Tourists in Venice stroll around with their noses stuck up in the air, enraptured by the lavish buildings. But they are losing half of the show.

If they looked down, they would spot a carpet of stones, marble, mosaic and glass. Venice has the most sumptuous floors in the world. Why? “In a city built on water” – the travel writer John Julius Norwich pointed out – “the endlessly shimmering reflections of churches and palaces constantly attracted the gaze [of Venetians] downward”. So they made that vision even more joyful through luxurious floors. Paving is a serious issue in Venice: stone keeps out damp from the lagoon and drives the summer’s heat away. The German photographer Sebastian Erras has walked around Venice to capture its most beautiful floors. “I was curious to discover a new side of Venice that is probably not so well known, as people usually don’t pay attention to floors”, he says. Erras is famous for a similar project he carried out in Paris. Parisian floors is a unique collection of pictures of the French capital’s floors, photographed in the “selfeet” style, with the feet of the photographer included.
Palazzo Pisani Moretta
Palazzo Pisani Moretta
Ca' Sagredo Hotel
Ca' Sagredo Hotel
Palazzo Grassi
Palazzo Grassi
Palazzo Pisani Moretta
Palazzo Pisani Moretta
The Gritti Palace
The Gritti Palace

Lavish art: Palaces

As I walked along the Grand Canal, I stepped into the finest Venetian palaces. In the Ca’ Sagredo and Gritti palaces, both luxury hotels, I spotted the famous “terrazzo alla veneziana”, or Venetian mosaic. This floor is made by throwing chips of precious stones in mortar. The craftsmen, or “terrazzieri”, do not follow a pattern: their expert hands mix shapes and colours in such a way that the outcome is amazing. They remind me of Jackson Pollock, dripping paint on the canvas. In the floor of the Pisani Moretta palace, I found a daisy enclosed in lapis-lazuli, black bardiglio stone, red French marble, and white marble recovered from ancient columns. The merchants of the Serenissima must have brought materials from all over the world to build such a marvel. The artisans who made it, Domenico and Giacomo Crovato, are the ancestors of a family of “terrazzieri” that still works today.
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
Museo di Palazzo Grimani
Museo di Palazzo Grimani
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro
Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro

Touching splendour: Museums

The palace of Ca’ d’Oro, now a museum, has been called “golden house” for its extravagant appearance, since it was built in the fifteenth century. A baron called Giorgio Franchetti laid the multi-coloured paving of its porch with his own hands in 1896. He loved that floor so much that he had his ashes buried under a porphyry stone embedded in it. In another museum, the Grimani palace, I met Michela Scibilia, a Venetian graphic designer and author of guide books. She loves the museum’s frescos. “You feel like you’re inside the pages of a herbarium: little animals appear everywhere in the middle of the interweaved plants and exotic fruits”, she said.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista
Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista
Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista
Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Beauty brotherhoods: Schools

I was excited to meet Franco Posocco, the grand guardian of the Great School of Saint Rocco, who showed me the building’s magnificent floors. He is the latest of a series of grand guardians that go back to the fifteenth century. Great Schools were brotherhoods of wealthy patricians devoted to a saint. They would build splendid palaces and even lend money to the government in wartime, thanks to the donations of its members. This is why the Great School of Saint John the Evangelist could afford to buy paintings by the Renaissance master Tintoretto, which still hang on its walls. At the entrance of its chapter room, the image of an eagle – the symbol of Saint John – greeted me not from above, but from the floor.
Sestiere di San Marco
Sestiere di San Marco
Murano
Murano
Laboratorio Orsoni
Laboratorio Orsoni
Negozio Olivetti - Piazza San Marco Bene gestito dal FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano
Negozio Olivetti - Piazza San Marco
Bene gestito dal FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano
Negozio Olivetti - Piazza San Marco Bene gestito dal FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano
Negozio Olivetti - Piazza San Marco
Bene gestito dal FAI - Fondo Ambiente Italiano

Living tradition: Shops

In a shop in Saint Mark’s square, a myriad of red glass tesserae scattered in a mortar floor flashed before my eyes. I asked myself how they would look under a sheet of water, during the frequent “acqua alta” floods. The shop was built in the 1950s by architect Carlo Scarpa for the glorious Olivetti brand. The floor was made by Antonio Crovato, a descendant of the family who worked on the Pisani Moretta palace centuries before. During my visit, I discovered another artistic dynasty: the Orsoni family, makers of mosaic tesserae for more than a century. They have a beautiful laboratory in Venice, with pieces of gold, pearl-gray and blue arrayed on the floor: a demonstration of the potential of their art.
Calle Larga Vendramin Sestiere Cannareggio
Calle Larga Vendramin
Sestiere Cannareggio
Calle Larga Ascensione Sestiere San Marco
Calle Larga Ascensione
Sestiere San Marco
Ponte dei Pugni
Ponte dei Pugni
Antica Carbonera Sestiere San Marco
Antica Carbonera
Sestiere San Marco
Merceria Orologio Sestiere San Marco
Merceria Orologio
Sestiere San Marco

