you can click on the picture to enlarge it). Both of these have Byzantine facades of the 12th or 13th centuries. The next low red façade is the Palazzo Corner Martinengo which is from the 16th century, as is the pink one beyond it which is the Palazzo Corner Valmarana. The massive palace next to that is the Palazzo Grimani, followed by the …don't tell me, let me guess… another Palazzo Corner? You got it. This time it is the 15th century Palazzo Corner Contarini Cavalli. And so on.

Can you appreciate the extraordinary power the Corner family must have wielded in Venice? And what you see here isn't the half of it. The main Corner palace isn't even in this picture, it's down around the bend and is bigger and grander even than the Palazzo Grimani shown here.

But then the Corners were 'old money', tracing themselves back to the first Roman refugees who fled from the barbarians on the mainland, even though they didn't provide the state with the first of its three Corner Doges until the 17th century. By comparison, the Grimanis (only two Doges) were aristocratic latecomers, nouveaux riches who made their money from canny commodity deals.

Venice may have been the most powerful city state in the world for quite some time, but in terms of its ruling clique, it was always a very small town.

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