Fires were a very real preoccupation of the Venetians. The houses are built close together for lack of space and the alleyways are often narrow. Fire therefore spread easily.
As can be understood from the list of fires below, the Venetians had very good reasons to be afraid of fires.
A list of major fires in Venice
This list is definitely not complete. It is drawn from a couple of classic reference books on the history of Venice, in primis the Curiosità Veneziane by Tassini, which is full of such bits of information.
Fires in the 1100s, 1200s and 1300s
- January 1105
A large fire, cause by lightning and strong winds, damaged both the Palazzo Ducale and the Basilica di San Marco. The church and two monasteries at San Lorenzo also burned, together with the churches of Santa Maria Formosa, San Provolò, San Maurizio, San Samuele, San Vidal, San Zulian, San Zaccaria, and San Moisè. The churches of Sant’Agnese, San Cassiano, San Trovaso, San Gregorio, and San Barnaba were destroyed across the Grand Canal (San Marco, Castello, Dorsoduro).
A fire broke out in the area of Santa Maria Mater Domini, and that church and the churches of San Stae, San Stin, Sant’Agostin, San Boldo, San Giacomo dell’Orio, San Zan Degolà, Santa Croce, San Simeon Profeta, San Simeon Apostolo, San Basegio, San Nicolò dei Mendicoli and San Raffaele burned, along with many houses (Santa Croce, Dorsoduro).
In Campo dei Gesuiti, the church of Santa Maria Assunta was rebuilt after a fire (Cannaregio).
The Franciscan monastery (now the State Archive) near the Basilica dei Frari burned down (San Polo).
Fires in the 1400s
The church and monastery of San Girolamo were destroyed by fire and rebuilt (Cannaregio).
- September 14th, 1479
A fire in the apartment of the Doge in the Palazzo Ducale forced the Doge to flee the palace (San Marco).
The Palazzo Ducale gravely damaged by fire (San Marco).
Fires in the 1500s
A large fire in the Casselleria (San Marco).
The Fontego dei Tedeschi near the Rialto Bridge burned down (San Marco).
- October 1st, 1505
A fire destroyed many workshops in the Calle Due Mori near the Rialto (San Polo).
- March 12th, 1509
A gunpowder explosion in the Arsenale killed about 60 persons and damaged many houses, part of the corderie and of the wall around the Arsenale (Castello).
- December 19th, 1511
A large fire broke out in the Dogana da Terra (customs house) near Rialto at 8pm, and all the merchants of the area spent all night emptying their warehouses to save the merchandise (San Polo).
- January 10th and 11th, 1513 m.v. (1514)
The Rialto area on the San Polo side was almost totally destroyed by a large fire, including the then wooden Rialto Bridge. The rebuilt bridge is the current Rialto Bridge (San Polo).
- January 12th, 1515 m.v. (1516)
A behind behind the church of San Cassiano burned down several houses (San Polo).
- July 12th, 1518
A fire in the Frezzaria burned down five houses. See entry from Curiosità Veneziane by Tassini (San Marco).
At least part of the monastery of Santo Stefano damaged by fire (San Marco).
- August 16, 1532
The Corner Zaguri palace near San Maurizio burned down the the foundations. The fire started from some braziers with burning coal which had been left burning overnight near boxes with sugar in the ground floor (San Marco).
- September 13th and 14th, 1569
A gunpowder depot in the Arsenale burned, and the explosions damaged many buildings, including the nunnery at Celestia (Castello).
A fire destroyed the monastery of San Giovanni in Laterano, and killed the abbess (Castello).
Another fire at the Palazzo Ducale destroyed many pieces of art (San Marco).
A fire in the Palazzo Ducale, which started in the Sala dello Scrutinio, destroyed many artworks and damage the lead roof of the building (San Marco).
- January 24th, 1587 m.v. (1588)
The seat of the Scuola della Passione, close to the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, burned (San Polo).
A palace near San Giovanni Grisostomo, which supposedly had belonged to Marco Polo, was destroyed by fire (Cannaregio).
Fires in the 1600s
- May 26th, 1620
At the Ponte Marcello near the Tolentini the ancient Scuola dei Laneri (guild of the wool workers) burned. A patrician, Nicolò Malipiero, died under a falling wall (Santa Croce).
- November 27th, 1621
A nightly fire close to San Simeon Grande destroyed six houses and killed a child of five years (Santa Croce).
Fire in the Fondaco delle farine (a state granary) new San Silvestro with damages of 25,000 ducats (San Polo).
