The Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute (or simply the Salute) is one of the most famous religious buildings in Venice. One thing is certain: its monumental white silhouette, nestled on the banks of the Grand Canal, doesn’t go unnoticed!
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Brief history of Santa Maria della Salute in Venice
In the summer of 1630, a plague epidemic broke out in the city of Venice. Within two years, nearly a third of the population of the ‘Serenissima’ was decimated.
Helpless, the Senate decided to call upon the protection of the Virgin Mary and implored her mercy by building a monumental basilica in her honour.
The project, which was entrusted to the architect Baldassare Longhena, began in 1631 and was completed 56 years later.
Santa Maria della Salute was consecrated on November 9, 1687, 5 years after the death of the architect Baldassare Longhena, who devoted over 50 years of his life to the construction of the basilica.
Visiting Santa Maria della Salute
The exterior of the Basilica
With its monumental dimensions, Santa Maria della Salute most certainly does not go unnoticed. The basilica is the Venetian monument resting on the largest number of stilts: 1,156,627 in total!
Its imposing façade, with two domes of different sizes, blends classical and baroque influences. The uniqueness of the basilica’s architecture also lies in its orecchioni, the spiral volutes marking the transition between the façade and the domes.
The Salute’s octogonal layout is an explicit allusion to the Virgin’s crown. The exterior of the basilica is adorned with no less than 125 statues, including a statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the great dome, a statue of St. Mark on the small dome, statues of the four evangelists and countless statues of angels.
The interior of the Basilica
The interior of Santa Maria della Salute is organized around a wide central space surrounded by 6 chapels, one of which is home to an exceptional painting by Titian.
The marble pavement, representing an intricate geometric pattern, is a work of art in its own right.
Be sure to have a look at the high altar, which is adorned with a Byzantine icon representing the Virgin Mary and crowned by a statue of a the Madonna and Child saving the city from the plague.
The Sacristy (€4) is home to a collection of sumptuous masterpieces, including Tintoretto’s famous Marriage at Cana.
Numbers and symbolism
Legend has it that the Basilica’s entire architecture is based on the numbers 8, which is a symbol of hope and salvation, and the number 11, which is a symbol of faith.
And these two numbers do seem omnipresent:
- The basilica has 8 sides
- There are 8 columns inside the building
- 16 steps (8x2) lead inside the basilica and 11 lead down to the Grand Canal
- The basilica is 121 feet (11x11) long, 88 feet (8x11) wide and each side of the octagone measures 44 feet (4x11).
Coincidence? What do you think?
Admiring the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute from the Grand Canal
Unsurprisingly, Captain Ulysses – who is a seasoned sailor – insists that the best view on Santa Maria della Salute is onboard a boat, sailing down the Grand Canal.
If you’re interested in navigating the peaceful waters of Venice’s main channel, you can choose between three options:
- Taking the vaporetto (the cheapest option)
- Going on a guided tour on Grand Canal (midscale option)
- A gondola ride on the Venetian canals (the most expensive option … but the most romantic as well!)
Getting to the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute
The nearest vaporetto stop is Salute (vaporetto line 1). If you plan on using public transportation (vaporetto and/or bus) multiple times during your stay in Venice, Captain Ulysses suggests getting a transport pass.
The basilica is open to visits every day:
- from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Beware, the sacristy’s schedule is slightly different. It is open:
- from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
- from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission to Santa Maria della Salute is free. However, you’ll have to pay €4 per person to access the Sacristy.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin
Every year, on November 21, Venetians commemorate the end of the plague with an important religious ceremony: the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin (Festa della Madonna della Salute).
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