The so-called Snail Staircase must rank as one of the best hidden sights to track down in Venice, lost in a maze of narrow streets not far from the Rialto bridge. In a hidden courtyard, a stone’s throw from Campo Manin, in the San Marco district, the Contarini del Bovolo staircase emerges in all its extraordinary beauty. This is the most imposing spiral staircase in Venice, 28 meters high, from whose belvedere you can admire the domes of the Basilica di San Marco and of the Basilica della Salute, and a breathtaking view of the roofs and bell towers of the entire city.
This architectural jewel is part of the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, a late-Gothic palace built between the 14th and 15th centuries as the residence of the Contarini family. At the end of the 15th century the Contarinis decided to embellish their palazzo with an external spiral staircase, a project by a local architect, Giovanni Candi. The Snail Staircase acquired so much popularity that eventually the word “bovolo” – which means “snail” in Venetian – became part of the last name of the family, which in the end would be known as Contarini dal Bovolo (the Contarinis of the Snail). In the courtyard, there is a small garden with arks and wells from the church of San Paternian (demolished in the nineteenth century when the campo where it stood was transformed and named after the patriot Daniele Manin), including a beautiful Venetian-Byzantine well from the 11th century.
The loggia on the second floor of the Scala del Bovolo leads to the Sala del Tintoretto, a prestigious room in Palazzo Contarini where you can admire the collection of Venetian art from the 16th to the 18th century belonging to the IRE public institution, current owner of the building and administrator of all the shelter institutions spread throughout the city.