Narrow streets, bridges, palaces, churches, memories... Just as good as the artistic and historical glories of Venice: St. Mark's Lion also roars in Chioggia



"A small Venice? If you take a really close look, it's even better than the original...". The peccadillo of the inhabitants' local pride can be easily forgiven, because Chioggia has an undeniable charm: with its canals, bridges, narrow streets, massive churches and elegant eighteenth-century palaces reflecting in the water, Chioggia offers sights that are just as marvellous as the aristocratic queen of the lagoon. But this small city, immortalised by the Goldonian Baruffe, combines these attractions with its own kind of appeal: the warm and cordial atmosphere, the colours of the "bragozzi" or small sailing boats, the characteristic vessels of the fishermen moored in picturesque disarray along the Vena canal with their multi-coloured sails, the dynamic vitality of the people: even if the world should come to an end, the inhabitants of Chioggia, as evening falls and on holiday mornings, would never do without their leisurely stroll up and down corso del Popolo, that for good reasons is commonly called La Piazza. To fall in love with Chioggia, all you have to do is visiting the fish market, that every morning enlivens the area facing the Vena canal behind the ancient Granary with its particular odours, voices and colours. The curious browse amidst the granite stands together with housewives and impeccable waiters who, from the nearby restaurants, barter for sea bass and slabs of tuna for the luncheon menu. The abundance and freshness of the fish are proof of the tireless work of the fishermen who have been challenging the open sea from time immemorial. Last century, 500 barges were plying the waters in Chioggia and today its fleet of fishing boats is still one of Italy's largest. Embraced by the lagoon, and crossed by three parallel canals, Lombardo, Vena and San Domenico, Chioggia is intersected by about seventy narrow streets that are all perpendicular to the main street, giving it a unique herring bone structure. It is separated from the village of Sottomarina by seven hundred metres of lagoon, but above all by what are profoundly different traditions, attitudes, and even facial features and a dialect: the inhabitants of Chioggia are fishermen, used to going up against the dangers of the sea every day and incorrigibly driven to live above their means, heedless of the future. Instead, the inhabitants of Sottomarina, who are tough and thrifty gardeners bound to the land, have combined vegetables farming with tourism over the last few decades, taking advantage of the extensive fine-sand beach. There is such a clear-cut separation that the bridge between the two banks was built only in the twenties: throughout the nineteenth century, the only way to reach the other side was by row boat, a service that was replaced at the beginning of the century by two steam ships. Though the origins of the city are steeped in legend, for which it is said that the city was founded by the Trojan hero Clodio, a companion of Aeneas, the first settlement was probably Etruscan. Already known in Roman times, the port soon became part of the Venetian Republic, and took the brunt of the age-old rivalry between the Venetians and Genoese, becoming the battleground for the bitter conflict known in fact as the war of Chioggia. In 1379 the city was attacked and conquered, despite the strenuous resistance of its inhabitants. Sottomarina was razed to the ground. Placed under siege on the island they occupied, the Genoese surrendered the following year and the city re-obtained its freedom, through it was certainly worn-out by the conflict. In fact, from that point on, events in the official documents were dated ante and post bellum.

