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

The Sestiere of Venice

Every once in a while, I’ll tell you more about a particular sestiere, in order of my personal preference for visiting. Today, I give you the sestiere of San Marco.


Last week I told you about the Punta della Dogana, and in that description, I mentioned the 'sestiere' of Venice, and I promised to explain what they are about.

The word 'sestiere means 'district' in English. In Venice, there are 6 such districts, or sestiere. 


Sestiere Overview

Here is a map of the six sestiere.


If you count the colors and names, above, you will actually see seven districts. This is because the Giudecca along the bottom of the map, though technically one of the districts, is not traditionally counted among those of Venice, proper. Nor is the Lido, which would be still lower on the map if it was displayed. And there are many other area of the Venetian lagoon which are not counted in the sestiere, like Murano and Burano.

The 'ferro' of this gondola has representations of the sestiere of Venice. The six rectangular bars protruding to the left represent each sestiere, while the one aimed to the right represents the afore-mentioned Giudecca. The other, fancier protuberances to the left? Unofficial embellishments by the owner.

Each of these districts has its own charms -- some more popular than others, and thus, some are much, much more crowded. But if you want to be where the action is...where the main attractions sit, you may well want to find lodging within these popular sestiere. Here's the thing: many of the tourists who descend on Venice during the day are not actually staying on the Venetian island, and most vanish around 5pm each afternoon to catch a bus back to the mainland.

Every once in a while, I'll tell you more about a particular sestiere, in order of my personal  preference for visiting. Today, I give you the sestiere of San Marco. 

Introduction to San Marco (Saint Mark)

In this photo, I'll put some focus on the sestiere of San Marco. This photo gives you an idea of the true size of Venice. Though San Marco is one of the smallest of the sestiere, you can see in the photo below that there are many, many buildings in its warrens. For you, that means that there is much to explore!

The sestiere of San Marco is chock-a-block full of marvelous sites, restaurants and hotels. First and foremost is the Piazza San Marco (the most obvious area of the photo, above), where you will find, besides the huge piazza itself, the Basilica San Marco and the Doge's Palace. The Museo Correr, within one of the buildings which form the piazza, is an excellent way for you to find out about the ancient town where you now find yourself.

A side note regarding the Piazza San Marco: there is only one 'piazza' within Venice, given the moniker because of its size; the rest of the public open areas are called either a 'campo' or a 'piazzetta'. 

San Marco is also where the beautifully-restored La Fenice opera house is located. Also in San Marco are the large campi of Santo Stefano and Sant'Angelo, which can be seen within the bend of the Grand Canal to the left of the photo.

Shopping San Marco

Shopping? My gosh but there is a lot to buy within the confines of San Marco. From trinkets and hand-fashioned glass, to designer labels of every sort.

My wife, Ellen, has twice purchased frames for her eyeglasses within San Marco. Here is a pair, though, that she did not buy!

The two main shopping streets are Calle Larga Ventidue Marzo, which connects the Piazza San Marco with Campo Santo Stefano, and the interlinked Merceria San Zulian and Merceria Orologio, which lead from the Rialto Bridge to Piazza San Marco.

The Look of San Marco

So, San Marco is where the action is. If you visit Venice and do not travel to San Marco, you really haven't been to Venice, at all. In the photo below, all of what you see along the water in this photo is within the district of San Marco.

A panorama of a good bit of San Marco, taken from the campanile of the church of San Giorgio Maggiore

Here are a few photos that I've taken within San Marco's boundaries.

Digitally painted, hidden-away area of San Marco

And here is the Piazza San Marco, which Napoleon dubbed 'Europe's Drawing Room'.

A view of the massive Piazza San Marco from the balcony of Basilica San Marco

Sleeping San Marco

Our favorite place to stay in San Marco is the Hotel Flora. This hotel is an oasis of tranquility withing the hubbub of San Marco. Here are a couple of photos of this quaint hotel. The windows at the top of the hotel...ours. 

Eating San Marco

Our favorite San Marco restaurant? That would be Antico Martini. This excellent restaurant has been in continuous operation since 1720. Here are a couple of photos of Antico Martini, both current and very old.

So, that's the sestiere of San Marco. If you go to Venice, you need to spend at least one-whole day in this essential district. Want to see some of the out of the way places? I'll take you there.


Ciao for now,



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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,



Blatant Marketing

Yes, that's's article concerns a new product that is available on my website. This product is a Note Card...but not just any note card!

'Luxe' Note Cards

These are not your Mother's Note Cards! They are super thick, are crafted of the finest materials, they have a luxurious texture, and there is a colored core that will call special attention to your notes of thanks, greetings, or family updates. 

Consider these features...

Luxe Note Cards are created with award winning Mohawk Superfine paper. Tactile and beautiful – what better way to show your artistic taste as you share your thoughts?


Using a patented Quadplex technology, the layers of this unique paper are compressed to create an impressively thick, rigid, unforgettable Note Card.


Choose from Black, Red, Blue, White, Yellow, Orange, Pink or Green for the eye-catching seam of color that runs through the centre of Luxe paper stock. Only one color per order, please.


So, what can be put on these Note Cards?

