TRAVEL

Giants, Spirits and the Holy Grail? Unravel the Mysteries and Legends of Venice

Unlock some of Venice's most mysterious legends. (Photo: Getty Images)

Gondoliers who can walk on water. Monster masks that can ward off the devil. Haunted palaces, meandering ghosts and magic stones. Venice is a city built on legends, lore and mysteries.

Every calle leads to a new mystery, and through every sottoportego is a new legend to explore. Below are some of the most intriguing tales.

Witches Wake-Up Call

In the labyrinthine streets near the Accademia Gallery is the quiet Calle della Toletta, where a so-called “witch’s clock” keeps the neighborhood ticking. Hanging off exterior piping (look for a yellow house) is an old-school alarm clock.

Legend says that a witch once lived here and dabbled in the business of black magic. She used the alarm to remind her customers their payments were due. When she died, the local residents hung an alarm clock on the building in jest.

Years later, it was removed, and the neighbors began to talk of strange happenings, odd sounds and random accidents. The clock was returned to its position, and the events stopped. Years later the clock was removed, and the neighbors again claimed unexplained events, so the clock was placed back permanently.

Death in Venice

Walk by the columns of San Marco and San Todaro — but not between them. (Photo: Getty Images)

The Council of Ten — a feared governing body — ruled the city from 1310 to 1797 with eyes everywhere thanks to its hundreds of anonymous informants who shared residents’ secrets and lies, condemning many to prison and death.

According to gossip, the narrow Calle della Morte was the Council of Ten’s “death alley,” an advantageous location where condemned people would be tricked into visiting only to be killed on site. Most likely, the street is named after a dead body found in that location.

What is fact is that the secretive Council of Ten were very forthcoming with public executions and designated the small area between the columns of San Marco and San Todaro at Piazza San Marco as a site for city-sanctioned deaths, and to this day, Venetians do not walk between the columns. Take a stroll here from the nearby Hotel Danieli, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice.

The Giant of Corte Bressana

Listen for the bells. (Photo: Alamy)

Venice is a chameleon of a city, changing its personality drastically from daytime charm to nighttime fright. According to Castello neighbors, if you find yourself meandering the streets surrounding the Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo after midnight, you may meet a giant looking to buy his bones back.

Who’s the giant? According to legend, he’s one of the last bell ringers of St. Mark’s Bell Tower, clocking in at nearly seven feet tall. The Bell Ringer’s height made him such a local celebrity that the director of a scientific institute offered him a small fee to leave his skeleton to science upon death. The giant bell ringer agreed to the offer, rationalizing that he would outlive the institute director and the deal would be forgotten.

To the contrary, the bell ringer died shortly thereafter, and his skeleton went on display at the Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia. Castello residents say that every night, just before midnight, the skeleton walks out of the museum to Piazza San Marco, where he climbs to the top of the bell tower, rings the bells and then walks the streets toward his home on Corte Bressana (Castello) begging for money to buy back his skeleton.

The Holy Grail

Pretty much everyone agrees that the most coveted artifact for would-be Indiana Joneses is the Holy Grail, aka the chalice that Jesus Christ drank from at the Last Supper.

According to legend, after Joseph of Arimathea collected Jesus’s blood in the cup, the Grail was removed from sight for centuries and eventually secreted away to Glastonbury by the Knights Templar.

Here’s where the Venetians have a bit of a deviation. At some point before the Grail’s journey to the British Isles, it was hidden in none other than the throne of the Apostle Peter (a marble seat), forcibly removed from Constantinople during the Crusades and brought to Venice with the rest of the plunder. Where’s the chair today? Inside the Basilica of San Pietro in Castello.

House of the Spirits

Are you a believer in dark magic? (Photo: Alamy)

A quick 6-minute vaporetto ride from The Gritti Palace, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Venice, at the edge of the Fondamenta Nuova in Cannaregio sits a beautiful 16th-century palace overlooking the water. For centuries, the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo, better known as the Casin degli Spiriti (house of the spirits), has been notoriously recognized as a hub of dark magic; a preferred location for cults, orgies, pirates and smugglers; and as a gathering place for the restless spirits of Venice.

One ghost in particular can’t seem to leave — that of Pietro Luzzo, a painter who shot himself in the palace grounds, despairing of unrequited love. The day after he died, his tormented ghost appeared at one of the palace’s windows, prompting the owner to cover it with bricks.

