This is the blog of Steve Burkett of Italy, Our Italy

Transforming the Punta della Dogana


Today’s transformation and short (maybe a wee bit long…OK, longish) history lesson concerns a point of land in Venice with the beautiful church of Santa Maria della Salute and the Punta della Dogna. I hope you will stick with it, because this little point of land will give you a good sense of Venice – both its religious and economic side.

A point of land like this is what one friend calls, ‘a stick-out place’.  You can see why it’s called a ‘point’ in this photo.

There are two main attractions of historical interest on this point, the Dogana (the brown triangle building at the point) and the church of Santa Maria della Salute (just above). Both sit in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice. What’s a ‘sestiere’ you say? I’ll save that for another article…maybe next time.  


The Punta della Dogana 

This was the customs stop for all ships coming in to Venice. ‘Punta della Dogana’ is literally translated as ‘Customs Point’. The arriving cargo ships were inspected by customs officials and taxes were levied on their goods. I seem to remember that the very precious commodity of salt was stored in the warehouses of the Dogana.

The tower at the very tip was built in the latter part of the 1600s, and it includes a particularly charming embellishment on the very tippy top – see the little golden sphere in the photo?

Here is a better view of that sphere with folks who look like they're at their health club.

This tower is crowned by twin Atlases holding up a bronze globe…laborious and backbreaking work which they have endured for over four centuries. Standing atop the globe is another statue, this one of Fortuna, or "Fortune", which acts as a weathervane as she holds out either a ship’s rudder or a piece of her garments (you decide) to the wind.

Are you a fan of Henry James? Let’s let him describe her in his more lyrical way, from his Italian Hours essay on Venice:

The charming architectural promontory of the Dogana stretches out the most graceful of arms, balancing in its hand the gilded globe on which revolves the delightful satirical figure of a little weathercock of a woman. This Fortune, this Navigation, or whatever she is called—she surely needs no name—catches the wind in the bit of drapery of which she has divested her rotary bronze loveliness.

How about those poetic ‘little weathercock of a woman’ and ‘her rotary bronze loveliness’ phrases? If I were single, I’m sure those phrases would be part of my pickup-line repertoire.

Santa Maria della Salute

This beautiful church is the jewel of this stick-out place. This church is iconic of Venice. You just don’t go to Venice without seeing it, and once seen, it is indelibly etched into your mind.

Here is a view captured in one of my digital paintings.

Digital 'painting' of the church of Santa Maria della Salute

The church's name is usually just shortened to ‘The Salute’. The word ‘salute’ translates to ‘health’, and there is a special reason for their use of that name, which will be revealed shortly.

At the top of the dome stands a statue of the Virgin Mary, who presides over the church which was erected in her honor. The façade is decorated with figures of St George, St Theodore, the Evangelists, the Prophets, and for some reason which escapes me, Judith with the head of Holofernes. We know of course that in ancient fiction her decapitation skills saved Israel from the Assyrians, but I’m not sure how she wound up on The Salute.

And what a setting for The Salute! You can see in the photo below from Google, that the Punta della Dogana and The Salute sit at the center in the photo – see the shadow of The Salute extending into the Grand Canal? The Salute sits between the Grand Canal (which is the one curving around from about the 11 o’clock position) and the Giudecca Canal (the much wider one entering from the 8 o’clock position). These two canals flow into the body of water to the right which is the Bacino San Marco, or Saint Marks Basin. [All of the dotted lines and white wording indicate the various water bus routes]

If you’ve been to Venice, you will notice something very strange in this photo. Know what it is?

There is absolutely no bridge connecting the Punta della Dogana and the area of Piazza San Marco at the top (1 o’clock position). It just does not exist…except for one day each year. So, this photo must have been taken on November 21st. Why? Read on.

