Scala Contarini del Bovolo (Bovolo Staircase) (Venezia, Veneto, Italy)

I am skeptical about whether the Renaissance was human. Meanwhile, a place that I most felt the human comfort in Venezia was the Scala Contarini del Bovolo.

The Scala Contarini del Bovolo is a spiral staircase that is attached to the palace of the same name. Pietro Contorini who bought this palazzo in 1489 was completed it in 1499 in the Renaissance style in that time together with renovation of the palace. At that time, it seems that it was common in Venezia to have such outdoor staircase in a palace. It is said that Giovanni Candi, whom Pietro Contarini trusted, built it or Giorgio Spavent, who was in contact with the Contarini family to design the San Salvador Church was involved in the construction. And the origin of Bovolo is “snail” in Italian based on the shape of this spiral staircase, so it had been called as “Contarini of snail” to distinguish from the 24 residences that the Contarini family possessed in Venezia.

A book on the architectural history wrote that it was the representative Renaissance architecture in Venezia, but it is a staircase. So, I didn’t expected. However, the architecture located at the depth of an alley difficult to find was very graceful.

The skeleton is made of a white limestone from Istria with bricks filling in between the limestone. Compared to white and colorful marble often seen in the Renaissance architectures in Venezia, its way to select materials is modest. But, on the contrary, the simplicity emerges the essence that had been hidden behind other ornate Renaissance architectures.

Except for the observatory “Belvedere” covered with a wooden dome, the elements are only arch, pillar and handrail. Those look like they only repeat the same combination, changing the scale in the staircase and the loggia. However, in actuality, the height of an arch on the top level is half the size of that on the ground level. It is a visual effect that the building looks higher than it actually is. With the effect, the circular column seems to be slimmer. Furthermore the column of the ground level is changed to a rectangular one and the lower part becomes faintly solid. The lightness of the circular column is emphasized and the height is felt more higher.

Meanwhile, the thick column in the center bears the tread of the spiral staircase and is made of one solid white limestone from Istria. Behind the spiral staircase and the loggia is a closed wall of bricks with little windows, which rises from the ground up to the top. Since the arch is too open and the scenery seen from it is wonderful, the line of sight is drawn towards the arch and the existence of a heavy part is not noticed.

It seems simple but. in fact, it is the architecture that skillfully controlled various details and structures so that it looked simple and light on human vision, and therefore the elegance was realized.

The Belvedere at the height of 28 m is equivalent to the 7th or 8th floor in Japanese building. I tried to go up to the Belvedere. The staircase was the easiest to go up and felt leastt tired among spiral staircases which I had experienced up to now. In an instant, I arrived comfortably at the Belvedere with view of the Saint Mark’s Basilica or Campanile (in fact, the half story from the ground up to the beginning of the spiral staircase and the stairs from the top floor to the Belvedere are straight staircases). The design of the staircase that considered to function also seemed to be a manifestation of the human view of the Renaissance. By the way, when measured, the width of the uppermost staircase was 1.65 m, the rise was 17 cm, and the angle per stage was 18 degrees.

The 2nd floor of the Contarini del Borvolo Palace, which connected with the spiral staircase via loggia, is the Sala del Tinttoret (Tintoretto room). The exhibition of Venetian school paintings focusing on Tintoretto's works includes the trial painting of “Heaven” decorated in the Ducale palace.

To Japanese Version

Google Maps

12 minutes by ferry "Vaporetto" from Santa Lucia station in Venezia to Rialto C stop. 5 minutes walk from Rialto C stop.

Citta di Venezia
Turismo Venezia


The Art of the Italian Renaissance: Architecture Sculpture Painting Drawing (Rolf Toman, h.f.Ullman, 1995)
Art &Architecture Venice (Marion Kaminsky, h.f.Ullman, 2005)
ヴェネツィア (「旅する21世紀」ブック 望遠郷) (ガリマール社, 同朋社出版, 1994)
Observatory for the Arts Venice

Arte Musica Venezia

2018.07 English version and Japanese version


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Scala Contarini del Bovolo (Bovolo Staircase) (1499)


Photo and Video by Daigo Ishii