Campo San Polo (St. Polo Square)

[historic image of Campo San Polo]Doges Pietro and Giovanni Tradonico founded the church of San Paolo, commonly known as San Polo, in the year 837. Formally a parish church, in 1810 San Polo came under the jurisdiction of the church of S.M.Gloriosa of Frari. In 1343, the heyday of San Polo, there was a terrible earthquake which lasted 15 days. It is said that during this time, the Grand Canal dried up and more than 1000 houses fell down. This is where the customary name "Saint Paul of the earthquake" comes from. The square was bricked over for the first time in 1494 – the same year the well in the center was built. A canal ran along the square but, as contemporary writers have recorded, it was filled in on 21st June 1761 in order to make the square larger. Right from ancient times, the square was used as a market-place several days a week. As the years passed, eventually it was decided to hold a market only on Wednesdays. With the fall of the Serenissima Republic it was also held on Saturdays – the day before the market in Saint Mark’s Square. All sorts of shows and spectacles went on in this Square such as archery and crossbow shooting (banned in 1452). Like the other large Venetian squares, it was a place for parties and a meeting point for the Venetian people.

Here are some of the festivities which went on (thanks to the writers of the time that we know about them).

  • 14th February 1497 – Festival of Masked Florentine merchants (with jousting)
  • 21st January 1503 – Festival given by the theatrical company Francesco Venier with bullfighting, and roof-dancing.
  • 10th June 1507 – Public ball celebrating the marriage of Andrea Vendramin
  • 14th October 1507 – Roof party with the theme of "Jason in search of the Golden Fleece" celebrating the marriage of Luca of Lezze and a daughter of G.B Foscarini.
  • 1644 – masked fancy-dress ball

As well as a market-place and a place of festivities, San Polo Square was a place of worship where public sermons were held. In 1450 it happened that a disciple of San Bernadino, called Fra Santo, attracted more than 2000 followers to his sermon. He railed against society’s shallowness and lit a huge bonfire burning a large quantity of sheets and clothes.