The Palace and its history
Palazzo Morosini degli Spezieri is located in a residential area, close to some of the major tourist attractions like the Frari Church and the Rialto Bridge, yet gently removed from the crowds. A lush garden flanking the canal offers an added respite from St. Mark’s hustle and bustle, and is the perfect place for a book or a glass of Prosecco.
The early occupants of the building were the Morosini family, who gave birth to Domenico Morosini, Commander in Chief of the victorious galley which, in 1204, brought back to Venice as spoils of war of the Fourth Crusade the famous gold-plated quadriga, considered one of our city’s symbols. It is thought that the four horses had been part of a larger sculptural grouping adorning the entrance of Constantinople’s Hippodrome. The horses remained in the Arsenale for over fifty years and were only placed above the main entrance to the Basilica of St. Mark after 1261, to symbolise the fall of the so-called Latin Empire of the East. As well as a religious symbol (the “Quadriga Domini” as an allegory of the four evangelists spreading of the Gospel) they represented also a political statement: Venice’s continuity with the imperial power of Byzantium. The mosaic on the lunette above the portal of S. Alipio, dating back to 1265, shows the four horses on the facade of St. Mark’s Basilica in the position they still occupy today.
However, the first written documentation of their presence in Venice is found only a century later (1364) in a quote by Petrarch. During their transportation to Venice from Constantinople, the leg of one of the four horses broke. It was rebuilt in the Arsenal before the statues were placed on the Basilica. The original leg, which had come off, remained in the hands of the Morosini family, who displayed it on the facade of their home in the Square of St. Agostin. The precious trophy continued to adorn the facade of the building in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, even after the palace changed hands, having been sold to the influential Contarini family. After that time, however, all traces are lost and no historical evidence remains. While the Palace has an ancient history, the lunettes above its windows on the two façades of the building (one on the small square and one on the canal) show allegorical eighteenth century frescoes, recently returned to their original splendour through a painstaking restoration.
Despite its change of ownership, the palace kept its original name, however recently the suffix “degli Spezieri” was added to better qualify the palace where, during the most glorious time of the Morosini dynasty – which was that of the discovery of the Spice Route – merchants commerced in spices bought in the East and dispatched from Venice across Europe. Near Palazzo Morosini, in fact, and probably on the ground floor, as evidenced by the name of the adjacent street ‘Calle degli Spezieri’ worked the traders of this exotic and precious merchandise. Appropriate policy choices, and intelligent economic agreements had indeed given to Venice the monopoly of this trade up to 1498.
Here Venetian spice-makers minced and combined spices, sampled flavours, studied combinations, analysed effects, soon becoming the world’s most skilled spice packers and vendors. They were the first to invent the “marketing” and “packaging” of spices: ready-to-use mixtures that were called “Venetian bags”.
Today Palazzo Morosini degli Spezieri is designed as a pot- pourri of colours, perfumes and atmospheres: nine apartments with distinct characteristics, each of which named after one of the spices which started arriving in Venice from 1200, transforming its cuisine, its economy, its art and its lifestyle.
All apartments are located in the lively and central San Polo district, which takes its name from its main square, the largest in Venice after Piazza San Marco and from its church. Certainly the most important area in this district is Rialto, with its bridge, the typical fish and vegetable market and the church of San Giacomo di Rialto, considered the oldest in Venice. Of great architectural and artistic importance are also the Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and the Chiesa di San Rocco. There are also two Great Schools, the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, and the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista, with the adjoining church.
The San Polo district is also characterised by the highest concentration of traditional Venetian taverns: particularly typical Venetian bacari which serve the delicious Venetian ‘tapas’ called ‘chicheti’, as well as a variety of wines from both the Veneto area and other regions of Italy. The ‘Ruga Rialto‘, which is the main artery connecting the Rialto area to Campo San Polo is lined with a variety of shops, many still run by Venetian artisans selling locally-made goods ranging from Italian leather, to clothing, to accessories.
Partially surrounded by the Grand Canal the district is served by the line 1 of the public transportation system through the Vaporetto ACTV stops Rialto Market and San Silvestro. Line 2 also reaches San Polo with the “San Tomà” stop.