Venice. Venezia. Venedig. A beloved city with many names. And many canals. The largest is the famous Grand Canal, or Canal Grande. The Veneti people inhabited the region around 10 BC. It was a separate country, the Venetian Republic, or La Serenissima, a maritime sovereign state that existed for 1000 years (697-1797). It was a major financial power in the Middle Ages and Renaissance times. There are many beautiful historical buildings in Venice, many in Venetian Gothic, Renaissance or Baroque style, mostly churches and palaces but also small residential houses in more simple style. Gondolas are very famous symbols of Venice, used since the 11th century. But they are very expensive, it can cost 100 euro for only a couple of minutes. The gondolier use a rowing oar to keep the gondola, often black, moving. For centuries gondolas were the most common boat in Venice. Today it is mostly loving couples, just married couples and tourists that use the gondola service. Some Venetians use them to as a transport through the Grand Canal however. Due to the low setting and all the water in and around the city, Venice is often flooded.
ST MARK’S SQUARE:
The main square is St Mark’s Square, Piazza San Marco where the famous St Mark’s Basilica, with its Campanile Tower is. Piazza San Marco is very large and in a rectangular shape, with palaces in every corner, often crowded with tourists. It is said that Napoleon called the square “the drawing room of Europe”.
St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco) is the most famous church in Venice and a symbol of the city. It is a Roman Catholic church and is very beautiful, built in Italo-Byzantine style in the 11th century (978-1092), and five almost Gothic domes. It resembles Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia, especially the large interior with its golden ceilings, mosaics and paintings. It is not allowed to take pictures inside the basilica, and it had just closed for the day when we arrived, so no pictures are provided of the interior. It is the city’s cathedral since 1807. The building has been nicknamed Chiesa d’Oro (Church of Gold), as a symbol for wealth and power. The Horses of St Mark, four horse sculptures, stand above the main entrance, but they are just replicas. The originals are kept in the St Mark’s Museum inside the cathedral. They were part of a loot during the Fourth Crusade, taken from Constantinopel n 1204, and for some time Napoleon in Paris kept them. In the Treasury there are Byzantine metalworks on display.
Il Campanile, St Mark’s Campanile, is the tallest building in Venice, with a height of 98.6m, and stands next to St Mark’s Basilica. There is a modern elevator that goes to the observation deck, that we visited. The first Campanile collapsed in 1906 (due to damage from storms, earthquakes, lightning etc) and the current tower replaced it in 1912. The previous tower reached its full height in 1514. The red brick structure is topped by a pyrmid structure with a weather vane in form of the archangel Gabriel. At the observation deck level there is a belfry that can be seen by visitors. The most remarkable detail is that Venice’s canals cannot be seen from above, not even Canal Grande, the tower is not high enough. The Logetta is a decorative neo-classical structure that was built on the foot of the Campanile and is the entrance.
Doge’s Palace, Palazzo Ducale (Venetian: Palaso Dogal) is a famous palace that lies between St Mark’s Square and the St Mark’s Basin (waterfront), built in 1340-1442 in Venetian Gothic style. It is very large and also a symbol of Venice. It is a museum since 1923, that features famous paintings. In the Chamber of the Great Council, behind the Doge’s throne, you find one of the longest canvas painting in the world, Il Paradiso by Tintoretto. Many fires have destroyed parts of the building in the early decades. In the 16th century the palace was linked to the prizon by the famous Bridge of Sighs. The entrance fee is currently 28 euro (2021), due to the short time we had to spend in Venice we didn’t go inside the Doge’s Palace.
Biblioteca Marciana (Library of St Mark) is a white neo-classicist palace between the square and the basin, established 1468. It features one million post-16th century books and faces the Doge’s Palace. Statues are placed all along the roof and the interior is magnificent with domes, sculptures and paintings and a large inner courtyard.
The white connected palaces with arcades in three corners along the perimeter of St Mark’s Square are called the Procuratie and were built 1514-1538. The arcades along these buildings are filled with stores, restaurants and cafés, like the famous Caffè Quadri and Caffè Florian, founded in 1720. One of the Procuratie palaces houses the Museo Correr, that has art collections and tells the history of Venice. It was founded by the art collector Teodore Correr.
