Often, as we are mesmerised by the view from Ponte di Rialto or captured by the beauty of San Marco, we forget a lot of ticket-free, interesting places, which are truly worth a visit. These places are hidden gems of which people should talk more. Two of them are the churches of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli and of San Pantalon. Both are in the sestiere of Dorsoduro, very close to each other.
We are at San Nicolò dei Mendicoli, one of the most ancient churches in Venice after San Giacometto di Rialto. It was probably founded in the VII century by a group of people fleeing from Padova due to the Barbarian assaults. The neighbourhood was inhabited by the Nicolotti, mostly fishermen, one of two the main factions in Venice along with their rivals, the Castellani.
The church we see today is the product of many restoration programs and constant remodelings through the centuries. The lateral windows and dark walls, ranging from golden shades to wooden ones, create an atmosphere gloomy enough to take you back in the Dark Ages. For one 1€-coin it is possible to activate, for a few minutes, the lights on the ceiling and admire the fresco depicting some episodes of the life of San Nicola.
At a 5 minute walk from there, style and historical period change as we enter the Chiesa di San Pantalon, famous for the immense artwork on its ceiling. This baroque church does in fact host the largest canvas in the world, as it is composed of 40 minor ones. We are talking about the Martirio di San Pantalon, by Gian Antonio Fiumani, who dedicated 24 years of his life to the realisation of this work (legend says the artist died falling from the scaffolding he was working on, just as he was about to finally finish it!). Look up and you will get bewitched.
Two alternative stops you simply cannot miss. Be careful to check opening hours!