Venice is an enchanting city ; dreamy and romantic with lots of underlying history and art thrown in.
Venice was founded in the 5th century and built on 118 islands connected by canals with over 400 bridges. These islands lie in the Venetian Lagoon in the Adriatic Sea and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The canals form the main route of transport and the biggest of them called The Grand Canal is lined by Renaissance and Gothic Palaces.
The city got its name from the original Veneti people who inhabited the islands. It was the capital of the Republic of Venice and a major financial centre. In 1979, Venice lost its sovereignty to Napoleon and in 1866, became a part of Italy.
The city today faces many challenges including excessive number of tourists, pollution, flooding during tide peaks and cruise ships sailing too close to buildings. Venice is prone to flooding especially under extreme weather conditions. The sea levels are rising and the land is sinking due to tectonic shifts and excessive digging of arterial wells.
In spite of all that, Venice remains a popular tourist destination and a major cultural centre. Venice is known as the City of Bridges, City of Canals, Floating City etc and is famous for its architecture and art work….particularly of the Renaissance Period. Every building has extraordinary architecture and contains some of the works of the greatest artists. Medieval architecture dominates the landscape here….be it the Piazza San Marco(St Mark’s Square), or the cathedrals or every small building , there are works of famous artists. It has been described as Europe’s most romantic city and also as The Most Beautiful City Built By Man.
One can drive to Venice but cannot drive in Venice…that’s how the saying goes…
One of the main characteristics of Venice are its canals that run through every corner of the city. One can travel in Venice only by foot or by these canals.
We actually drove from mainland Italy in our tour bus and then took a water taxi to St Mark’s Square.
The 4 km long bridge from mainland Italy
The water taxi that transports people to St Mark’s Square.
The Grand Canal :
The Grand Canal is the main water channel in Venice and used as the main route of transportation. It is almost 4 km long and starts near the bus terminus and takes a S shaped path between two of the islands in Venice. It finally opens up into the sea at the waterfront at St Mark’s Square.
The Grand Canal is lined by many magnificent buildings built between the 12th and 17th centuries. The canal passes under 4 bridges and passes markets, gardens , canal-front restaurants and other attractions. One of the jewels of the Grand Canal are its typical Gondolas which one can hire for a ride along the many attractions. The Gondoliers are dressed in traditional attire and if you are lucky you can have them singing for you too!! This whole spectacle of the canal with the Gondolas is iconic of Venice.
The Grand Canal with traditional buildings
The Gondolas on the Grand Canal
Tourists enjoying the gondola rides along the smaller canals
A typical Gondola
The Rialto Bridge:
The most famous of the bridges that cross the Grand Canal, it was originally a wooden bridge but now it is done in stone. During the time when Venice was a great maritime power, the bridge was made of two slanting wooden ramps with a mobile middle part that could be opened to allow ships to pass. This is one of the iconic images of Venice.
The Rialto Bridge across the Grand Canal
The water taxi took us along the Grand Canal and dropped us off at San Marco or St Mark’s Square. Also called Piazza San Marco, it is the hub of tourist activity in Venice
St Mark’s Square is the largest square in Venice and it’s main tourist attraction. In contrast to the winding alleys and lanes of interior Venice where you are constantly hemmed in between buildings, the square offers open space. Lined by architectural marvels like the St Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s palace, the square overlooks a beautiful waterfront. From the waterfront the dome of the San Giorgio Maggiore church and Campanile located in another island of Venice can also be seen.
Two columns; the Column of the winged lion and Column of St Theodore mark the entrance to the square from the waterfront side. These columns brought from Constantinople are considered very special by the locals as they were gifted by the Byzantine Emperor to the Venetians.
The Columns at the entrance to San Marco
There are stylish cafes , gelaterias, souvenir shops and a host of other small establishments all along the sides of the square. The cafes spread out their tables on to the square and people enjoy sitting there and enjoying their drink or meal against the backdrop of these ancient buildings.
Tables set out by the cafes
St Mark’s Square with the St Mark’s Basilica at the back, The St Mark’s Campanile Tower in front
We found a lot of pigeons in the square and many tourists were feeding them.
At the waterfront with the San Giorgio Maggiore church dome and Campanile in another island of Venice in the background
The architectural marvels of San Marco include the St Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, Campanile tower, and the Clock Tower
St Mark’s Basilica
By far the most important structure at San Marco, this Basilica is one of the most beautiful churches in Italy. Ever since the remains of St Mark was brought here , this cathedral of the Roman Catholic diocese has become an important pilgrim centre.
After the fall of Constantinople, ship loads of art treasures were brought to the Basilica and it has become a treasure house of Byzantine art. These include beautiful mosaics, relics and four bronze horses which adorn its walls.
The queue to enter the basilica was pretty long but we did manage a quick visit there. Some pictures…
St Mark’s Basilica
The imposing domes
The ornate interiors of the dome
The beautiful mosaics that adorn the exteriors
The beautiful bronze horses with more mosaics in the background
Till 1797, Venice was ruled by the Doges from this palace. Standing beside the Basilica, it provides an impressive look to the square with its repetitive arch design and smooth colours.
Built in 9th century AD, it had four sighting towers and defensive walls given its strategic location facing the sea access to the city. Following some fire accidents, the palace was redone in Venetian Gothic style. It was the Doge residence, the seat of government and seat of justice. From the arch windows the Doge would watch the public executions
The Doge’s Palace
The St Mark’s Campanile (Bell Tower)
The Campanile is located in front of the basilica and is 97 metres high with the golden statue of Archangel Gabriel on top. This statue has big wings and when the wind picks up, it rotates. When the angel is facing the Basilica, it will be high tide according to the Venetian’s belief.
The beacon from the Campanile was used by ancient mariner’s to guide them home. The bell tower has five bells that chime at different times of the day .
An elevator ride takes visitors to the platform at the top from which there are great views of the lagoon and the city.
St Mark’s Campanile
The Clock Tower :
The Clock tower is typical of Renaissance architecture. The clock shows the hours, phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. Above the clock’s face is a gilded Madonna. Above this is a lion and has a mosaic of gold stars glittering against a blue background. There are two moors on the terrace which strike the bell every hour. One can climb up this clock tower too.
The Clock Tower
The Bridge Of Sighs:
This bridge connects the old prisons in the Doge’s Palace with the new prisons across the River Palazzo. Built in white limestone, this covered bridge has two windows. The sighs of the prisoners could be heard from here and hence the name. Before getting incarcerated in the prison, many prisoners would get their last view of the city from here. So there is something sombre about this bridge.
The Bridge Of Sighs
After a nice round up of the St Mark’s Square a coffee in one of the many cafes was very welcome. Some of us took the opportunity to try out the gelatos too. With memories of a great city and feeling of having got a recap of some history lessons from school, we returned to the hotel.
Many of my regular readers may remember my blog on Las Vegas where a casino called “The Venetian” themed on this city was depicted. For those of you who may have missed it, the link is
Our next destination was Florence….another Italian city with plenty of art, architecture and history . See you in Florence next week .Till then, keep the feedback and comments coming as usual…..