Venetian word of the day: ospeàl


In most cities the ospeàl is not a place you want to visit. But if you are in need of medical attention you should go ae porte del ospeàl where you will be treated as an emergency by the doctors.


I’m sure you’ve guessed by now that these words and phrases mean ‘hospital’ and ‘go to the emergency room’. And in Venice, you might just want to visit the hospital because it’s one of the most stunning buildings in the city.

The Scuola Grande di San Marco

The building which now serves as Venice’s hospital was begun in 1490 after the previous building was destroyed by fire. It housed the Scuola Grande di San Marco, one of six charitable confraternities in Venice, which had been founded in 1260. The main facade was designed by Mauro Codussi, while the side of the building we see today was remodelled in the 16th century by Jacopo Sansovino. It’s located in Campo de San Zanipolo (di Santi Giovanni e Paolo) right next to the church. The rear of the building, where there is now a modern extension, is accessible via the fondamente nove over looking the north of the Venetian lagoon.

scuola grande di san marco
The facades of the Scuola Grande di San Marco (left) and the church of San Zanipolo (right).

At the end of the Venetian Republic in 1797, most of the Scuole Grandi were closed down. Under the Austrian occupation, the Scuola Grande di San Marco was converted into a military hospital which then became the civic hospital.

The Sala Capitolare

Following a restoration, the original building was re-opened in 2013 and can now be visited. The grand Sala Capitolare, which has a breathtaking wooden ceiling studded with gold symbols of all the Venetian scuole grandi, houses a museum of medicine. The ceiling was designed and executed in 1519 by Vettor Scienzia da Feltre and Vincenzo da Trento.

scuola grande di san marco
The ceiling of the Sala Capitolare showing the symbols of the Scuole Grandi with the lion of San Marco in the centre.


The Sala dell’albergo

The Sala dell’albergo, which has a similar ceiling, originally housed a cycle of paintings depicting the life and legends of San Marco. These included the Martyrdom of Saint Mark by Giovanni Bellini, now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia; the Doge receiving the ring, by Paris Bordone, also in the Gallerie dell’Accademia; Saint Mark preaching in Alexandria by Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, which can be seen today in the Pinacoteca di Brera in Milan; other paintings by Palma il Vecchio and Giovanni Mansueti. Copies of all of these are now on display in the original location which gives you an idea of the splendour of this room.

paris bordone
The Doge receiving the ring by Paris Bordone, now in the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice.

Andar ae porte del ospeàl

The phrase we saw above, andar ae porte del ospeàl, which means to visit the emergency room, is literally translated as ‘go to the doors of the hospital’. Well, as with most things, in Venice there’s another reason why you’d want to do that.

One of the most interesting, and overlooked, features of  the Scuola Grande is the graffiti on the posts of the main door. Much of it is from the 16th century and includes inscriptions detailing people’s return to health after illnesses and also some depictions of contemporary ships. Some of these, including a strange drawing of a man wearing a turban and holding a heart in his hand, have given rise to some popular stories and legends.

scuola grande di san marco
Some of the ancient graffiti on the door posts of the Scuola Grande di San Marco.
scuola grande di san marco
More graffiti depicting a ship.


Have you ever visited the Scuola Grande di San Marco either as a patient or a visitor? I’d love to hear about it below.


7 thoughts on “Venetian word of the day: ospeàl”

  1. I sure have, and it was well worth the trouble to make many visits before the restored Grand Sala was finally opened to the public. I also thoroughly enjoyed exploring the several internal courtyards with their pozzi, and cats!

    1. It’s fabulous isn’t it? I particularly love the ceiling. It was the wallpaper on my mobile phone for years before I replaced it with one of the Paolo Veronese ceilings from the Palazzo Ducale. The internal courtyards are beautiful and so peaceful. A building well-suited to its current job.

  2. Pingback: Venetian word of the day: castelàn - Luca's Italy

  3. Pingback: Secret symbols of the Rialto - Luca's Italy

  4. Pingback: Secret symbols of the Rialto – News Blog

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: