Tucked away in a sheltered street is the peculiar Palazzo Contarini. Despite its location near Rialto Bridge and San Marco, it is hidden in a narrow calle that can be hard to spot. It was built in the early 1500s by the Contarini family. The palace itself might seem unremarkable, especially among the opulent palaces of the Grand Canal, but it has a distinctive feature - a spiral staircase that winds up the outside of the building. It was added to the existing building to give character to the facade that fronts a courtyard and takes on a Byzantine tower form.

It is called the Scala del Bovolo; "bovolo" means "snail" in the Venetian dialect. The striking staircase connects the six-stories and the balustraded arcades on each level, mimicking the arches. It was created at the defining moment that Gothic melded into the Renaissance, so it has Gothic elements but with an emphasis on classical features that defined the newly emerging Renaissance period.

The cupola offers breathtaking views of the roofs, towers, and domes of Venice. The staircase has always been well-preserved and has fascinated tourists and dignitaries, including Lord Byron and John Ruskin, for generations. The palace is now maintained by the Institute for Venetian Recovery and Education, which charges a small fee to climb the stairway. The climb is rather strenuous, but is rewarded by some excellent rooftop views. Guided tours are also arranged on request.

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Address in Venice:

Corte Contarini del Bovolo, 4299.

Ph. +39 041 270 2464.

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