Tucked into a little dead-end that you might otherwise pass right by is one of my favorite hidden wonders in La Serenissima. The spiral staircase of Venice is officially known as La Scala Contarini del Bovolo.
In Venetian “bovolo” means snail shell, which is usually known as a “chiocchiola” in Italian. The pretty stairs do indeed give the impression of a twisting shell curving up the side of an old palazzo.
The staircase is unique to Venice, and one of the few examples of architecture in the city during a transitional period between the popular gothic style and Renaissance sensibilities. The palazzo and its stunning staircase were built around 1499.
You can find the spiral steps near Campo Manin, which is only about a 6-7 minute walk from San Marco. Considering how close the landmark is to the beating heart of Venice, it is incredible how quiet the little palazzo can be.
The palace and the staircase opened to the public in 2016. While you can admire the stairs for free from outside, the small admission price (€7) is worth it to be able to climb the Scala Contarini del Bovolo. There are 133 stairs in total, which snake up four floors and open on to a gorgeous terrace. This small belvedere has wonderful views of Venice.
From the terrace, you can see the bell tower on St. Mark’s Square and the domes of the Basilica. Look to the left and you can see the Basilica of San Giovanni e Paolo, and might even catch a glimpse of the Venetian Alps on a clear day. To the right, you may recognize the top of Santa Maria della Salute or the gold gable of La Fenice.
The tower is 85 feet tall (26 meters) but it might appear to soar higher than that when you look up from below. This is because of an architectural trick that takes place on the adjacent loggias. The Renaissance arches decrease in size on each floor, so that the arches on the top floor are half the size as those on the ground floor. This creates the illusion that they are farther away.
The price of admission to the famous Venetian stairs also includes a visit to the palazzo. One of the floors have been transformed into intimate art exhibition spaces and Contarini del Bovolo has a limited but impressive collection.
The room is known as the Sala di Tintoretto because – yes – there is a Tintoretto here! The single work does not have the same impact as visiting the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, but it is a wonderful surprise and a break as you climb the stairs.
Looking for more views of Venice? I highly recommend booking a spot to visit the rooftop of Fondaco dei Tedeschi near the Rialto Bridge.
Note: There is no elevator to the top of the Scala Contarini del Bovolo. Most of the 133 stairs are widely spaced as they curve up. However, the last flight to the belvedere is quite narrow and steep. I wouldn’t recommend it for people with mobility issues.
Scala Contarini del Bovolo
Corte Contarina, 4303,
30124 Venice, Italy (San Marco)