Santa Maria della Salute
The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, referred to by most locals as simply Salute, sits on a narrow strip of land between the Grand Canal and the St. Mark’s Basin. The church was proposed in 1630 by the Venetian Senate in response to a particularly terrible wave of the plague, which had already killed about a third of the city’s population. The Senate promised to build the church in honor of Mary if she would free the city from the plague. After the epidemic had subsided, the Senate kept its promise and construction of the church soon started.
At the same time, the senate decided that the new church would be the site of the annual Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, which would involve a procession from San Marco to the Salute in the sestiere Dorsoduro. Because this would involve crossing the canal, the site was chosen for easy access. The annual feast – known as the Festa della Salute – is still held every November 21, when a temporary bridge is constructed over the Grand Canal.
Potential designers competed for the right to create this magnificent new basilica and, ultimately, Baldassare Longhena was chosen. Longhena designed a massive structure with large domes and volutes. He would never see his masterpiece completed; Longhena died five years before the church opened in 1687.