Torre dell'Orologio, or St Mark’s Clock Tower is a 15th century renaissance building on the North side of Piazza San Marco, with a clock tower in the middle. On top are “the Moors” striking the hours. There are many details to be seen on the tower. The zodiac signs in the clock show the position of the sun in the zodiac. On the other side of the structure is Rialto, the commercial heart of Venice, where the famous Rialto Bridge is.
San Marco Basin (St Mark’s Basin) is the waterfront that faces St Mark’s Square, where the Piazzetta is an extention of the piazza, facing the Venetian Lagoon. The Columns of San Marco and San Todaro can be found there. The sculpture the Lion of Venice is on top of St Mark’s Column. It is a station for gondolas, and many beautiful gondolas can be seen here. Riva degli Schavione is a beautiful waterfront promenade near St Mark’s Square, along St Mark’s Basin. This is where many boats, ferry and gondolas depart. From there you can see the Bridge of the Sighs.
When people think about Venice, they think of the historical city center, Centro Storico. This part consist of 118 small islands in the Venetian lagoon. There are over 400 bridges. Only 55 000 of the 259 000 inhabitants live in the historical city, many of them artists and painters.
Cars and bikes are not allowed in the city center. Despite numerous tourists in Venice every day, the city is very clean. There have been replicas in Venice all over the world, for example the enormous Venetian casino hotels in Las Vegas and Macau, that features replicas of the Campanile, the Doge Palace and St Mark’s Basilica.
Visiting in low season in September 2021, there were many people even during the pandemic, but not as overcrowded as Venice used to be. In 2020 when the pandemic just arrived, the city was very empty. Venice have many problems with overcrowding and pollution due to the many boats that arrive, it is said that the canals of Venice recovered during the pandemic. Giant luxury cruise ships have been banned because of pollution and that they cause too many people to visit the city. A significant thing is that there are not benches you can sit down in Venice, tourists have to be constantly on the move to keep the number of visitors down. People occasionally sit down on stairs that lead down to the canals though.
BOATS AND CANALS
Venice is filled with canals, but it is not the city with the largest number of canals and bridges, Hamburg has more. Canal Grande (Grand Canal) is the main canal that goes in a S shape through center of the city, and were the four large bridges connect the West part with the East part of Centro Storico. The Grand Canal is 90m wide and 3.8km long. Along the canal you find some of the most magnificent palaces in different styles. Some promenades face the Venetian Lagoon and some the Giudecca Canal, the seperates the Giudecca island from the South of the city center.
Every vehicle that you find in a normal city, you will find in Venice in boat form instead; police boats, ambulance boats, fire boats, post boats, delivery boats, taxi boats, excavator boats…you name it! The vaporetto is a sort of water bus, or ferry, that takes commuters and tourists along the Grand Canal. Keep in mind that you have to plan plenty of time for this, as they are very slow and stop at every station along the canal. We didn't. It can also be hard to film or take photos, since these boats are really crowded and you can’t look up because there is a roof, but the sides are open so you can actually see things from the sides of the boat. There is also an indoor part for commuters that don’t want to stand in the crowd of moving tourists.
All over Venice there are stores that sell and display masks to tourists, deriving from the time of pestilence in the 16th century, when about 15 000 people died.
