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The Impossible Circumambulation*

Thursday, November 3, 2016 Permalink 0

*The circumambulation is a magic ritual, which consists in walking around on a surface, around a building, an object, a person in order to enclose the thing you are walking around in a sacred-magic circle. This will take away evil influences and those who revolve around these objects will receive the beneficial effects they wish.


The uniqueness of Venice is a difficult topic to deal with without falling into clichés. The water, the bridges, the narrow streets, the sudden opening of perspectives on the campi (squares) or the lagoon. Everything contributes to disturbing the senses of those who are stranger to “her”. There are as many unique moments as moments of disorientation, which visitors inevitably perceive as soon as they dive into such an unusual, unfamiliar landscape.


But today we want to focus on a smaller uniqueness, so to speak. Maybe you have never thought about this before (but Inside Venice has done it for you): Do you know what it is nearly impossible to do in Venice? Walking all around a church.


In Venice, the religious monumentality does not possess special privileges; it does not need immense perspective spaces and rarely manages to carve out its own urban space. And we are not just talking about the proximity with similar annex buildings such as convents, parish halls, and rectories.  It is impossible to walk around the St. Mark’s Basilica, as it is strongly embraced by the concerned and inseparable Doge’s Palace, which was once the highest centre of secular power in the city. It is impossible to admire the facade of the beautiful Gothic church of SS. Giovanni and Paolo without noticing that the Scuola Grande di San Marco leans on it, and that even residential buildings stand carelessly along one of its aisles; or if you get close to the Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, you can’t ignore the bulky State Archives bound to its outer walls. In Venice there are churches, which are almost swallowed up by residential and commercial buildings. The church of San Salvador and many others had to finally succumb to the deadly embrace of civil construction buildings, like for example the church of Saint Sophia or St. Giovanni Elemosinario, both without a facade(by the way do you feel like looking for them?).


However, there is an exception, the only sacred building, which haughtily avoids any contact with the most prosaic civilian buildings, but will not give you the satisfaction of “circumambulating” it, as a canal goes along its left side: the church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, the first and spectacular example of Renaissance architecture in Venice. Have you perhaps found the “perfect”church, which meets all the criteria required by the rules of architecture? Not exactly. Even Santa Maria dei Miracoli hides its “diversity”, which makes it so Venetian: it is the apse, which dominates the scenic space widely overlooking onto Campo Santa Maria Nuova and not the facade, which is concealed in the dense urban fabric. A church, which has been mischievously turned upside down!





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