In the far north of Cannaregio sits an elongated square with a well-known house, Palazzo Mastelli. In the 12th century it belonged to three merchant brothers _ Robia, Sandi and Alfani Mastelli – who hailed from Morea (the Peloponnese). These medieval silk traders made this family palace their home. It is thought that in due course the campo in front of their home took on the brothers’ nickname “Mori”.

Another theory behind the name suggests that the Fondaco degli Arabi (Arab merchants’ warehouse) was based on the edge of this campo and Venetians confused the two races. Whichever story is true, the enduring fame (or notoriety) of Campo dei Mori arose in subsequent years from the three statues of Arabian-style Moors, said to represent the brothers, on the eastern wall of their house. One of these – the one to which a rusty, and rather unsightly, replacement metal nose was added in the 19th century – has been affectionately known for hundreds of years as Signor Antonio Robia. At his feet the fractious Venetians would leave anonymous written denunciations of each other for all to read, giving the statue a role somewhat similar to that of Palaquino in Rome.

Round the corner, on Fondamenta dei Mori, the house in which the famous painter Tintoretto lived (number 3399) between 1574 and 1594 is marked with another turbaned statue, while a bridge to the north of the campo leads across Rio Madonna Dell’Orto to Chiesa Madonna dell’Orto, one of the finest Gothic churches in Venice.

Source by Harry Preston