THE BRIDGES AND MY EXPERIENCE OF VENICE
It is really easy to get lost in Venice, even if you follow signs and have an interactive map, because all street, lanes and canals are going around like a labyrinth. We had 6 hours to spend in Venice and it took a long time to find St Mark’s Square. It is not recommended, at least 2 days would be sufficient to experience the city without stress, and visit musuems and take in the atmosphere. Venice is not the romantic place people might expect, it can be a very busy place to be with people constantly on the move, easy to get lost and nowhere to take a break, especially in the summer heat. Still it (read: central Venice) is a really beautiful place, and enchants the visitor, the same way as for example New York, giving a feeling of entering another world. We arrived by bus from Rijeka, Croatia, that drove on the bridge with the only way and railway to central Venice, Ponte della Libertà (Liberty Bridge). The bus stopped at the bus garage in the outskirts, Tronchetto Island, were most people park. The island was created in 1960 for people who arrive in vehicles, since they can't carry them to the historical center. There is a futuristic people mover at the Tronchetto station with elevated driverless trains, that takes you to the cruise ship terminal or the center, the station has a design that resemble Santiago Calatrava’s structures. The “people mover” took us to Piazzale Roma, a neglect quite dull square, but is located on the central islands. There we had lunch so we could focus completey on sightseeing from there. From Piazzale Roma that is the last place where you see cars, there is a curvy futuristic bridge, Constitution Bridge, or Ponte di Calatrava, that was actually designed by Santiago Calatrava himself. The bridge leads to the magic Centro Storico, that is a totally different world. The bridge had its share of problems, it can be slippery in the winter and the glass floor has been cracked on many places (Calatrava's bridge in Bilbao has similar problems, we saw a TV documentary about it the day before) and many Venetians and tourists don't like the bridge because they think it is too modern.
The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) is the most famous bridge in Venice, situated just next to St Mark’s Square. It is an enclosed limestone bridge that passes over Rio di Palazzo and connects Prigioni Nuove (the New Prizon) with the Doge Palace’s interrogation room. It is said that the prizoners sighed since they got the last glimpse of Venice’s beauty before their imprisonment, but this rumour is not true; little can be seen of Venice from the bridge. It was built in 1600 and was designed by Antonio Contino, whose uncle Antonio da Ponte designed other famous bridge; The Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto) that is the oldest bridge that goes over Canal Grande. It is a much larger white stone bridge from 1591 (current) and connects the district San Marco and San Polo. It is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Venice. Another magnificent bridge over the Grand Canal, is the Academy Bridge (Ponte dell’ Accademia). It is a wooden bridge designed by Eugenio Miozzi. Ponte degli Scalzi, is a stone arch bridge from 1934 that looks like a more simple version of the Rialto Bridge, is the last (or first if you approach from the railway station) of the three historic bridges over Canal Grande.
6 hours in Venice was a bit stressful, especially since it is so easy to get lost. We missed the train to the city of Trieste, were we had our accommodation (it is more inexpensive then Venice), from the modern Santa Lucia station, but were able to catch another train one hour later, using the same ticket. Santa Lucia is one of the few modernist buildings that faces the Grand Canal, the station opened in 1861 but the low and wide current main building was built in 1952. The St Mark’s Basilica had just closed for the day, but we manage to visit the observation deck of The Campanile, something every tourist don’t do. Extra thick masks and covid pass were required. The views from the Campanile is one of the few opportunities to see Venice from above, but the canals cannot be seen.
If you arrive in Venice via Caltrava's Constitution Bridge, you will walk along Fondamenta Santa Chiara with Canal Grande on the right side and the first buildings that appear are Palazzo della Regione del Veneto (Palace of the Venetian Region) and the beautiful 17th century baroque church Chiesa di Santa Maria di Nazareth, also called Church of Scalzi, the seat of Discalced Carmelites, facing the canal. A notable church on the other side of the Grand Canal, is the Church of San Simeone Piccolo, a large white neo-classicist building with green dome from 1738, facing the Santa Lucia Station.
The first notable church structure you see when arriving from Piazzale Roma, is the Church of San Simeone Piccolo, a large white neo-classicist building with green dome from 1738 along Canal Grande, facing the Santa Lucia Station.
Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, or just the Frari Basilica, is the largest church in the city. We visited the interior briefly, it is a Venetian Gothic brick building, the façade was completed in 1440. Scuola Grande di San Rocco is a white neo-classicist building that houses a museum with many paintings of Tintoretto. The San Rocco Church in the same style is just next to it. The San Barnaba Church currently has a Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo is a large brown brick church with a dome, were all funerals of doges are held since the 15th century. It was built in Italian Gothic style in 1430 and is situated in the Northeast part of the city center. The square in front of it is called Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Further Northeast is San Francesco della Vigna, roman catholic church that also has a bell tower in similar style as St Mark’s Campanile.
