Tucked down a Venice side street near the Grand Canal, Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is worth a detour for its Bovolo Staircase (Scala Contarini del Bovolo). Named for the Venetian word for snail, this spiral staircase—the most famous in Venice—is housed in a cylindrical tower with open arches that climbs the facade, offering beautiful views over the city.
The Scala Contarini del Bovolo was commissioned by Pietro Contarini at the end of the 15th century, and built by Giorgio Spavento in perfect synthesis to the original palace’s six floors of loggias designed by Giovanni Candi. A dramatic series of white stone arches spiral more than 90 feet (27 meters) up the imposing brick tower and seem inspired by the coils of a snail shell; at the top of the 80 steps, the belvedere has wonderful views over the Venetian rooftops.
Though it’s the city’s most famous staircase, Bovolo is also somewhat of a hidden treasure, and visits to this architectural gem are often a highlight of off-the-beaten-track city tours. Consider joining a Secret Venice tour to explore the lesser-known corners of the city along with must-see sights such as St. Mark’s Square, the Doge’s Palace, and the Rialto Bridge. You can also pair walking tours with a gondola ride, so you can explore the city both by land and water.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Bovolo Staircase is especially interesting for architecture enthusiasts.
- Be sure to bring your camera to capture the lovely views from the staircase and rooftop scenic overlook.
- Tours of hidden Venice require a bit of walking, so wear comfortable shoes and a sun hat.
- Due to steps and no elevator to reach the belvedere, the Bovolo Staircase is not accessible to wheelchairs or strollers.
How to Get There
The Bovolo Staircase is located at the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo, near Campo Manin in the San Marco district of Venice. Take vaporetto line 1 or 2 to the Rialto stop from the train station. Trains to Venice run from most major cities in Italy, including Rome and Florence.
When to Get There
Bovolo Staircase is wonderful any time of day and year. If you’re a photography buff, visit in the late afternoon (before its 6pm closing time) to capture the city of Venice as the sun sets.
Bovolo on the Silver Screen
The Bovolo Staircase became popular among visitors to Venice after being immortalized on screen in Orson Welles’ 1952 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello.