Gothic Venice
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Indulge in a real aesthetic hunt of the beautiful Venetian Gothic style

Ca’ Foscari
(by Abxbay, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Abxbay, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

Ca’ Foscari or Palazzo Foscari is a Gothic-style building located in the Dorsoduro sestiere and overlooking the Grand Canal at the corner of the “rio” (channel) that takes its name. It is home to the University of the same name, which has made some of the most beautiful rooms accessible to the public, such as the Aula Baratto and Aula Berengo.


In place of the palace we currently know as Ca’ Foscari, there was previously another palace, called the “House of the Two Towers.” In 1429 the Republic of Venice purchased the court from Bernardo Giustinian to make it the residence of Gianfrancesco Gonzaga, lord of Mantua and vice-captain of the Serenissima’s army. Gonzaga did not immediately take possession of the palace and perhaps never lived there, so the House of the Two Towers was used to host distinguished guests of the Serenissima, especially diplomats. In 1438 Gonzaga allied with the Visconti, leaving the Venetian Republic, and in 1439 the house was given to Francesco Sforza as a reward for his reconquest of Verona that same year and for his active role, militarily, in favor of the Venetian-Florentine League. However, Sforza stayed in the palace only for short periods and, in 1446, began plotting behind the Serenissima’s back to take possession of the Duchy of Milan: when the Council of Ten discovered the treason, the palace was confiscated from him (1447).

In 1452 the palace was put up for auction and purchased by Doge Francesco Foscari to add an essential property to the family estate. Once purchased, the Casa Delle Due Torri was torn down to build a more imposing palace and erase the memory of the Sforza.

The palace was built by Bartolomeo Bono, who, at the behest of the doge, had already erected between 1438 and 1443, the Charter Gate of the Ducal Palace. The work lasted from 1453 – 1457. Upon the doge’s death, the house remained in possession of the Foscari family.

The palace was used as a residence for guests of the Serenissima, such as European sovereigns and diplomats. 

Due to its location at the vault of the Canal, that is, on the widest curve of the Grand Canal, allowing a sweeping view from the Rialto Bridge to the Accademia Galleries, the second floor was chosen by many painters (such as Giovanni Antonio Canal known as Canaletto, Michele Marieschi, and Francesco Guardi) as a location for painting views of the Grand Canal. Two works by Canaletto were painted from the palace’s second floor: Grand Canal from Ca’ Balbi towards Rialto (1720 – 1723, Museum of the Venetian Eighteenth Century at Ca’ Rezzonico) and Regatta on the Grand Canal (c. 1732, Windsor, Royal Collection). Ca’ Foscari was also the subject of paintings by many “vedutisti” (such as Luca Carlevarijs and Michele Marieschi).

In 1790 the family’s last heir to live in the house died, and in the early 19th century, it was occupied by amateur actors who used it as a theatre, disadvantaged families and artists.

In 1837 negotiations began for the purchase of the palace by the municipality, which were concluded in 1845. Restoration work began in 1846 (although it was interrupted in 1848 due to the uprisings). 

Under Austrian rule, the palace served as barracks; in 1866, with the end of the Third Italian War of Independence and the passage to the Kingdom of Italy, the municipality took possession of the palace again. From 1868 the court was used first to house the Higher School of Commerce, then Ca’ Foscari University. Later the building was restored several times, notably in 1936, 1956 and between 2004-2006.  


The House of the Two Towers was a fondaco building, with dwelling and warehouse, set back from the bank of the Grand Canal and with a loggia at the level of the water gate.

The new palace was built as a dwelling and place of representation, so it was extended to the edge of the Grand Canal, and a second noble floor was added, thanks to which it rose above the other patrician houses that stood nearby. The height of the house was also due to a stone basement, which prevented the tide from reaching it. A simple gateway was built at the level of the water gate, while a secondary entrance on the public street was added.

On the facade, the most important architectural element is the loggia on the second floor: the eight openings and the frieze in quadrilobes with the conclusion in semi-quadrilobes at both ends create the effect of an expansion of the entire facade. Above the polyphora of the second floor is a stone frieze with the coat of arms of the doge’s family and a carousel helmet with a lion with spread wings. 

A further floor (the third) rises above this second piano nobile, decorated with a polyphora that creates an expansion towards each other as well as horizontally.

The courtyard exceeds in size the courtyards of other private houses in Venice and is second only to that of the Doge’s Palace.

The portal, now the main entrance to Ca’ Foscari, is made of Istrian stone. It is framed by checkered friezes and internally by turreted decorations.

It is surmounted by an inflected arch lunette, occupied by a central coat of arms and three putti, two on either side and one above, the latter in the act of crowning the other two. Inside the coat of arms, in the upper corner, is the lion of St. Mark holding an open book. When a Napoleonic decree in 1797 abolished noble coats of arms, the coat of arms was concealed by applying a layer of lime to it (the other coats of arms were covered or damaged).


1. The Venetian Gothic style

2. Ca’ Foscari

3. Giustinian Palace

4. Doge's Palace

5. Basilica of Saints John and Paul

6. Madonna dell’Orto Church

7. Basilca of Saint Mary The Glorious of the Frari