Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo

Completed Project
Venice, Italy


An early Renaissance staircase set into a circular Byzantine-style tower, the Bovolo Staircase at the Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is an architectural icon in Venice. The word bovolo means snail shell or spiral staircase in Venetian dialect and the structure, built by an unknown architect in the late 15th century, connects the loggias of the main palazzo to a small residential courtyard below. Though the staircase underwent several restorations in the 19th century, it remained in decaying condition until the late 1960s, when WMF’s Venice Committee adopted it as a priority conservation project. The structure, with its ascending rows of round-headed arches, is the only one of its kind to be found in Venice today.

How We Helped

By the time WMF began its conservation of the staircase in 1966, the structure’s central core was on the verge of collapse, and the white Istrian stone used for its colonnade had become blackened from exposure to airborne sulfates. WMF consolidated the central supporting column and repaired damaged treads, then inserted steel rods into the staircase to anchor the steps. Using a chemical treatment WMF cleaned the staircase’s façade, returning the stone to its natural color and removing incrustation that had amassed on its surface. Conservationists injected epoxy resins to stabilize the stonework, and applied a resin film to prevent moisture from penetrating the stonework.

Why It Matters

Before WMF’s intervention, the condition of the Bovolo Staircase put it in imminent danger of collapse. The organization’s conservation efforts restored the structure to its original glory as an unusual and impressive blend of Byzantine and Renaissance architectural styles. Equally important, structural improvements made touristic use of the staircase safe and eliminated its threat to passersby. The work, largely carried out by the Minnesota chapter of the Venice Committee, won that group the prestigious Premio Torta, awarded biennially to honor a significant contribution to the preservation of Venice.

Last updated: October 2015.

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