Tourists are everywhere in Venice, from the footpaths alongside the canals to the small archways and side streets, pouring out into the larger piazzas with sandwiches and water bottles in tow. Venetian residents, in turn, have learned how to pick their way through the hordes or take alternative routes to avoid them entirely. But despite the constant battling and traffic, there is one side street that remains conspicuously empty at all times: Campiello Barbaro.

Urban legends abound in Italy’s floating city, but none is as poignant as the story of Ca’ Dario, the perpetually dark palazzo at 352 Campiello Barbaro, just across the Grand Canal from Palazzo Gritti.

Ca’ Dario, a 15th-century building with a Gothic-style façade of polychrome marble and Istrian stone, has three distinctive circular windows that peer onto the water. In his 1900 novel, The Flame, Gabriele D’Annunzio described it as “an old courtesan bent under the weight of her jewelry.”

Ca’ Dario, painted by Claude Monet in 1908.

Yet despite being the subject of praise from Monet (a series of his paintings from 1908 captures the palazzo’s reflection on the canal’s murky green waters in the daytime, and its beauty in orange hues at twilight), John Ruskin (who described its marble-encrusted oculi in The Stones of Venice), and Henry James (who, in his 1909 book of travel writing, Italian Hours, compared the palazzo to “a house of cards”), today “gondolieri won’t even park their boats near it,” Mafalda Arrivabene, an art-studio manager who grew up in Venice, tells me.

“Don’t say that building’s name!,” Isabella Bovio, a student who was also raised in Venice, warns, adding, “I wouldn’t even write about it if I were you.”

Ca’ Dario has allegedly been cursed for centuries, all the way up to its last tenant, the Who bassist John Entwistle, who died a week after renting it, in 2002. “Three things happen,” Arrivabene says, of anyone who sets foot on the property. “Bereavement, bankruptcy, or death.”

An Inauspicious Beginning

Giovanni Dario, the secretary of the Venetian Republic, commissioned the architect Pietro Lombardo to build Ca’ Dario for his daughter, Marietta, in 1479, to celebrate her impending marriage to the prosperous spice merchant Vincenzo Barbaro. He inscribed VRBIS GENIUS JOHN DARIUS, Latin for “Giovanni Dario, patron of the city,” around its archways.

Soon after Ca’ Dario’s completion, the family fell victim to a fate akin to that of the actors in the first, fateful staging of Macbeth, in 1606. In quick succession, Giovanni Dario died, Barbaro lost his fortune and was then stabbed to death, and, as legend has it, Marietta committed suicide, at age 32. Years later, during the siege of Sitia, Marietta and Barbaro’s son Giacomo was ambushed and violently murdered by the Turks, in Crete.

The curse lay mostly dormant as the house passed through the hands of the Barbaro bloodline for several generations; cropped up in the 19th century when the Armenian jewel dealer Arbit Abdoll bought the palazzo, then promptly lost his fortune; left its mark on the poet Henri de Régnier, a guest of the French countess Isabelle de La Baume-Pluvinel, who fell gravely ill during his stay there; and spared the next owners, including a Hungarian count.

“Three things happen,” to anyone who sets foot in Ca’ Dario. “Bereavement, bankruptcy, or death.”

It returned in earnest in the 1900s, when the American millionaire Charles Briggs purchased Ca’ Dario, just after W.W. I, only to be forced to flee amid rumors of his homosexuality. Briggs ended up in exile in Mexico, where his lover eventually committed suicide.

Ca’ Dario then remained empty until the 1960s, when the Italian count Filippo Giordano delle Lanze bought it and took up residence there. Two years later, Giordano delle Lanze’s lover, the Croatian sailor Raoul Blasich, smashed his beloved’s head with a candlestick. The count is rumored to have been left half naked, lying in a pool of blood opposite a portrait of himself in his bedroom. Blasich escaped to London before gossip began swirling about his own mysterious disappearance.

In 1970, Count Filippo Giordano delle Lanze was found murdered by his lover in Ca’ Dario.

Ownership then fell into even dodgier hands. Kit Lambert, the manager of the Who, acquired it in the early 1970s. Though he marched around Venice with swagger, courting Peggy Guggenheim and referring to himself as “Conte Lamberti,” he often slept at Palazzo Gritti to “escape the ghosts.” Lambert’s time at Ca’ Dario marked the beginning of his long struggle with addiction to drugs and alcohol. In 1981, three years after selling the palazzo to the Italian financier Fabrizio Ferrari (no relation to the car company), he slipped down a set of stairs and died of a brain hemorrhage.

More freak accidents ensued. Ferrari moved in with his glamorous sister, Nicoletta, who died in a mysterious car accident when she was 43, in 1987.

“It was as if she wasn’t alone,” the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported at the time. “When they found her, Nicoletta Ferrari had her skirt and blouse rolled up, she wasn’t wearing panties and/or a bra, and her body was perfectly composed. Her hands were crossed on her chest.” No one was ever charged for her murder.

“Don’t say that building’s name! I wouldn’t even write about it if I were you.”

Perhaps the palazzo’s most famous owner was the Italian financier Raul Gardini, who became embroiled in the country’s multi-billion-dollar Enimont scandal in the early 90s. In 1993, as more details emerged, Gardini shot himself in the head with a pistol.

“After the Gardini tragedy,” Isabella Bovio says, “Venetians anagrammed Dario’s inscription to SVB RVINA INSIDIOSA GENERO, Latin for ‘I bring insidious ruin.’”

Ca’ Dario’s fraught reputation has since scared off buyers, though Woody Allen was said to have considered purchasing it in the 90s. (“That was a completely untrue rumor,” Allen wrote in his response to my request for comment. “I never for one second considered buying the place, and while I love Venice and am thankful for any opportunity to visit or work there, I love staying at the Gritti and never imagined buying a home there.”)

An old illustration of the palazzo. Today, “gondolieri won’t even park their boats near it,” says Mafalda Arrivabene, who grew up in Venice.

Since 1993, the building has been in the hands of an anonymous American owner, who has undertaken extensive renovations on the building’s foundations. The house is currently on sale through Christie’s for upwards of $21 million. Yet Venetians are wary that the new paintwork will do little to deter the curse, and each has their superstitious way of dealing with its presence.

“I always make a wish when I pass by,” Bovio says, “but I try not to look.”

“I say a prayer sometimes,” Leonardo Esposito, a student who lives in Venice, says. “I also touch my balls.”

Some say that Ca’ Dario is like a femme fatale, ensnaring her lovers with her beauty and then causing their demise. A line from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno comes to mind: “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Elena Clavarino is the Senior Editor for AIR MAIL