Under the republic, only the church and state were permitted to erect towers, as they could conceivably be used for military purposes. In around 1400 the Contarini family, eager to show off their wealth and power, cheekily built this non-tower instead. Combining Venetian Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance elements, this romantic 'staircase' looks even higher than its 26m due to the simple trick of decreasing the height of the arches as it rises.
There's a wonderful view from the belvedere at the top, gazing over the rooftops to San Marco. Admission includes entry to the Tintoretto Room gallery on the second landing.