If there were an international contest to be the city with the most chaotic street number system in the world, Venice would be the winner by far.
Get a paper or satellite map, but we want to be generous: you can also use a street map. However, be ready to accept the fact that you might still get confused and will not be able to make head or tail of anything.
Like in any other fascinating story, there is never just one culprit or protagonist. Let’s have a closer look at them:
The Venetians I
The Venetians and the magical number 6. The city was divided into six administrative areas (the so called “sestieri”). They believed in this urban layout so much that we find it replicated in the Venetian estates on the island of Crete and of Dogado (the homeland of the Republic of Venice). But why six?
It introduced the use of the street signs, known as “nizioleti” (small bedsheets), to name publicly the places of the city. However the names are not univocal. Venetians found personalistic attitudes repulsive. No rhetoric then, (you will find a Calle dei Morti – Street of the Dead, not the Elysian fields), no heroes or military triumphs, just the real everyday life of the city: trade, handicraft and professions. And because appetite and vocation were no strangers to the city, there are about 27 Calle del Forno – streets of the oven- and around 20 between calli and corti “dei Preti”(streets and courtyards of the Priests).
It introduced a consecutive numeration based on the neighbourhoods (sestieri), which in the case of Castello, the biggest area, reaches 6827 street numbers. This method applied to the complex urban layout of the city turns out to be completely illogical and also exhausting. We can often see a wide numerical gap between two near places. Do not get your hopes up, if you think your number will be the next one.
The Venetians II
Some places are often generally known with a different name from the official one. So it will be completely useless in order to get some information, if you say Campo Francesco Morosini or Ponte S. Giovanni Grisostomo. Old habits? We would not say that. Try asking where the recent Ponte della Costituzione (Bridge of Constitution) is, many people will probably shrug and not answer.
Imagine now your destination is a Calle del Forno. You will be astonished to find out that there are at least 27 streets with that name, as we said before. Then you will have to know the neighbourhood where that calle is; this will narrow it down to 7 or 8 streets with the same name. At this point the street number will be the key factor, but, alas, you might find out that the series of numbers you are diligently following are all of a sudden interrupted. It is not really logical, but it is good fun, isn’t it?
Now play with us: try finding the Ponte dei Zogatoli (the bridge of the toys), the bridge that does not exist.