Campo Santa Margherita

Venice, Italy

Contributed by Project for Public Spaces

A busy Italian courtyard surrounded by cafes, bars, shops, and a public market in buildings dating to the 14th century.

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Why It Works

This long courtyard is the social heart of the Dorsoduro district of Venice. The buildings encircling the area, some dating back to the 14th century, are home to a great mix of private residences as well as restaurants, bars, a weekday market with flowers and produce, and off-beat shops that provide energy throughout the entire day. The nearby university also helps add vitality. More of a spot for locals than for tourists, the Campo feels far from the mask shops and trinket vendors of the heavily touristed parts of Venice.

What Makes Campo Santa Margherita a Great Place?

There are no cars in Venice, so the only way to get there is by walking. Conveniently, it is within walking distance from just about everywhere, though it is quite off the beaten path of Venice's major attractions. People tend to go out of their way just to walk through this area, regardless of where they are headed.

The square itself is rather nondescript — a couple of trees and a few benches. Yet, the surrounding buildings help enclose the area giving it a warm and sheltered feel.

People come here for a variety of reasons. Some come to stock up on eggs, bread, newspapers and other daily needs at the various market stands. Some come to shop at the numerous boutiques. Some come to socialize at the restaurants and cafes. The space is also used for festivals.

With local residents, students at the nearby university, and vendors all sharing this space, one often gets to see a great cross-section of the community here. It attracts a large share of "locals" due to its location in the highly residential Dorsoduro district and it's distance from the major Venice tourist attractions.

History & Background

Like so many European squares, Campo Santa Margherita is named after the church that fronts it on one side, which was closed in 1810. Since then, the church has been used as a cinema and, most recently, an auditorium for the local university. The church’s prominent dragon motif corresponds to the story of Saint Margaret, who, after being swallowed whole by a dragon, made the sign of the cross while in its stomach. The dragon thereupon exploded, leaving her unharmed.

A small stone kiosk in the courtyard dates to the 18th century and lists the minimum sizes for fish sold here when the square was a fish market. Also during this time, many canals were filled in to expand the size of this public space.

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