Venetian breeze: “Calli”

I spent some time wondering around the “calli” (streets) with a couple of Venice-addicts. Photographer Cristina Cappellari pointed out small mosaics on the floor, advertising restaurants or shops. “They are not comparable with the marble paving of palaces, but they are a universe all their own, with their minute tesserae, their gaudy colours, and their various typographies”, she observed. Literature professor and author Fabio Girardello drew my attention to footprints made of Istrian stone on the Punches Bridge. “The name comes from a kind of boxing match in which you try to knock the opponent in the water, a fight among teams from different neighbourhoods in the city”, he explained. “Each contender had to start the fight with one foot inside a footprint.”
Sale Apollinee Teatro La Fenice
Sale Apollinee
Teatro La Fenice
Teatro La Fenice
Teatro La Fenice
Sale Apollinee Teatro La Fenice
Sale Apollinee
Teatro La Fenice
Sale Apollinee Teatro La Fenice
Sale Apollinee
Teatro La Fenice
Sale Apollinee Teatro La Fenice
Sale Apollinee
Teatro La Fenice

The imperishable auditorium:
The Theatre

Ancient romans used to say “nomen omen”: a name contains a destiny. This is certainly the case of La Fenice theatre, the main opera house in Venice. Its name refers to the Phoenix, a mythical bird depicted on one of its floors. The Phoenix was capable of resurrecting from its own ashes. And this is exactly what La Fenice did after being burned down twice – in 1836 and 1996. It reopened in 2004 after a lengthy restoration based on the motto “com’era, dov’era” (like it was before, where it was before). I was surprised to find wood flooring: Venetian architects have always preferred the waterproof stone. However, wood plays a special role in La Fenice. In the auditorium, wood was chosen and treated to obtain the best acoustic effect, a choice maintained in the restoration.
Caffè Florian
Caffè Florian
Sestiere San Marco
Sestiere San Marco
Sestiere San Marco
Sestiere San Marco
Sestiere Santa Croce
Sestiere Santa Croce
Sestiere Santa Croce
Sestiere Santa Croce

Coffee, culture, and love: Cafes

As I set foot into the Florian Cafe, I felt the spirits of the artists and thinkers who visited it in the past: philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, sculptor Antonio Canova, writer Marcel Proust, actress Eleonora Duse… Many of them stepped on its glass mosaic floor, with a golden ribbon surrounding a lion, the symbol of Saint Mark and of Venice. Cafes were real culture centres in Venice. In the eighteenth century there were 26 in Saint Mark’s square alone. Silvia Zanella, who handles public relations for the café, said it was the favourite hang-out of the notorious womanizer Giacomo Casanova. “It was said he was a frequent visitor of the Florian Cafe because it was the only venue that allowed women at that time”, she noted.
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
Foundation Querini Stampalia Onlus
Foundation Querini Stampalia Onlus
Alliance Française di Venezia
Alliance Française di Venezia
Alliance Française di Venezia
Alliance Française di Venezia
Alliance Française di Venezia
Alliance Française di Venezia

The elegance of knowledge: Libraries

I visited a few libraries to find some quiet amid Venice’s bustle. In the Marciana library, I found the image of a giant mariner’s compass on the floor. This jewel was installed in a hurry from another building in 1815 as a homage to emperor Franz I of Austria, who planned to sleep there. By that time, the republic of Venice had fallen under the Austrian empire. I also found a beautiful floor at the Querini library, refurbished in 1961-63 by Carlo Scarpa, the architect of the aforementioned Olivetti store. He redesigned the entrance to allow light to pour in, creating a delightful entrance floor made of small squares of marble from Verona (pink and plum), Carrara (white) and the Alps (green).
Rio de Santa Maria Zobenigo
Rio de Santa Maria Zobenigo
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco
Canal Grande
Canal Grande
Parco Savorgnan
Parco Savorgnan
Campo Santa Maria Formosa
Campo Santa Maria Formosa

A swirl of images: Sebastian Inspiration

I could not help being spellbound by the elegant gondolas gliding below the bridges. Saverio Pastor, an artisan involved in their fabrication, told me that there are ten different crafts involved in building a gondola: the hull, the long oar, the upholstery, the various wooden, metal, and golden decorations are all made by specialized craftsmen. Pastor himself has saved the traditional “forcole” from oblivion: the wooden pieces where the row pivots, handmade to measure for each “gondoliere”. My downward-oriented walk around Venice left me with many other images, beyond the luxurious floors. The pigeons rushing on the “masegni” (blocks of local grey slate), the “baute” (traditional masks used for secret missions) scattered by a seller on the floor, the algae at the edges of the canals… All a swirl of images I would have never noticed if I had kept my nose stuck up in the air.
License: Creative Commons Attribution No Derivatives 4.0
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