Santa Maria Formosa is one of the ancient Venice churches and the first one dedicated to the Virgin Mary. Its significance for the Venetians makes it one of the stops worthy of any Venice itinerary. The church links with Festa delle Marie, an exciting Venice tradition, and an opening event of the Venice Carnival.
Getting to the church
Getting to the church with our interactive Venice map is easy. Located in Castello, neighboring San Marco, the location of the church is excellent. Santa Maria Formosa stands on the square of the same name. You can either walk or arrive by vaporetto. The closest stops are S. Marco - San Zaccaria (about 6 min.) or Ospedale (about 10 min.). The church is among the best Venice attractions, including St Mark's Basilica.
History & architecture
Santa Maria Formosa, built in the 7th century, was one of the eight earliest Venice churches. As for the legend, the Virgin Mary appeared to San Magno Bishop of Oderzo. The original building had a Greek cross plan. The church we see today, finished by Mauro Codussi in 1492, has a Latin cross plan. The unique detail about Santa Maria Formosa is that it features two facades. Both are different in style and even age. The Renaissance-style facade, built in 1542, faces the canal. It pays tribute to Vincenzo Cappello, a sea captain known for his outstanding service to Venice. You won't see many decorations on this facade, just simple and elegant lines. But there is a monument of the captain, designed by Domenico di Pietro Grazioli.
The other facade, built in 1604, is of Baroque style and faces the square. There are portraits of the Cappello family and statues of the Virgin Mary and the Four Virtues. The dome of Santa Maria Formosa had its share of troubles. In 1688, the earthquake destroyed it, and in 1916 it suffered from the Austrian bombing. A priest Francesco Zucconi started the design of the current campanile in 1611. It took 77 years to complete. The interior underwent renovation in 1689, financed by the merchant Torrino Tononi.
Inside the church
If you travel to Venice for the art, don't hesitate to look up the church on the Venice map. There are a few major and valuable pieces by most renowned Italian painters. At the entrance, you'll notice the Approval of the Order of the Holy Trinity by Baldassare d'Anna. There's also a small tondo of The Circumcision of Christ by Catena behind the Chorus Desk. But the most famous paintings are in the chapels.
At the Chapel of the Bombardier School, there is a painting of St. Barbara by Palma the Elder. The Chapel of the Conception is home to the Madonna of Misericordia by Bartolomeo Vivarini. The altarpiece of Santa Maria Formosa is a painting by Giovanni Segala. It depicts The Presentation to the Doge of the Brides Kidnapped by Narentine Pirates. It's an important piece historically connected to Festa delle Marie. You can also enjoy the Last Supper by Leandro Bassano. Remember to see Madonna with Child and St. Dominic by Giambattista Tiepolo.
Things to do in the area
Thanks to its incredible location on the Venice map, many sites are nearby Santa Maria Formosa. A few steps from the church is Fondazione Querini Stampalia, one of the most famous Venice museums. Further into Castello, you'll find the Arsenal of Venice. This former naval base is now the epicenter of the Venice Biennale. Santa Maria Formosa is also close to Rialto with its famous bridge and the local market. And, of course, there are plenty of Venice churches to visit. The closest are Santi Giovanni e Paolo, San Zaccaria, and the iconic St Mark's Basilica. Walk a bit further in either direction to see San Moisé or Chiesa della Pietà, known as Vivaldi's church.