Tourist Guide Venice

Santa Maria della Salute

Santa Maria della Salute
Source:        Photographer: Biggi

The ‘Santa Maria della Salute’ church occupies one of the most prominent places in Venice. Directly on the ‘Bacion’ at the beginning of the Grand Canal and opposite Saint Mark’s Square and Doge’s Palace, the church has importantly defined the city’s landscape since the mid 17th Century and can be seen on countless views.

60 years passed between the decision to build the church and the actual inauguration – and as is oft the case in Venice the construction is closely associated with an important period in the city’s history.

The year was 1629 as the Black Death once again struck the lagoon city. This time the plague raged for so long that it took a third of the population with it. Towards the end of 1630 the Doge at that time - Nicolò Contarini didn’t know what else to do to end this plague, than to vow to build the Madonna a new church. The ‘Mother of God’ heard him clearly- in any case the plague finally ended. Now the task was to find a suitable spot for the new church; the decision led to this prominent spot. For a long time the shabby apartment buildings and the old customs building that stood here opposite Venice’s ‘good room’- Saint Mark’s Square had been an eye sore for the Doge. Now the occasion had finally come to demolish it and to replace it with a magnificent building. An architectural competition was quickly announced which the 33 year old Baldassare Longhena was to claim for himself. He was henceforth to devote his entire life to the building but sadly did not live to see its completion. Longhena had already been dead for five years when the Santa Maria della Salute was inaugurated in 1687.

The plans of the young architect were revolutionary and stood out from the way in which things were ordinarily built at this time. In order to make his plans a reality Longhena had to cope with enormous technical problems. There is differing information as to how many wooden piles the Santa Maria della Salute rests on. Sources agree however that it is definitely more than a million oak piles each four metres in length that bear the enormous weight of the church. To avoid making the church heavier than necessary, Longhena had the dome made of a double-walled wooden construction which was then plastered.

As impressive as the building is from the outside, as plain it is on the inside. At first glances the Santa Maria della Salute appears relatively austere in comparison to many other churches – one should be prepared for this on a visit. Here it is intentionally much less focussed on the decoration with colours and pictures rather more on the effect of natural light.

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