The sestiere of San Polo and Santa Croce, bordered by the upper sweep of the Grand Canal, was named after churches which stood within its boundaries. The first inhabitants are said to have settled on the cluster of small islands called Rivus Altus (high bank), or Rialto.
When markets were first established here in the 11th century, this quarter became the commercial hub of Venice. San Polo is still one of the liveliest parts of the city with its market stalls, small shops and local bars.
The bustle of the market gives way to a maze of narrow alleys opening onto squares. Focal points are the Rialto Bridge, the spacious Campo San Polo, the Frari Church, and the neighboring Scuola di San Rocco.
Santa Croce is, for the most part, an area of very narrow, tightly-packed streets and squares where the more modest, less well-known side of Venetian life is evident, although it does have many grand palazzi, which line the Grand Canal. The center of social life is campo San Giacomo da l’Orio with its ancient church of mixed architectural styles, (Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance) and the late, Gothic Bell Tower. Santa Croce is the most modern area in the city with the car terminal in Piazzale Roma.