The local history is studded with glorious episodes, like the insurrection against the Austrians on April 20, 1800, during Christ's procession of San Domenico. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the inhabitants of Chioggia are so proud of St. Mark's Lion, dominating piazza Vigo from the top of the marble column decorated with the Byzantine capital. Nor that they are so intolerant of the malice of those who consider the lion to be a cat, since it is out of proportion with respect to the size of the support. In fact, the inhabitants of Chioggia recount how those who, in mockery, placed a fish bone at the feet of the "cat", more than once ended up the worse for wear: not many years ago, as told by a restaurant owner with unabashed pride, the car of a group of tricksters from Rovigo ended up in the sea. And then the lion of Chioggia, they point out, is portrayed in an unusual position: with an unsheathed sword in the middle of a book. Piazzetta Vigo is the landing point and the charming welcome site for those arriving at Chioggia by sea: it is from here that the way by land and the other by water begin, that cut the city in half, corso del Popolo and the Vena canal, surmounted by the seventeenth-century Vigo bridge, embellished with Istria marble in 1762. Just slightly farther away, on a small island connected by another bridge, rise the church of San Domenico, rebuilt in 1745 on a thirteenth-century base. This church contains the Cristo dei pescatori which is venerated by the locals: a wooden Crucifix almost five metres high that, according to tradition, was found in the sea. The faith of the people also involves the "tolèle", ex-votos painted on wooden tablets as a sign of gratitude to the saint that was responsible for a narrow escape from a dangerous situation: an ingenuous style is used to describe episodes mainly related to life at sea, shipwrecks and storms, in addition to unhoped-for healing. The church also includes a beautiful San Paolo, the last work by Carpaccio, and a Gesù by Tintoretto. The civic buildings are gathered around piazzetta XX settembre, that intersects the main street at its midpoint. The city centre is marked by the flagpole, supported by three stone caryatids since 1713. According to tradition, they are called Andrea, Filipeto and Giacometo and talk to each other. The neo-classical city hall was built by the Austrians to replace the original structure destroyed by fire. The interior contain a tablet by Jacobello del Fiore, depicting Felice and Fortunato, the patrons Saints of the city, in addition to drawings by Rosalba Carriera, a painter from Chioggia. The statues of the balustrade, that today surround the "Sagraeto" next to the cathedral, along the Perottolo canal, are the only remnants of the old Town-hall. This charming corner is known as Refugium peccatorum, since this is where the condemned could stop and say their last prayers in front of the statue of the Virgin. The medieval loggia of the Proclamations, rebuilt in the nineteenth century, from which the heralds read ordinances and laws to the citizens, since most of them were illiterate, is located in front of the city hall. Today, it is the site of the city police department and, in June, hosts the Palio of Marciliana, a re-enactment in costume of the war of Chioggia. The Granary, that dates back to 1322, was built to hold grain reserves in case of famine and war: originally, it rested on 64 column (walled in at the beginning of the century), through which it was possible to catch a glimpse of the water from Vena canal. An aedicula on the façade depicts a papier-mâché Madonna with Child by Sansovino. Another statue of the Virgin, inside a beautiful gothic aedicula, decorates the façade of the old Monte di Pietà. The majestic cathedral was rebuilt in the middle of the seventeenth century by Baldassarre Longhena, the architect who also created St. Mary of Health in Venice. The previous church, consecrated in 1110 with the transfer of the bishopric from Malamocco, was destroyed by fire on Christmas night in 1623. some of the most beautiful works includes the inlaid high altar, the pulpit decorated with bas-reliefs and the baptistery and, of course, numerous canvases by artists such as Palma the Young and Cima da Conegliano. The 64-metre tall fourteenth-century bell tower rises isolated next to the church.

The small gothic church of St. Martin, dating back to 1392, contains two beautiful polyptyches, one of which by Paolo Veneziano, currently being restored by the Fine Arts Service of Venice. St. James'basilica, completely rebuilt in the eighteenth century based on a project that continued for no less than 46 years, displays the highly venerated icon of the Madonna of the Navicella. This work refers to the apparition before a poor gardener in 1508 of the Virgin Mary with the body of Christ wounded by the sins of the Chioggia inhabitants. One of the most notable works inside the grandiose church with a single square aisle is the fresco on the ceiling that covers an area of no less than 223 square metres. The adjacent church of the Trinity, built in 1705 by Andrea Tirali, who also created the pavement of St. Mark's Square in Venice, is more secluded. The presbytery, closed by only four columns, offers a glimpse of the Oratory, that was the site of the Guild of the Battuti, a confraternity also called the Reds, based on the colour of their frock. The ceiling is richly decorated with scenes from the Old and New Testament, studded in gilded cornices and inspired by the Redemption. The courtyard offers a unique contrast in styles between two side-by-side bell towers: the Romanesque Trinity and the seventeenth-century St. James, tall and surmounted by an angel with wings spread. St. Andrew's church was rebuilt in 1734, with the addition of a Baroque façade. Evidence of the Romanesque origins includes the bell tower with a square layout, perhaps dating back to 1110, that was also used as a military look-out tower.


Lungomare Adriatico - Sottomarina di Chioggia (Venezia) - Italy tel/fax  +39 041 5540300