In the Palazzo Gran Priorale in Venice, the ancient stables are now visible again, restored to their ancient appearance during the works of 2020, which constitute a suggestive location for conferences, exhibitions and receptions.
When we talk about “horses in Venice” the thought immediately runs to the two Horses of St. Mark: few know that until the thirteenth century Venice was a city very different from the one we know today, with a few low wooden bridges without steps, more similar to walkways than to the current bridges.
The streets and fields were not paved but were largely in beaten earth, starting from St. Mark’s Square itself, which remained unpaved until 1267: the horse (and so was the donkey) allowed to move more easily around the city, avoiding patricians and ecclesiastics to get muddy, and merchants to transport their goods more easily.
The most famous carousel organized in St. Mark’s Square was the one organized in 1361, after Venice managed to quell a revolt on the island of Heraklion: Francesco Petrarca also attended it, from above the pronaos of St. Mark’s Basilica, sitting next to the doge. The prize was a gold chain worth 360 gold ducats.
In the fifteenth century with the elevation of the bridges and the addition of the steps the horses disappeared from the narrow streets of Venice. But until 1735 behind the Basilica of SS. John and Paul remained active the “Cavallerizza dei nobili” which served as a riding school and where rides and tournaments were held between patricians.