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Venetian Dialect

If, after a few days in Rome and Florence, you were just getting the hang of correlating your map to the reality of your new surroundings, you can put aside any short-term success upon your arrival in Venezia. Even the Italians (non-Venetian ones) look befuddled when trying to decipher street names and signs (given that you can ever find any).

Venice's colorful thousand-year history as a once-powerful maritime republic has everything to do with its local dialect, which absorbed nuances and vocabulary from far-flung outposts in the East and from the flourishing communities of foreign merchants who, for centuries, lived and traded in Venice. A linguist could gleefully spend a lifetime trying to make some sense of it all. From Venetian dialect we've inherited such words as gondola (naturally), ciao, ghetto, lido, and arsenal.

But for the Venice-bound traveler just trying to make sense of Venetian addresses, the following should give you the basics. (And don't even try to follow a conversation between two gondolieri!)

ca' -- The abbreviated use of the word "casa" is used for the noble palazzi, once private residences and now museums, lining the Grand Canal: Ca' d'Oro, Ca' Pesaro, and Ca' Rezzonico. There is only one palazzo, the Palazzo Ducale, the former doge's residence. However, as time went on, some great houses gradually began to be called "palazzi," so today you'll also encounter the Palazzo Grassi or the Palazzo Labia.

calle -- Taken from the Spanish (though pronounced as if Italian, ca-lay), this is the most commonplace word for street, known as via or strada elsewhere in Italy. There are numerous variations. Ruga, from the French word rue, once meant a calle flanked with stores, a designation no longer valid. A ramo (literally "branch") is the offshoot of a street and is often used interchangeably with calle. Salizzada once meant a paved street, implying that all other, less important calles were once just dirt-packed alleyways. A stretto is a narrow passageway.

campo -- Elsewhere in Italy it's piazza. In Venice the only piazza is the Piazza San Marco (and its two bordering piazzette); all other squares are campi or the diminutive, campielli. Translated as "field" or "meadow," these were once small, unpaved grazing spots for the odd chicken or cow. Almost every one of Venice's campi carries the name of the church that dominates it (or once did) and most have wells, no longer used, in the center.

canale -- There are three wide, principal canals: the Canal Grande (affectionately called "il Canalazzo," the Canal), the Canale della Giudecca, and the Canale di Cannaregio. Each of the other 160-odd smaller canals is called a rio. A rio terrà is a filled-in canal -- wide and straight -- now used as a street. A piscina is a filled-in basin, now acting as a campo or piazza.

fondamenta -- Referring to the foundations of the houses lining a canal, this is a walkway along the side of a rio (small canal). Promenades along the Grand Canal near the Piazza San Marco and the Rialto are called riva as in the Riva del Vin or Riva del Carbon, where cargo such as wine and coal were once unloaded.

ramo -- Literally "branch," a small side street.

salizzada -- The word originally meant "paved," so any street you see prefaced with salizzada was one of the first streets in Venice to be paved.

sottoportego -- An alley that ducks under a building.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.