Luzzo appeared at another window and then another, until the owner walled in all of the palace’s windows. Supposedly, Luzzo continues to haunt the palace, returning on dark evenings, screaming throughout the palace.

This article first appeared in Marriott Traveler, April 2019.

7 Rome Exhibitions You Don’t Want To Miss

This article was first published in Forbes Travel, December 2017.

he Canvas That Is Rome. Credit: patrizio1948

From monumental to peculiar, and ancient to contemporary, Rome has it all for art aficionados. And thankfully, there’s no better time than right now to traverse the Eternal City and catch up with these not-to-be-missed exhibitions.

History comes alive
If there is one thing ancient Rome was known for, it was making a colossal impression. And no emperor did it better than Trajan, whose two decades in the city expanded the empire beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Archaeological site Mercati di Traiano (Trajan’s markets) showcases the emperor’s imperial advances — from infrastructure and economic services to architectural and urban development — in “Trajan: Building the Empire, Creating Europe,” on display through September 9.

Peruse Picasso
Bring yourself back to the modern age by visiting “Picasso: Tra Cubismo e Classicismo 1915-1925” at the Scuderie del QuirinaleThe exhibit explores the fantastic mind of the artistic genius in a display of 100 works that visually catalog his 1917 Italian travels with playwright Jean Cocteau as they searched for inspiration by following Sergei Diaghilev’s touring ballet company throughout the country.

Drawings, watercolors, sketches and stage costumes on display through January 21 honor the centenary of their auspicious journey.

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Revel in the Renaissance
Through February 11, the beautiful and historic Palazzo Barberini plays host to “Arcimboldo,” an exhibition of 20 works by 16th-century Lombard painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi. His paintings are an exploration of creative portraiture using objects such as flowers, fruit and animals.  Accompanying Arcimboldi’s amazing efforts are 100 pieces by his contemporaries.

Meanwhile, across town, Galleria Borghese is celebrating its beloved Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini with 60 treasures that join the galleria’s already substantial collection of Bernini sculptures in a spectacular feature exhibition, on display through February 4. 

Check out contemporary culture
While Rome may be the world’s best open-air museum of ancient monuments and Baroque palaces, it is also a tiny hub of contemporary art. “Home Beirut. Sounding the Neighbors” is the third part of the internationally acclaimed Maxxi Museum’s series Interactions across the MediterraneanThe installment focuses on the contemporary art scene in Beirut, Lebanon, through four variants of the concept of “home” seen through the eyes of 36 artists, musicians, publishers, designers and filmmakers, on display through May 20. 

And for a different take on a museum experience, the tiny Chiostro del Bramante asks you to “Enjoy” art in an interactive exhibit of installations, optical illusions, paintings, sculptures and videos all meant to be played with. This amusing display is available through February 25.

Fornasetti At Palazzo Altemps. Credit: Palazzo Altemps

The best of both visual worlds
For a fun-and-fabulous mix of modern design, ancient art and Renaissance beauty, catch Fornasetti a Palazzo Altemps. Through May 6, be spellbound by art and design pieces from whimsical Italian artist/interior decorator Piero Fornasetti that intermingle with the Palazzo Altemps’ incredible collection of Greek and Roman sculpture displayed in the palace’s resplendently decorated Renaissance rooms.  

Let's get empty . . . me + you and #emptylagallerianazionale

I was raised to be a museum geek.  When I was child, my mom would take us to the Philadelphia Museum of Art almost every Saturday afternoon and said it was our playground-  Sol Le Witt's On A Blue Ceiling was our sky, Cy Twombly's Fifty Days at Iliam our playfround, and Peter Paul Ruben's Prometheus Bound our babysitter.  She'd let me cut school for a morning at the Barnes (original location), and my parents would rev us up with weekends in Washington DC, (my sisters and me fighting over what order to visit all of the Smithsonians) and New York (name a museum, we were there).  If anything, we wanted to live in museums like Claudia Kincaid, so my latest obsession makes sense:

Mornings in a museum all to myself.   Or better yet, organized visits to La Galleria Nazionale with you during hours that are normally closed to the public.   You read correctly:  closed galleria, all yours, but you have to let us know--  aka the next evolution of all these Emptys in Rome and Milan Darius and I have been hosting.  All you have to do is send a message via Instagram direct message to @LaGalleriaNazionale.

#EMPTYLAGALLERIANAZIONALE

12 December 2016

9am

Wanna see what La Galleria Nazionale looks like empty?

 #EMPTYLAGALLERIANAZIONALE

For past  Empty projects I have hosted...