Italy – The Square of the Moors and Mr. Rioba, Venice

The square of the Moors and Mr. Rioba

In my last post about Venice, I introduced you to the story of Palazzo Mastelli also known as the “Camel’s house“. In this post I’ll tell you about its inhabitants.

The Square of the Moors is located in the area of Cannaregio and is called “Campo Dei Mori” because of the presence of 4 oriental figures that were placed there in the wall of a house in 1300. The addition of the turbans on the statues, you see now, came in the sixteenth century (to know more about who these Moors were and where Palazzo Mastelli, the camel’s house is, follow this link: ).

Three of these statues are located in the square itself and represent three brothers, Rioba, Santi and Alfano. Instead, you can find the fourth close to the “sotoportego” (tunnel), and he is thought to represent their servant.

The story goes that the three brothers tried to rob from a poor widow who had come to them to buy their fabrics. Rioba and the two brothers showed her the worst type of fabric making her believe, however, that these were their best ones. The woman, who was also a sorceress, knew fabrics understood what trick they tried to pull on her, and she  punished them, at the very moment the three brothers touched her to take the money they turned into stone forever stuck in the pose. When the servant went to the shop, and found the three brothers turned into, he took them and placed them in the wall of the palace, where you can still see them today.

Mr. Rioba (the most famous of the 3 statues)

During “La Serenissima” (Republic of Venice ) it was forbidden to publicly make fun of  the nobility. For this reason in Venice, as in Rome, some statues became known as the “voice” of the citizens. The Oracles were people who wrote satirical poems in anonymity and left them attached to these statues, where they were read by anyone who so desired. Mr. Rioba, the bronze-nosed statue, was just one of these statues.
Many people, then, turned to him with real questions from which they “received” answers.

The statue of the Rioba was also the protagonist of various little tricks that the Venetian porters made to their colleagues from Valtellina, who always complained about their hard work. The Venetians, in fact, sent heavy and voluminous parcels addressed to “Mr. Antonio Rioba, at Campo dei Mori, Parrocchia of the Madonna dell’Orto, Sestier de Cannaregio, Venice” with the aim of making the Lombards make empty rounds around of the Mr. Rioba!

In the nineteenth century the statue also lost its nose which was replaced with a piece  of iron. From here the legend that rubbing his nose would bring good luck.

In 2010, Mr. Rioba was also beheaded. Authorities, newspapers, blogs were mobilized, they talked about it, Facebook groups were born, all of Venice was in turmoil. Until, finally, two days after the disappearance, the head was found in Calle della Racchetta and put back on the statue.

By now we know about the house and its inhabitants, but that’s not all there is to tell.

In my next post I will tell you the story about the daughter of Tintoretto. Trying to remember who Tintoretto was… follow this link