Fondamenta Zattere is a long, wide and beautiful promenade along the open wide ferry canal, the Giudecca Canal. It might come as a surprise that Canale della Giudecca is much wider then the Grand Canal, that is more famous for being…the grand canal. This is were most ferries go, and you find the station for the water bus, the vaporetto. Hilton Molino Stucky is a landmark building on Giudecca Island, that is on the other side of the Giudecca Canal, one of Venice’s few highrises. Basilica del Redentore, also on Giudecca Island, is a large Roman Catholic church from 1592, it´s red and white Italian Renaissance exterior with its dome is a prominent landmark, opposite Piazza San Marco.
Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is a large white baroque church in the Southermost part of Canal Grande. It is one of the most prominent churches in Venice, construction started in 1630 in the honour of Virgin Mary, in hope that the plague should end. The plague took the life of 1/3 of Venice’s citizens. Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore is a Venetian Renaissance church, that is even larger and has a campanile tower that resembles the St Mark’s Campanile on the other side of the Giudecca Canal. San Giorgio Maggiore. A 16th century Benadictine church, has its own island with the same name. The church was featured in a painting by Claude Monet, and inside the church there are paintings by Tintoretto and others. There are no less then three leaning towers in Venice, more then in Pisa. The church of San Giorgio dei Greci's leaning tower along Rio del Greci is the most prominent one.
PALACES AND HOTELS
Ca' Rezzonico is a white marble palace along the Grand Canal, that is a fine example of 18th century Venetian baroque and rococo, and houses paintings of famous Venetian painters. Ca’Pesaro is another marble palace along the Canal Grande, it was built for the wealthy Pesaro family in the 17th century. Ca' Corner della Regina (Palace of the Queen from the Cornaro Family) was named so because Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus was born in this Baroque palace in 1454. Palazzo Bembo is a red, spectacular building in Venetian Gothic/Byzantine style, built for the noble Bembo family in the 15th century. It is now a hotel. Next to it is the white Palazzo Dolfin Manin, also facing Canal Grande, as well as Palazzo Loredan (or Ca’Loredan) that is a 13th century Romanesque palace built for the Loredan family. The main floor’s Council Hall features works of art by several artists. It is now the City Hall together with Ca’Farsetti, a grey palace that is right next to it, connected to the red Palazzo Cavalli, that is the Town Hall. Palazzo Cavallli-Franzetti is a grandiose yellow and white Venetian Gothic palace that houses that the Academy of Sciences. The Ca' d'Oro or Palazzo Santa Sofia is one of the oldest palaces in Venice, built 1428-1430 for the Contarini family, from which eight doges derived from. Palazzo Grassi is another palace, in Venetian classical style.
Hotel Danieli, just next to St Mark’s Square, facing the Giudecca Canal, is one of the most famous hotels in Venice. This 5-star hotel’s main building is a red gothic/Byzantine building. Many large de luxe hotels lies on separate islands, like San Clement Palace Kempinski, Hilton, JW Marriott and Bauer Palladio and can be reached by shuttle boats from Canal Grande.
ROADS AND SQUARES:
Via Giuseppe Garibaldi is one of the few wide roads on land, it is a green boulevard in the Easternmost part of central Venice, that goes Westwards where it changes to an urban pedestrian street.
There are many small or midsized squares, campos (literally “field”), all over Venice, with historical buildings, such as Campo Santo Stefano, Campo Sant’Anzolo, Campo Santa Margharita, Campo Manin and Campo San Stin, often with a statue and open air restaurants. Piazzas are often larger, like Piazza San Marco, but not many squares are called piazza in Venice. There are not many parks in Venice, but Giardini di Vinale di Vinezia is a small park next to St Mark’s Square.
To the North of the central city is the island Murano with its colourful residential buildings. To the East is very thin narrow island Lido di Venezia were ships enter the lagoon. On Lido is the 5-star Hotel Excelsior and it is filled with beaches. On the mainland is the borough of Mestre, that is almost like a city in itself and has more inhabitants then central Venice. From Mestre on the mainland very modern trams goes to Piazzale Roma on the islands.
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