The Palazzo dei Camerlenghi is right next to the Rialto Bridge on the bank of the Canal Grande in Venice. Part of this, once lavishly decorated, building used to be a prison for insolvent people and tax cheats.
Palazzo dei Camerlenghi Venice
Address: Rugo dei Oresi, 1 – Venezia. Opening hours: The building is not open to tourists.
History and description
The Palazzo dei Camerlenghi was commissioned by Doge Andrea Gritti. Construction took from 1525 to 1528. Though this is not completely certain, the architect was probably Guglielmo Bergamasco. What is certain is that the architect was given a lot of liberty in his design, since the facade is sumptuously decorated.
The Palazzo was the residence of three camerlengos. A camerlengo was the person in charge of the fiscal administration of the Republic. According to a tradition each magistrate after having served the office had to donate a religiously themed painting to the building. The magistrate himself had to be portrayed somewhere in the painting. Many paintings were lost in 1815, when Venice came to be ruled by the Austrians. Part of the collection was returned in 1919 and can now be seen in the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini.
The ground floor was a prison for people with debts and people who had cheated on their taxes. In those days people in Venice could anonymously denounce tax evaders by putting letters into special mail boxes. The pedestrian path in front of the palace is called the Fondamenta della Preson.
The majority of the marble statues that used to adorn the facade are gone. The most striking decorations left are two capitals depicting a man and a woman. The man seems to have a strange growth between his legs and the woman flames between hers. According to legend the statues were placed here during construction of the Rialto Bridge. This took rather a long time and one impatient woman is supposed to have exclaimed that her vagina would burst out in flame when the bridge would finally be ready. A male inhabitant of the city is supposed to have replied that by then his penis would most likely have grown a nail.