Like Corto Maltese, we let ourselves be seduced by a mysterious palace at the extreme borders of the Cannareggio district: what is the truth about its name?
Venice, northern lagoon, Sacca della Misericordia, night-time. Like the comic book sailor Corto Maltese, we cross the waters in the dead of night, in flight from obscure enemies, already in pursuit of a new adventure. Our gaze is fixed on the east, towards mysterious lands, but the lights shining from the end of the Cannareggio district catch our eye. Lights, and the chilling howl of unidentifiable voices, restless spirits who have haunted this place for centuries, night after night.
If we were brave adventurers like the sailor created by Italian artist Hugo Pratt, we would probably anchor our boat to the Gasparo Contarini foundations and gaze up towards the Casino degli Spiriti, ready to uncork a bottle of Masottina Extra Dry Prosecco and commune with the spirits, listening to their stories to mitigate their ancient sufferings. However, we are not Corto Maltese, nor do we belong to the fantastic world of his creator. But we know how strongly our imagination can be seduced by old legends such as this. And if this place could speak, even though it looks like nothing more than an old lumber yard today, it would tell many dark and mysterious tales.
The elegance of the Casino degli Spiriti and its particular position overlooking the northern lagoon and the islands of San Michele and Murano, tell us that once upon a time this building was made to welcome very different guests: for famous masters such as Pietro Aretino, Tiziano, Sansovino, all the greatest artists who orbited around La Serenissima in the 16th century, this palace was a place of recreation, amusement and parties.
These artists were recognised as the "spirits" of their time, so it makes sense that what was previously known as Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo came to be known as the ‘house of spirits’. However, this palace also has a strange reputation, a darker one, which speaks of chilling sounds and ghostly apparitions. It is said, in fact, that here in the beautiful rooms of the place, Luzzo, a rather famous painter of the time and friend of Giorgione and Tiziano met his tragic end: he was madly in love with someone else’s lover, and this unrequited passion caused him to take his own life. A dramatic anecdote which, compounded by the lonely position of the building has contributed to the creation of its macabre myth. But dark legends such as this abound in the city of Venice, and many have argued that the tale of the sorrowful, scorned phantom-lover was possibly fuelled on purpose, as someone at some point might have manufactured the chilling sounds that many have heard here on the lagoon. On the other hand, experiencing the mysterious charm of this place, where the winds and the backwash often produce noises that resemble scary howls, even an expert on the supernatural like Corto Maltese could have easily been deceived.