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Strolling through the corridors under the houses and palaces: THE SOTOPORTEGOS

What is a sotoportego, a campo, an altana ...? Venice has its own vocabulary to distinguish the architectural elements of the city.

Today we discover hidden in the dark: THE SOTOPORTEGOS

Altana Venecia
Sotoportego in the light of the lanterns
The sotoportego is a section of street that passes under a building, what in English is called a passageway or passage. They arose out of the need to go from one place to another through the dense network of houses in Venice

The Venetian State imposed on the owners of the buildings to allow access between the houses and palaces so that pedestrians could pass freely, so that the narrow streets and the sotoportegos were made for public use.

As the owners wanted to lose as little of their private space as possible, they left streets so narrow that sometimes only one person could pass through at a time.

The sotoportego invites you to imagine many mysterious events that will have occurred in the dim light of its lanterns.

The sotoportego is a way of connecting streets, since Venetian buildings were built completely close to each other, with no space for passers-by to walk from one street to another.


In many sotoportego there are often small newsstands, you can also see sacred images dedicated to the saints or the Virgin and even small bas-reliefs, almost always of a sacred nature, made of Istrian stone or white marble.

There are three basic types of sotoportego:

  • the sotopòrtego connecting a street or a patio with another street with a field (square) or with a parallel street to a canal

The sotoportego of San Giminian linking the Piazza San Marco with street Larga Ascensione

This type is the most widespread in the city, since in many cases it involves steps that are absolutely necessary to guarantee access that would otherwise be impossible due to constructions.

  • The sotopòrtego that goes directly to a canal , often goes to a canal bank or to a landing site for boats.

This second type is actually a way of creating spaces covered for the loading / unloading of goods and passengers protected from the weather. This type is also relatively widespread in the city.

  • The sotopòrtego that runs parallel to a canal

Sotoportegoparallel to the Verona canal in the San Marcos neighborhood.

This last type of sotopòrtego is the least widespread, but also the most scenic, mysterious and spectacular.


The legend of the red heart in the sotoportego dei Preti

Legend has it that, one night, Orio, a young fisherman who owned the house where the sotoportego is found, was fishing near Malamocco when he heard a voice calling for help from the sea.

Looking where the voice came from, he realized that it came from a beautiful girl, Melusina. Scared, he immediately thought she was a witch, but she confided that it was a mermaid: reassured by his sweet words, she fell madly in love with him...

Read the full story on Legend of Orio and Melusina

Marco Polo and the Milion sotoportego

This is very old, from the 13th century. The Polo family is supposed to have lived here and surely Marco Polo played in this square.

The plague and the sotoportego di Corte Nova

When before 1630, terrible waves of black plague spread throughout the city, only the residents of Corte Nova were protected, due to a sacred image of the Virgin painted by a resident of the Court remembered by the name of Giovanna.

Alex Alishevskikh / CC BY-SA (

A red marble slab marks the spot on the pavement near the center of the underpass where the legend says the "Plague" could not go to the patio in front of the miraculous painting of the Virgin.

Even to this day, the red stone has a special meaning for Venetians, who do not tread for fear of bad luck.

The café and the sotoportego de le Acque

Acque literally means "waters", because here there was one of those workshops, which we now call cafes or cafeterias, and which were formerly called workshops of the waters .

Sotoportego de le Acque

The spinners and the Sotoportego Filatoio

The sotoportego and the backyard derive their name from the ancient presence of spinning machines with which silk threads and other materials were worked. This activity was grouped in a congregation located in the old church of Santa Ternita in Castello.

There is a marble tile depicting two birds facing each other at the top, and a third bird at the bottom striking a lion.

sotoportego Filatoio
Giovanni.mello / CC BY-SA (

The stoves and sotoportego of the Stua

Stove (Stua) was called this place where the chiropodists took care of the nails, cut the calluses ... and they were always at the stove to have hot water ready. In addition to these medical services, stoves for hot Turkish baths were also used.

But the stueri, not only did these services of chiropodists and baths, but also wanted to heal the sick and made decoctions, anoints, frictions, and even perfumes.

There were many stueri in the city, but the stua of San Giovanni Novo was the best, it was made up of two rooms that communicated with each other, the first for low surgery operations, the second for bathrooms.

Sotoportego de la Stua on the left of the photograph

Sotoportego Casin dei Nobili

From this passage you accessed the famous Casin dei Nobili (of the nobles) in the area of the church of San Barnaba. The Casin dei Nobili, was a gambling house already active in the 18th century.

The casinos were small apartments, or even rooms, where Venetians met, especially at night, for the most varied purposes: dancing, dinners, music, but above all for gambling.

There were casinos of all levels and all social classes spread throughout the city. Some of these casinos, especially in the 18th century, were very refined places, laden with gold and stucco. This casino was quite poor, as its patrons were the poor nobles, who lived there, the so-called Barnabotti.

Sotoportego Falier

The Faliers were a very old Venetian family recorded in the Golden Book of the Venetian nobility. Marino Falier who was a Doge from 1285 to 1355, ordered a conspiracy to become absolute lord of Venice and was therefore convicted and executed.

Marino, despite being in his early seventies, convinced several aristocrats and merchants to join his conspiracy to carry out a coup that would drive the other aristocratic families out of power. However, the extensive system of mutual espionage established by the Republic (from which not even the doge escaped) caused Falier's intrigues to be quickly reported to the Council of Ten, for which said body arrested Faliero, accusing him of treason along with his accomplices on April 15, 1355.

Betrayed by his followers, Falier accepted his guilt before the Council of Ten and was sentenced to death by unanimous vote. On April 17, 1355, after just seven months in office, Falier was beheaded on the steps of the Doge's Palace in Venice and his body mutilated in public as a lesson, while his ten main accomplices were hanged in San Marcos Square.


Sotoportego at ponte ubaldo belli
Sotoportego in puente ubaldo belli. Abxbay / CC BY-SA (
Sotoprotego calle del Angelo en Castello
Sotoportego calle del Angelo in Castello. Abxbay / CC BY-SA (
Sotoportego del Tagliapiera
Sotoportego del Tagliapiera. Alainauzas / CC BY-SA (
Sotoportego Molin en Cannaregio
Sotoportego Molin in Cannaregio. Abxbay / CC BY-SA (
Each sotoportego tells us a story and that is why I invite you to continue looking for sotoportegos in Venice and investigate their origin. You will be surprised. You can send us the story here

Also discover another curious element in Venice: THE ALTANAS

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