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Dogana di Mare

Venice may be built on more than 100 islands and millions of wooden pilings, but its real foundation has always been international trade and tourism. For centuries, the Serene Republic of Venice was the meeting place of East and West, with ships ferrying goods between Europe and ports from the Holy Land to the Far East.

Arriving cargo ships were inspected by customs officials at the Punta della Dogana, or Customs Point. This wedge of land is at the entrance to the Grand Canal, across the water and a few hundred yards to the west of St. Mark's Square. It offers one of Venice's most beautiful views--from an ancient mariner's perspective, no less.

Dogani di Mare Venice

ABOVE: The Dogana di Mare is located at the tip of Dorsoduro, where the Grand Canal reaches its greatest width (231 feet or 70 meters) as it merges with St. Mark's Basin.

photoThe original 14th-Century customs tower was replaced by a handsome colonnaded building named the Dogana di Mare, or Sea Customs Post, in the late 1600s. The current building's tower is crowned by two Atlases (identical twins, presumably) holding up a bronze globe. Atop the globe, another statue--Fortuna, or "Fortune"--acts as a weathervane by holding a garment, or perhaps a ship's rudder, to the wind.

In his Italian Hours essay on Venice, Henry James describes the Dogana di Mare:

"The charming architectural promontory of the Dogana stretches out the most graceful of arms, balancing in its hand the gilded globe on which revolves the delightful satirical figure of a little weathercock of a woman. This Fortune, this Navigation, or whatever she is called--she surely needs no name--catches the wind in the bit of drapery of which she has divested her rotary bronze loveliness. On the other side of the canal twinkles and glitters the long row of the happy palaces which are mainly expensive hotels. There is a little of everything everywhere, in the bright Venetian air, but to these houses belongs especially the appearance of sitting, across the water, at the receipt of custom, of watching in their hypocritical loveliness for the stranger and victim."

Reaching the Dogana di Mare

  • From the Piazzale Roma or the railway station, take the No. 1 vaporetto to the Salute stop and walk along the promenade.

  • From the Piazza San Marco, take the No. 1 vaporetto to Salute or--better yet--ride the inexpensive traghetto or gondola ferry from the nearby Campo del Traghetto to the Dorsoduro side of the canal. When you step off the traghetto, walk inland to the first corner, turn left, and continue two short blocks to the Salute church. (Another option is to walk from the Piazza San Marco to the Accademia Bridge, cross the bridge, then bear left and keep walking until you reach the Dogana di Mare at the tip of Dorsoduro.)

 

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