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A Legend on Every Corner

Ca' Dario, the cursed palace
Ponte del Diavolo, on the island of Torcello
Riva degli Schiavoni, where Saint Mark approached the fisherman, according to legend

Narrow alleys and canals have made Venice the perfect setting for a proliferation of myths and fables.
A city that rises from the waters and becomes one of the major socio-economic powers in history already has a mythological feel about it. It is steeped in mystery, involving everything from Christian saints, enigmatic bridges and palaces and even the gondoliers themselves.
San Marco, patron saint of the city, has his own legend. They say that one afternoon a fisherman was in Riva degli Schiavoni when an old man asked to be taken to the island of San Giorgio in his boat. The fisherman, despite a fierce storm that was raging over Venice, ignored the danger and accepted. When they arrived, a young warrior boarded the boat and asked to be taken to San Nicoló in the Lido. There, a third traveller got into the boat. The return trip was not so easy as the wind and waves lashed violently at the vessel. Just then, a huge black ship appeared, commanded by demons of all kinds seeking to destroy the city. The three passengers, who turned out to be Saint Mark, Saint George and Saint Nicholas, beat them off, making the sign of the cross in the air. When it was over, Saint Mark turned to the fisherman and asked him to tell what had happened to the Doge, the city’s great leader. If the Doge didn’t believe the tale, he was to show him the ring he was given. The fisherman was rewarded with a lifelong pension and permission to sell the lands of the island of San Erasmo, the orchard of Venice.
However, not all Venetian legends are related to the triumph of good over evil. Sometimes it’s just the opposite, as in the case of the Palazzo Ca' Dario, which since its construction in 1487 and until 1993, has bestowed nothing but ill fortune on its owners, from economic ruin to violent death. This has earned it a dubious fame among the Venetian population, who would never inhabit the palace they call “the house that kills.”
Other Venetian houses are in a similar situation. One is located in the old Jewish ghetto, and has its own ghost: an old Jewish rabbi from the 16th century who appeared in the mid-1950s. Years later, the same figure was seen next to the pulpít in the Ghetto Synagogue, where everything was covered with dust, except for the exact spot where the apparition was seen.
Despite the strict Catholic beliefs of the Venetians, the devil also has a place in their legends. Satan even has his own bridge (Ponte del Diavolo) on the island of Torcello, a stone bridge without sides or guardrails, where it is said that the devil appears in the form of a black cat at midnight every Christmas Eve. The most logical explanation is that it is so-called because of the curses shouted by the Venetians every time they trip over the steep and dangerous steps on the bridge, where the chances of falling off are rather high.

Complaints in the Lion’s Mouth

The Lion’s Mouth was a kind of mailbox found all over Venice, even inside the Palazzo Ducale itself, which served to make anonymous complaints between 1310 and 1797, at the time of the Council of Ten. The Council, which operated in secret despite the Doge being one of its members, was responsible for keeping the peace in Venice, as well as countering espionage or possible revolts. It was based on its own investigations or complaints, as mentioned above. It earned a dark reputation for the severe punishments it dispensed.

Myths and Realities of the Gondoliers

According to Venetian legend, gondoliers are born with webbed feet to perform better in the water. If this legend is a little far-fetched, just observe how they walk when they are off the canals. Given the stance they maintain during their working day, with the right leg in an unnatural position, the most seasoned gondoliers have a curious limp that helps to identify the real veterans.