The Stones of Venice

Museo del Camminare 2019


The stones of Venice to which this project is dedicated are not the “vertical” ones that John Ruskin studied and painted, but those we meet and touch every time we walk in the city. They are the long slabs – salizzoni, about 70cm x 35cm – and the smaller trachyte masegni that pave the calli and campi, protecting us from humidity and mitigating the street heat in summer; the large blocks of Istrian stones – listonine ¬– that protect the outer side of the fondamenta from the lagoon waves; the Istrian stone curbs that highlight the bridge steps, facilitating the passage; the small carved stones signalling the networks of underground utilities; those creating commercial signs or indicating the way.

All these stones go unnoticed in comparison to the beautifully carved ones that ornate the façades of churches and palaces. They reveal, however, an infinite variety of marginal landscapes, created by mineral compositions and contrasts of light and colours. They tell the story of the city and faraway countries, and they often hide little secrets.


Most probably, Venice is the European city with the smallest asphalted area, which accounts only for about the 2.5% of its dry land area. Over 80% of it is paved in stone, a non-polluting natural material.

This process began in the 16th century and in the span of three centuries led trachyte to progressively replace dirt and bricks in stretcher and rowlock courses. Trachyte is a volcanic stone that since the Republic of Venice is quarried in the Euganean Hills, about 60km far from Venice.

In addition, the white Istrian stone was introduced for the outer sides of the fondamenta and to ornate the masegni pavements, as in St Mark’s Square and in front of many churches, in accordance with the large use made of that of stone for buildings’ façades and wellheads. The presence of Istrian stone in the city dates back to the annexation of the Istrian towns to the Republic of Venice in the 13th-14th century, and particularly of Orsera (Vrsar). Due to the quarry restrictions that Croatia recently imposed, the Istrian stone is increasingly replaced by the less valuable biancone quarried in Trani, for instance for the fondamenta at Punta della Dogana.

Porfido, in cubes or tiles, was introduced mostly in the first decades of the 20th century for the street paving of the newly developed residential areas of Sant’Elena and Santa Marta, and for the external areas in front of new buildings, as Santa Lucia railway station.


Through these seven sections dedicated to combination, inlay, texture, carving, mosaic, seal and inscription, this project is intended as a guide to the discovery and appreciation of Venice’s outstanding horizontal landscape.

All photographs were taken in public places.

To navigate through the different sections of the project use the contents drop-down menu at the top of the page.

© Museo del Camminare 2019, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 4.0