  • I can create an order for you using one or several of my photos. 
  • Mix or match, it's your decision as to how many of any particular image that you would like included in your order.  In other words, all Note Cards can be different, the same, or any combination you would like.
  • And after reading your beautifully crafted note, the recipient can frame their Luxe Note Card, as there is no logo on the front of the card to detract from its beauty. And, if you wish, I will even sign the bottom-right of each card.
  • Yes, your ultra-nice Note Cards come with envelopes!

'Standard' Note Cards

Want a more economical, traditional Note Card? No problem!

These Standard Note Cards are on heavy paper chosen for its great print quality and luxurious thick feel. Note that they do not have that snazzy color stripe embedded in the paper stock, as you would get with the Luxe Note Cards.

With these Standard Note Cards, you get to choose either a gloss or matter surface for your Note Cards.

How to Order

To order Note Cards, just go to my website to the 'Print Info' link and there, among the different types of photo availability, you will find 'Note Cards'. Here is a direct link to Note Card ordering information page, which includes pricing and ordering instructions.


Sorry about today's blatant advertising, but I just had to let you know about this new product line that I've created. I'll get back more 'normal' articles next week.

Ciao for now,


Transforming l’Uomo della Pizza

The l’uomo della pizza (pizza man) was standing out front contemplating…who knows what? Which adds just a bit of mystery to the photo, don’t you think?

I’d have to say that Rome by night is a good bit more enjoyable than Rome by day. The summer heat, traffic and general hub-bub of the day are gone.

It’s as if the setting sun acts as a catalyst to transform the streets, piazze and campi of each neighborhood into something that is far more charming, more romantic, and of course, more temperate.

It was during a late evening stroll to the Trevi Fountain that we came across this scene at a neighborhood pizzeria.

The l’uomo della pizza (pizza man) was standing out front contemplating…who knows what? Which adds just a bit of mystery to the photo, don’t you think?

Upon spying him standing there, I quickly dropped to one knee to take this photo, as I visualized him being the dominate object of the image, and the lower camera angle seems to make him a bit larger than life. 

Because I was kneeling down, with the camera aimed slightly up, there was a good bit of distortion as the vertical lines of the buildings converged. So here is the image after I eliminated the vertical distortion. 

You can see that a bit of the photo has been lost due to the correction, but as I was shooting wide angle, there was plenty with which to work.

I am now ready to do a bit of cropping and adjustment to color balance and lighting.

In the version above, you will note that the interior of the pizzeria is well lit, while our pizza man is in shadow – as are the tables and patrons. After a bit of work, we can see below that the building exterior, table, patrons and the pizza man have been illuminated, while the interior has been darkened a bit. 

Additionally, I really liked the texture of the paving stones and the shadows that our pizza man was casting, so I emphasized those aspects, too.

Finally, a bit of cropping to get right down into the subject of the photo resulted in the version you see just above.

That was a good bit of cropping of the original image wasn’t it? Yet, there is still a lot of detail in the photo. My camera gives me the ability to do significant cropping without a lot of loss of resolution. The Nikon D800 is a 36mp camera – this camera has a huge sensor, whereas the vast majority of other cameras are in the 10-12mp range. That gives me a lot of room to isolate objects in the image.

For my final version, I found the two patrons on the right and the Hostaria store to be distracting. I was able to crop out the store, but the two patrons had to be removed through magic – even Harry Potter would be jealous.

In cropping, it was important to the composition that our pizza man is off-center a bit to the left. Since he was looking to our right, we need to give him some room to gaze.

So, here is the final photo, which can be found on my website in the Rome gallery.

I like the feel of this late evening shot -- colorful cloths on the street-side tables, two patrons studying the menu to select just the right ingredients for their pizza, and our l’oumo della pizza contemplating…what?...use your imagination.

If you would like to speculate upon that which he contemplates, use the comment box, below.

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Stumbling-Block Holocaust Memorials

Though today’s article will probably be my shortest, it is perhaps the greatest of significance.

These stumbling blocks are a type of monument created by German artist Gunter Demnig beginning in 1992 to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression.

I was overwhelmed by the stolperstein (stumbling block) plaques that we found embedded in some of the cobblestone streets of Rome.

These plaques were placed outside the former residences of Jews who were taken away to concentration camps by the Germans. Yes, the Jews of Italy suffered the same fate as others in Europe.

This original snapshot shows two such plaques.

In this transformed version, you are able to read the inscriptions. 

Here is what these two plaques say:

Here lived Angelo Tagliacozzo. Born 1916. Arrested August 8, 1944. Deported to Auschwitz. Died February 20, 1945 at Dachau
Here lived Angelo Limentani. Born 1920. Arrested May 8, 1944. Deported to Auschwitz. Murdered

These stumbling blocks are a type of monument created by German artist Gunter Demnig beginning in 1992 to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression. Stolpersteins are small, cobblestone-sized memorials for individual victims of Nazism. They commemorate individuals who were taken by the Nazis to prisons, euthanasia facilities, sterilization clinics, concentration camps, and extermination camps.

Why the term ‘stumbling block’? Before the Holocaust, it used to be the custom in Germany for non-Jews to say, on stumbling over a protruding stone, "There must be a Jew buried here." There’s an historical irony here that’s hard for me to get my head around.

Do you know that there are people who to this day deny the existence of the holocaust?

May God bless those who suffered the Nazi’s atrocities.


Ciao for now,