With its richly-decorated facade of polychrome marble and porphyry, the late 15th-century Palazzo Trevisan Cappello is one of those rare private residences whose facade can almost compete with the surface grandeur of the nearby Basilica San Marco. Believed to have been designed by Bartolomeo Bon the younger, who was the initial architect of the Scuola di San Rocco, as well as of the Procuratie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco, the palazzo is also one of those buildings which nearly every visitor to Venice has seen, if not consciously noted. For located just a short way behind the basilica, and just down the canal spanned by the Bridge of Sighs, its ground floor has long been occupied by a glass showroom on one side, and a lace showroom on the other, both of which are reached by the same rather wide bridge.
There are occupied apartments on the topmost floors of the palazzo, but the piano nobile has been empty for quite some time. A friend told me that a little less than 10 years ago the latest owner of the palazzo had some elaborate plans to develop the property into extremely high end apartments, complete with the use of a private plane for intra-European jaunts. But those plans seem never to have gotten off the ground.
So the grandest floor of the building is still vacant of all but workmen--and, for a short time yesterday morning, of all but me. I had the unexpected chance to wander alone through the completely empty place, which seemed even larger than one might expect looking at it from the outside. Like many old Venetian residences that haven't been divided up into modern apartments, the dimensions of the space--the way one room leads to another, that one to another, that one to some dark narrow hall, that dark narrow hall to a tiny room situated at a slightly lower level--seem at a certain point to become fantastical, dream-like.
With almost all of the shutters closed up tight, and not a sound to be heard, you can almost start to believe that a particularly dark crooked blind hallway might, if followed, lead you into the depths of a maze from which there will be no easy or obvious or perhaps logical escape. Which is of course entirely irrational, for even in this infamously maze-like city buildings are limited in physical space; they don't just branch off from one dark shuttered room to another, to another, to another...
Even if they give every indication of doing just that?
Alas, I didn't have all the time needed to find out. There were dark rooms and dark reaches I had to leave unexplored, and some I did see that were too dark to be photographed.
When I returned outside to the light of day and tourist bustle my shoes were coated with a soft fine powdery pale dust, like no other I'd ever encountered at a work-site, nor in our normal world of sunlight and open windows and comings and goings. Dust like that which must have settled upon Dickens's old Miss Havisham, I imagined, the almost immaterial residue of long idle empty decades.