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A sestiere (plural: sestieri ) is a district of the historic center of Venice . These six districts are Santa Croce , San Polo and Dorsoduro as well as San Marco , Cannaregio and Castello .


The word is derived from sesto , sixth, and indicates that Venice is divided into six parts.

What is less well known is that Ascoli Piceno and Rapallo are similarly divided and that Genoa was also divided into sixths. In Leonessa in Latium the variant sesti is used. Regensburg , which was closely linked to Venice through trade in the Middle Ages, also adopted the Venetian model very early on in its division into so-called "Wachten". In addition, the Republic of Venice transferred parts of this spatial planning principle to its colonies , particularly extensively on Crete in the 13th century.

The six sestieri in the historic center of Venice
  • Cannaregio
  • Castello
  • Dorsoduro
  • San Marco
  • San Polo
  • Santa Croce
  • Geographical location

    The sestieri were named early on according to their location on the right or left of the Grand Canal . The three districts on this side (de citra) of the canal (from the point of view of the political headquarters around St. Mark's Square) were compared to the three that were referred to as the other side (de ultra).

    To the north or left of the Grand Canal, which flows towards the east, i.e. de citra from the viewpoint of the Doge's Palace , is Cannaregio , where the ghetto is also located. To the east of this sestiere is the Castello , where the arsenal is located. San Marco fits into the large loop of the Grand Canal , where the political and spiritual center with St. Mark's Square , the Doge's Palace and St. Mark's Basilica is located.

    To the west and already on the south side, or to the right of the Grand Canal, there is Santa Croce , to which San Polo connects to the east , where the Rialto market and thus the former economic center is located. In the very south is Dorsoduro , which borders the Canale della Giudecca in the south.


    The sestieri to the left of the Grand Canal (Cannaregio, Castello and San Marco) are called de citra , those to the right (Dorsoduro, Santa Croce and San Polo) are called de ultra . The Sestieri de citra are still the political, economic and religious focus of the city today. More than 36,000 of the 60,000 inhabitants of the historic center today live to the left of the Grand Canal, i.e. mostly in the northern and eastern parts of the city.

    Since the 12th century at the latest, the sestieri have played an important role in the exercise of power within the Venetian urban area, alongside the roughly 70 parishes ( contrade ). This division probably went back to older traditions.


    The division of the city into sixths (sexterii or confinia) with administrative functions was probably created in the wake of the war against Byzantium , after Emperor Manuel I arrested all the Venetians in Constantinople in 1171 and had their goods confiscated. The division of the city into sixths was initially used to recruit ship crews for the campaign of revenge, which in turn supervised the leading men of the respective district. These six Capi dei Sestieri formed the Small Council, sat on the highest council bodies and formed a core part of the narrow government.

    Of the Sexterii there were three each de supra and de citra of the Canal Grande , i.e. on the other and this side of the canal - viewed from the perspective of Piazza San Marco, the center of the city then and now, from where one usually entered the city first, and not from the perspective of the mainland, from which today the city is generally entered via the Ponte della Libertà . These Sexterii in turn divided into about 70 contrade called parish districts. As the Chronicon Altinate reports, it was set up “pro paranda pecunia”, in order to provide money.

    Police and surveillance duties

    The sestieri also played an important role at the police and surveillance level. Before 1264, in addition to the Domini de Die (Lords of the Day), two Domini de Nocte (Lords of the Night) were responsible for each sestiere . They monitored their district at night and were responsible for police duties. In 1264 their number was increased to six. For their tasks, four custodes (guards) were available to them per sestiere , who, if they considered it necessary, also had to spend the night in their sestiere. If they were physically attacked during or after their term of office for any official acts, the Advocatores Comunis , the communal prosecutors, took over the investigation and conducted the hearing before the Quarantia , the supreme court. During the absence of the fleet, there could be a shortage of custodes . B. the dominus of the sestieri Cannaregio was allowed to compensate by resorting to the other sestieri, since he could not find anyone in his own who wanted to take on this dangerous task. Some judgments of the Quarantia , the highest court of justice, such as in the case of murder , show that this task was indeed not entirely without risk. From 1299, candidates for this office no longer had to live in Venice for at least ten years, as before, but it was enough if they had only lived in the city for a year.

    Handling of forced purchases

    Coercive measures were also taken at the sestieri level. In the case of compulsory purchases of wheat, all bakers or the entire population were forced to buy a certain amount of grain at a fixed price. These purchases were decided in the 13th and 14th centuries by the Great Council and the Senate, and in the 15th century by the Collegio delle Biave, which was responsible for grain issues ( Biave was the name given to bread grain, i.e. millet and wheat in particular ). The implementation took place under the direction of the approximately seventy Capi contrada , i.e. the leading heads of the parish priests, within three days to perhaps a few hundred households each.

    Asset appraisals

    The contrade and sestieri also provided the basis for property appraisals. At the same time, they show the different distribution of wealth in the city. In 1367 and 1425, for example, the exact assets of the contrade were determined in order to be able to subject them to irregular taxes, the imprestiti , which represented a kind of forced loan. These are based on the amount of assets. For the city as a whole, this resulted in a value of 363,421 ducats in 1425 , including San Marco 95,641, Castelo 65,363, Cannaregio 61,404, San Polo 55,933, Dorso Duro 46,367 and Sta. Croxe contributed 38,713 ducats to taxable wealth.