The bakeries of the navy, near San Martin and San Biagio, burned down (Castello).
The Teatro di San Luca burned down (San Marco).
- September 1683
Barbaria de le Tole burned, with many houses destroyed. See entry from Curiosità Veneziane by Tassini (Castello).
- June 2nd, 1686
The second fire in Barbaria de le Tole. See entry from Curiosità Veneziane by Tassini (Castello).
- April 12th, 1691 (Holy Thursday)
Fire near Rio dei Biri at ten in the evening (Cannaregio).
Fires in the 1700s
The monastero of San Girolamo damaged by fire (Cannaregio).
- December 15th, 1719
In a fire in Corte Nuova died Giacomo dal Missier masteler with his wife Elisabetta and another person (Castello).
- August 3rd, 1725
A large fire erupted at the Ponte dell’Aseo near San Marcuola (Cannaregio).
- October 18th, 1728
A fire in Calle della Bissa near the Rialto Bridge (San Marco).
- July 12th, 1735
At the Ponte di S. Provolo and Calle delle Rasse a fire which started in the house of Antonio Biondini droghier consumed all the surrounding houses (Castello).
- August 28th, 1738
The Palazzo Bartolini on the Fondamenta della Madonna dell’Orto burned (Cannaregio).
The Palazzo Priuli Scarpon near San Felice burned (Cannaregio).
The Teatro di San Luca burned down (San Marco).
The small monastery of San Nicoletto della Lattuga at the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, burned (San Polo).
- January 5th, 1748 m.v. (1749)
Fire in a warehouse in Calle delle Cappuccine because a worker entered smoking a pipe. It lasted until the day after, and another worker died of the fumes. Material losses included 145 bales of cotton, and five houses belonging to the Morosini family (Castello).
- December 14th, 1749
Fire in a bakery in Corte Contarina near San Moisè (San Marco).
- January 26th, 1750 m.v. (1751)
The Palazzo Foscari, near San Barnaba, is damaged by fire (San Polo).
- October 30th, 1751
In Campo SS Giovanni e Paolo a fire started at night in a salami maker’s shop, from where it spread to several other shops, and the building above owned by the Grimani family (Castello).
- April 15th, 1752
A great fire in Calle Barucchi near the Ghetto Vecchio (Cannaregio).
- November 25th, 1753
On the Riva del Vin, near the Rialto markets, four houses and two shops burned down (San Polo).
- December 15th, 1755
At the Ponte di Donna Onesta a fire broke out in the house of printer Stefano Tramontin (San Polo).
- November 2nd, 1758
A violent fire broke out in Ca’ Coreggio at San Cassian at 4am, but it was nonetheless put out quickly, limiting the damages (Santa Croce).
- March 14th, 1763
A fire in Calle Bembo near San Salvatore destroyed an inn (San Marco).
Fire at the Zitelle on the Giudecca island (Dorsoduro).
An osteria burned down in Calle Bastion near San Martino (Castello).
A fire at the Santa Maria dei Servi burned the guild house of the dyers(Cannaregio).
- September 5th, 1771
In Ramo Galion near San Giacomo dell’Orio a fire broke out in the small hours of the night. It started in the house of a tanner, and several houses belonging to the Scuola di S. Giovanni Evangelista burned (Santa Croce).
- April 28th, 1773
A fire in Ruga Vecchia at Rialto damaged a spice shop.
The Teatro di S. Benedetto burned down (San Marco).
The Gothic Palazzo Michiel burned because of an inattentive domestic servant. The palace acquired the surname del brusà, ‘of the fire’ (Cannaregio).
Palazzo Savorgnan damaged by fire (Cannaregio)
- November 28th, 1789
At San Marcuola a fire in a warehouse full of oil spread out of control, and destroyed over sixty buildings and left over one hundred forty families homeless (Cannaregio).
Fires in the 1800s and 1900s
- 1800 or 1801
The Da Ponte palace near San Maurizio was damage by a fire (San Marco).
Another fire in the Corner Zaguri palace at San Maurizio (San Marco).
The bakeries of the navy, near San Martin and San Biagio, burned again (Castello).
- December 13th, 1836
The Teatro la Fenice partially burned down (San Marco).
- August 16th, 1867
The Capella del Rosario in the Basilica SS Giovanni e Paolo was completely destroyed by fire, including all the artworks inside (Castello).
Fire destroyed six of the buildings in the oldest part of the Arsenale (Castello).
- January 29th, 1996
The Teatro la Fenice burned down again, this time completely (San Marco).