Venice isn’t your average city and you can tell by the words locals use to describe it. They’ve inherited unique terms to identify the uniqueness that surrounds them. A street isn’t a via, a square isn’t a piazza, a building isn’t a palazzo and Italian can be a foreign language here. It comes down to geography and linguistic influences that created one-of-a-kind terms to describe a one-of-a-kind city. The faster you absorb the new vocabulary the easier it will be to make sense of the urban landscape and understand Venice.
Calle, calleta: Street, alley or thoroughfare that can vary substantially in length and width.
Campo, campielo: Unevenly shaped square of varying proportions. Campo means field and these spaces were originally grassy meadows where food was grown and animals grazed. Most have been paved over and today provide visual and physical relief from the narrow calle. There’s at least one on each of the 118 islets that make up the city. The biggest are San Polo and Santa Margherita while Grappa (Castello) is the only one still covered in grass.
Fondamenta: Any calle located next to a canale or rio. Fondazione means foundation and these streets helped reinforce the islands and allow for urbanization. They can feature stone or iron railing or none at all and often have stairs for making getting on and off boats easier. Fondamente (plural) are often lined with shops, bars and restaurants.
Ca’: Short for casa (house) and used to indicate important residences. The word is usually followed by a family name indicating the original residents.
Corte: A small dead end courtyard surrounded by residential buildings. They’re generally reached from a sotoportego or calleta and are the center of micro neighborhoods where Venetians once spent their days washing, sewing, preparing meals and socializing.
Pietra d’Istria: Dense impermeable limestone quarried from the Istria peninsula and an essential material in the construction of Venice. Used to build and decorate calle, bridges, canals, churches, homes and palaces.
Rio: Small canal. There are hundreds throughout the city which function both to enhance communication and permit the tides to flow freely and prevent stagnation.
Rio Terra: Any canal that has been filled in and transformed into a street. Terra means earth.
Riva: Wide walkway bordering the Grand or San Marco Canals.
Sestiere: Historic neighborhood or district. There are six in Venice and these are symbolically represented on the six metal strips decorating the prow of every gondola.
Sotoportego: Underpass connecting calle, campi or fondamente. These were usually created by removing the ground floor of houses and often contain small shrines or sacred images of the Virgin Mary and other popular saints.
Vaporetto: Typical ferryboat used for transporting people around the city.
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