    The contrade, which mostly corresponded to an island, were each assigned to exactly one sestiere. San Marco had 16 contrade in this way , Castello and Cannaregio 12 each, Dorsoduro 10, and Santa Croce and San Polo 8 each. These figures changed slightly in line with population growth and land reclamation. In 1586 Castello, Cannaregio, San Polo and Dorsoduro each had one more contrada than in the 12th century.

    To this day, belonging to one of the sixths of the city plays an important role for most Venetians. This sense of belonging has been reflected in various competitions between the sestieri, such as regattas.

    Transfer to colonies and Burano

    Similar to the mother city, the colony of Crete was also divided into sestieri

    This type of organization was partially transferred to some Venetian colonies , particularly extensively in Crete and Burano (five on the island of Burano and the sixth on the neighboring island of Mazzorbo ).

    Burano sestieri:
  • Giudecca
  • San Mauro
  • San Martino Sinistra
  • San Martino Destra
  • Terranova
  • Mazzorbo (neighboring island)
  • In the course of the Fourth Crusade Venice received three eighths of the Byzantine Empire and from 1211 began to give out Crete in the form of fiefs that could only be sold to Venetians. Within a few years, 3,500 small feudal lords, known as milites , moved to the island. They were settled according to their native sestieri on the island, which had been divided into units of the same name. The sestieri were divided into towers and these in turn were divided into cavalry - 33 1/3 cavalry with 6 sergeants per sestiere. 132 of the 200 cavalry were awarded as well as 408 of the 1200 goods for simple milites or servientes .

    Postal addresses

    6828 Castello, Fondamenta Dandolo, highest house number in Venice

    The postal addresses also consist of a simple number that is clearly visible on the house (without the street name) and the associated sestiere. So all the houses of the respective sestiere were numbered consecutively, which results in house numbers beyond the 6,000.


    • Alessandro Badoer: Disegno della pianta di Venezia con tutti i canali, rij, chiese, ponti, isolette, descrition de sestieri… , Stefano Scolari , Venice 1677.

    See also


    1. ^ Alois Schmid : Historical Atlas of Bavaria, Vol. 60: Regensburg , Munich 1995, p. 144.
    2. ^ Henry Simonsfeld: The Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice and the German-Venetian trade relations , Stuttgart 1887, p. 137.
    3. Andreae Danduli Ducis Venetiarum Chronica per extensum descripta aa. 46-1280 , Ed. Ester Pastorello , Bologna 1938, p. 312.
    4. Roberto Cessi (Ed.): Deliberazioni del maggior consiglio di Venezia , Vol. 2 and 3, Bologna 1931–1934, Vol. II, n. XXXIVf., 218f., Both March 2, 1281 and n. XXXVI, 237, Oct 7, 1281.
    5. Roberto Cessi (ed.): Deliberazioni del maggior consiglio di Venezia , Vol. 2 and 3, Bologna 1931–1934, Vol. III, no. 97, p. 416, January 4, 1297. Violent activities against a guard “exercendo suum officium "(n. 153, Feb. 25, 1349).
    6. Roberto Cessi (ed.): Deliberazioni del maggior consiglio di Venezia , Vol. 2 and 3, Bologna 1931–1934, Vol. III, no. 7, 231, March 24, 1289.
    7. ^ Antonino Lombardo (ed.): Le deliberazioni del Consiglio dei XL della Repubblica di Venezia , Vol. 2, n.115 and 117f., January 13, 1349.
    8. ^ Antonino Lombardo (ed.): Le deliberazioni del Consiglio dei XL della Repubblica di Venezia , n.24, 399, June 1, 1296.
    9. Antonino Lombardo (Ed.): Le deliberazioni del Consiglio dei XL della Repubblica di Venezia , n.39, 455, June 23, 1299.
    10. Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana , Cronaca Veneta attribuita a Gasparo Zancaruolo, dalle origini della città al 1466, Vol. 2 dall'elezione di Marin Falier a. 1354 - (c. 695) "A di 26. Decembrio MCDXLVI., Copy of the Codex Braidense (VII, 49-50) from 1519 from the 18th century, It. VII 1274-1275 (9274-9275), f. 515r -516r.
    11. ^ Karl Julius Beloch : Population history of Italy , Vol. 3: The population of the Republic of Venice, the Duchy of Milan, Piedmont, Genoas, Corsicas and Sardinia. The total population of Italy , Berlin 1961, section VII: The Republic of Venice and Giambattista Gallicciolli: Delle memorie venete antiche, profane ed ecclesiastiche , Venice 1795, vol. 2, p. 185.
    12. ^ Roberto Cessi: Storia della Repubblica di Venezia , 2 vol., Milan / Messina, 1944–1946, 2nd edition 1968, p. 207.
    13. ^ Freddy Thiriet : La Romanie vénitienne au Moyen Age. Le développement et l'exploitation du domaine colonial vénitien (XII-XV siècles) , Paris 1959, 2nd edition Paris 1975, pp. 25ff .; Silvano Borsari: Il dominio veneziano a Creta nel XIII secolo , Naples 1966, p. 28. Heinrich Kretschmayr ( History of Venice , 3 vols., Gotha 1905 and 1920, Stuttgart 1934, reprint Aalen 1964, vol. 2, p. 567) was able to make plausible that it was not 48, but 408 sergentarie .