About Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello
The square of Campo dei Mori is characterised by four stone statues built into the wall of Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello (‘The House of the Mysterious Statues’) – another old Venetian gothic palace. The statutes depict three men with startled faces, along with a bas-relief of a camel, and are linked to a mysterious legend.
History of Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello
Originally constructed in the 12th century, the Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello formerly belonged to three brothers – Rioba, Sandi and Afani – who were very rich silk and spices merchants. They had relocated from the Peloponnese to Venice around 1112. Called Mori (Moors) by local Venetians (as they came from the kingdom of Morea), they later adopted the name Mastelli. The statues depict them.
However, an old Venetian story claims that the statues that feature on the Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello’s wall are actually Rioba, Sandi, and Afani themselves – the petrified former owners of the palace, and one of their servants.
Legend has it that the brothers tried to scam a rich Venetian lady who had recently been widowed and had inherited a tailoring workshop. They attempted to sell her poor quality fabric for a very expensive price, but on discovering their scam, the widow prayed to Saint Mary Magdalene to curse the money she paid to them. When the 3 dishonest merchants touched the money, they were transformed into stone statues – and are still standing there today to remind passers by that divine justice punishes sinners.
Some say their camel was also petrified, though some claim a wealthy middle eastern merchant, forced to leave his country to move to Venice, decided to have a camel carved on the façade of the Palazzo in order to try make it recognisable to the woman he loved, should she change her mind from not marrying him and decide to join him. Either way, the building is commonly known by Venetians as the camel’s house.
Venetians also believe that if you touch the nose of the statue of Sior Antonio Rioba, you’ll have luck in your business affairs. After the statue lost its original stone nose in the 19th century, the nose was re-created with a piece of iron which started the story.
Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello today
The four statues are clearly visible today at Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello, as is the bas-relief of a camel, and the building now houses apartments that enjoy a view of the lagoon from the top floor.
On 30 April 2010, the statue of Sior Antonio Rioba was decapitated. Its stone head discovered a few days later and the statue was restored.
Getting to Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello
The Palazzo Mastelli del Cammello can be viewed from the Campo dei Mori square, and is located in the Cannaregio sestiere, one of the most picturesque neighbourhoods of Venice.