The striking church of Santa Maria Formosa stands in a sleepy piazza of the same name and has seen several transformations since the founding of the original wooden church in 842. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it owes its present appearance to Renaissance architect Mauro Codussi, who was commissioned to rebuild the church nearly 400 years after it burnt down in 1106. Much of the work was finished after his death in 1504 and the church is almost unique for having two marble façades, one overlooking the Campo Santa Maria Formosa and the other facing the Rio (canal) del Novo Mondo. It has a freestanding Baroque campanile (bell tower) that was designed by the priest Francesco Zucconi in 1688, and a vast white marble dome, which was repaired in the same year following an earthquake and again in 1921 after Austria bombed Venice in World War I.
The restrained marble interior is laid out on a Greek cross plan and is largely the result of work commissioned by wealthy merchant Torrino Tononi in 1689; the main highlight of its three aisles is the luminous polyptych Santa Barbara by Palma il Vecchio above the main altar.
It is rumored that Santa Maria Formosa gets its strange name – ‘formosa’ translates as ‘comely’ or ‘buxom’ from Italian – from a well-endowed prostitute who lived in the neighborhood in the late 16th century.
Campo Santa Maria Formosa, Castello, Venice. Open Mon–Sat
10am–5pm. Admission €3. Ferry to Rialto or San Zaccaria.