Historian Francesco da Mosto picks two faces of La Serenissima: one a stunning fusion of styles and the other a tasteless cake
Probably one palace more than any other represents the period of trading and artistic flowering of Venice in the 12th and 13th centuries: the stunning Ca d’Oro. The name means House of Gold, and when it was first built, the facade was covered with gold leaf. The Ca d’Oro was built in the 1420s as a warehouse for the Contarinis who traded in spices, fabric and dyes.
Because in Venice everything travelled by water, these palaces had two entrances: one by land, one by water. Venetian water entrances doubled as a place to unload merchandise and a ceremonial entrance, and the Grand Canal became the great stage on which the Venetian aristocracy showed off its splendour. Warehouses were built that married styles of the East and West: the facade of the Ca D’Oro is the jewel of the Grand Canal. The crenellations around the roof have their origins in the romanesque, the marble columns on the second floor come from Greece and Verona, and the bas relief panels were looted from the east of the Venetian empire.
On the other hand, Venice’s Church of St Moise is like a huge, tasteless wedding cake. With its decorations of huge garlands, over-the-top figures and camels guarding the entrance, it is the culmination of every architectural madness.
Venetian architect and historian Francesco da Mosto presents BBC Two’s Venice series, which is running on Saturday nights