Beginning in the summer of 1630, a wave of the plague assaulted Venice that killed 46,000 in Venice proper, and about 94,000 throughout the lagoon. The city and church tried everything they could think of to be rid of the plague. They repeatedly displayed the sacrament, offered prayers, and held processions to a couple of churches that they thought would take care of the issue. But all efforts failed to stem the epidemic.

So, this was the plague epidemic of 1630, but there had been a previous epidemic in 1575. What seemed to turn the trick then was an architectural response. That response was to hire the famous architect Palladio to design a ‘Savior church’, or the Church of the Redentore that you can see to the right. Voila, no more plague. Since this seemed to work a half-century earlier, they built another for the current plague.

But this new church was not to be dedicated to a mere "plague" or patron saint, but to the Virgin Mary Herself. Did it work? They say that the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, and the proof here is that the plague was lifted.

In celebration of the successful ending of the plague, it was also decided that the Senate would visit the church each year on November 21st, the day of the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, known as the Festa della Madonna della Salute. So, even today the city's officials parade from San Marco to the Salute for a service in gratitude for deliverance from the plague. This involves crossing the Grand Canal on a specially constructed pontoon bridge. And they’ve been doing this for almost 400 years, folks! Now that’s dedication.

As a side note, the same sort of plague-ending-celebratory-pontoon-bridge procession is still held the 3rd Sunday in July. This procession is to the afore mentioned Redentore church and it requires a much longer bridge. You can see the Church of the Redentore at about the 6:30 o’clock position on the aerial photo – it’s the white church at the edge of the photo. Through the magic of camera lenses, here is a photo from Wikipedia of the procession, using an extremely wide-angle lens that puts the Redentore on the left and Dorsoduro on the right (in reality the bridge is straight). This procession has been held for about 450 years.


Photo Transformation

For all of you who hated history in school, but loved photography, here is the transformation one of my photos of the Punta della Dogana.

Here is my original, blah snapshot, taken from the area known as The Molo, just across the Grand Canal.

My original, unaltered and yucky snapshot

Yuck! The sun is close to setting to the right and this creates a strong back-lit situation. The color is abysmal. There’s a construction crane, a bunch of non-lovely boats, etc. This isn’t the Venice that I want you to remember and dream about. As always, my goal is to provide you with a fine-art memento of a Venice of yesterday.

My first inclination was to just pass this appalling thing by. However, I thought I saw some potential here.

My first mission was to remove the construction crane. Then there were other modern antennae and such poking up here and there that had to go. The boats, out of here.

Now what? As there is virtually no color interest in the photo, let’s convert it to black and white.

I’ve mentioned capturing images in RAW, rather than JPEG before. Here is a good example of that benefit. Notice how the Dogana and Salute are bathed in darkness? Also, notice how there is no apparent detail to be found in the photo – no doors, windows, columns, etc.? If I had saved the image in a JPEG format, this is all that I would have with which to work. However, as I save all my images in the RAW format, I am able to pull all sorts of detail out of those shadows. Want to know more about RAW vs JPEG, go back and read my JPEG vs RAW article from last November.

I settled on revealing just a hint of detail, as it is obviously a silhouetted situation.  I could have revealed a lot more, as you can see here in this enlargement.

Yes, that's the very same image file, and it is a good illustration of the power of capturing images in RAW.

Finally, let’s put a charming gondola crossing the Grand Canal! I found one in my many photos from Venice.

So, here is the final photo which shows the Punta della Dogana on the left, with its twin Atlases and Fortuna embellishment, as well as the church of Santa Maria della Salute.

Here is another photo of Punta della Dogana from the Venice Romance section of my website.


Famous Paintings of Punta della Dogana

Since this sight and site has been around for over 4 Centuries, many have been captivated by it. Here are a few views from famous artists. 

These are all famous artists, but of course I have to make my own painted version of this image. Here it is.


I hope you enjoyed learning just a bit about the wonderful city of Venice. Someday, by chance we may meet there; and we can stare at this lovely Punta della Dogana together.


Ciao for now,