There are more than 250 churches in Venice, which make up a historic and artistic heritage of inestimable value.
Scattered along the alleys, the canals and the squares of the historic centre, the Venice churches where designed and decorated by the greatest artists and architects of the time: visiting those places means getting lost amid monumental façades, statues, mosaics, and even elegant tombs and burial monuments.
There are splendid religious buildings in each of Venice’s districts, and we’ve chosen the 5 (+1) that we consider to be the best churches in Venice, the not-to-be-missed ones!
Located in the vast Square of Saint Mark (“San Marco” in Italian), this world-famous basilica is the largest and most important religious building in all of Venice. Built between the 9th and the 11th and finished during the 13th century, it is an example of the finest Byzantine and Venetian architecture.
Known as “the Church of gold”, the Basilica of Saint Mark has long been a symbol of the prosperity of Venice. Its façade is a gothic masterpiece, a rich complex of columns, riches and cupolas. Inside, it is impossible not to admire the splendid gilded mosaics, a true treasure of the Venetian goldsmiths’ craft.
The Basilica of Saint Mark houses many works of art of inestimable value, and it is rich in details to be discovered, better if through a guided tour that will reveal all the hidden secrets. This church is definitely one of the most iconic landmarks of the city and an absolute prerequisite during your visit to Venice.
The majestic Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, simply called “I Frari” by the locals, is an outstanding example of Venetian-Gothic architecture. It was built in the early decades of 1200 by the Franciscan Friars, but it was enlarged over the centuries as the number of faithful increased enormously. The current building is the final version of the 16th century.
Due to the influence of Franciscan Friars on the social life of the city the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari boasts a great historical and artistic importance, and it is considered one of the most prestigious religious buildings in Venice.
The interior of the church houses incredible works of art, such as “The Assumption of the Virgin” by Titian, or the “Triptych of the Madonna and Saints” by Giovanni Bellini, placed in the chapel of the sacristy and considered one of the masterpieces of Venetian painting. Another valuable work of art is the wooden statue of San Giovanni Battista by Donatello.
The Basilica still plays a key role in the cultural life of the city, due to the rich schedule of concerts of classical and symphonic music organized every year on site.
The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute (“Saint Mary of Health”), commonly known as “La Salute”, is one of the largest churches of Venice and, inexplicably, one of the lesser-known among tourists. It stands prominently on a narrow strip of land, overlooking the Grand Canal.
In 1630, the Venetian Senate promised to build the church in honor of the Virgin Mary of Health, if Venice had been spared from the terrible wave of pestilence that was raging with its greatest violence at the time, killing roughly one third of the city’s population (approximately 80,000 people). After the plague has subsided, the Senate kept its promise and the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute was built.
Even today, on November 21 of each year, a major procession is held to give thanks for the end of the plague. The huge doors of the basilica are opened, and Venetians walk across the Grand Canal on a specially constructed pontoon bridge.
The design of this impressive church is based on the Saint Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican City. Seen from outside, its octagonal structure entirely made of marble, on the edge of the sea, creates one of the best landscapes in Venice. Further, in its interior, you will be able to admire masterpieces by the greatest Renaissance painters, such as Titian and Tintoretto, as well as a Baroque high altar of rare beauty.
Located on the Giudecca Island, the Santissimo Redentore (“The Holy Redeemer”) is one of the most famous and revered churches in Venice. Commissioned by the great architect Andrea Palladio, this religious building is considered an architectural masterpiece of Renaissance.
Just like the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute (n°3 on this list), also the Santissimo Redentore was built on the initiative of the Senate to honor a vow made by the Venetian senate, during the terrible plague of 1575-77, to dedicate a grand church to Christ the Redeemer. The church is, in fact, the centre of one of the most popular festivals in the city: the Feast of the Redeemer, held on the third Sunday in July to commemorate Venice deliverance from the pestilence.
Among the greatest art works kept in the Basilica stand out the valuable paintings by artists such as Tintoretto and Jacopo Palma il Giovane, but especially the beautiful altarpiece with the Baptism of Christ by Paolo Veronese.
The church was purposely sited on the Giudecca Island, very close to the shore, because it would become part of the Venice skyline seen from the historic centre. If you are having a tour of the Saint Mark district and you get close to the dock, you’ll definitely see its silhouette on the horizon: its brightly white marble façade stand elegant on the edge of the sea, surmounted by a large dome between small towers, topped with a statue of Christ the Redeemer.
This basilica, commonly known in Venetian as San Zanipòlo (from the contractions of the names of the two saints, Giovanni and Paolo), is the most majestic example of Venetian-Gothic architecture, along with the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (n°2 on this list).
Built by the Dominicans from 1246 to 1430, the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo has always been of great importance to the city Venice, so that from the middle of 15th century it became the burial place of Doges and Nobles. Entering the basilica you’ll be able to admire several monumental tombs of the illustrious Venetian personalities (with life-size statues), as well as other remarkable works of art. Due to the presence of such funeral monuments, the San Giovanni e Paolo is considered “the Pantheon of the history of Venice”.
Among the anecdotes about the Basilica of Santi Giovanni e Paolo worth a mention the one of the commander Marcantonio Bragadin, glorious hero of the Venetian army, whose tomb remind us the harsh story of his death: he was defeated defending Cyprus by the Turks, then tortured and flayed alive… In the 1596 his skin, tanned and stuffed, was transported to the basilica and placed in a box of lead in the back of the urn.
Located in the picturesque Cannareggio district, the Church of Madonna dell'Orto ("Our Lady of the Garden") is a hidden gem of Venice that, unfortunately, most tourists never see.
The story about its origin is actually quite interesting: the church was built in the mid-14th century by the now-defunct religious order the "Humiliati", who preached a return to the origins of the Christian poverty. However, the building rised in an area of merchants and traders, very devoted and dedicated to donations, so in a short time, the friars accumulated wealth and power. Also, originally the church was dedicated to Saint Christopher, patron saint of travellers, but one day the monks decided to bring in the building an allegedly miraculous statue of Holy Virgin (particularly loved by Venetians) and placed it in the nearby orchard ("orto" in Italian). Since then, the Church took its current name and the only thing left of Saint Christopher is a statue at the entrance.
Although it is much less-known than other churches, the Madonna dell'Orto contains several interesting attractions for all lovers of art. Among those, stand out the paintings "Adoration of the golden calf" and "The Last Judgement", both by Tintoretto (who lived nearby and here is buried).