Few cities can claim such a priceless art and history heritage as Venice. This unique city with its magical, spectacular scenery is not just beautiful; it is a real miracle of creative genius: a city built on mud, sand, and the slime of a difficult, inhospitable landscape. Venice is the symbol of wise government and freedom. The lagoon was its only defense, there were no palace guards except the Arsenal workers and no parade ground except the sea. During centuries of feudalism and barbarism, Venice symbolized democracy and civilization.
What surprises about Venice, now as in the past, is its impressive building structure – a city built entirely on water. For centuries the Venetians slowly and stubbornly insisted on recovering even the smallest bit of land from the water. From the very start, building the city was a real engineering miracle due not only to the skill and intelligence of its builders but also to the nature of the place itself.
I don’t want to be in my car all day. I love getting up in the morning in Venice and walking my dogs down to the cafe to get my tea, and then perhaps going to a bookstore and sitting and reading, then walking to the beach.– via Jessica Chastain
The city built on the water was never afraid to attempt the impossible. When the plague struck, Venice consulted its brain trust of Mediterranean doctors, who recommended a precaution that has saved untold lives since quarantine. Under attack by Genovese rivals, Venice’s Arsenale shipyards innovated the assembly line, producing a new warship every day to defeat Genoa. After Genoa backed Christopher Columbus‘ venture to the New World, Venice’s shipping fortunes began to fade – but Venice wasn’t about to relinquish the world stage, going on to become the launching pad for baroque music and modern opera.
Never was a thoroughfare so aptly named as the Grand Canal, reflecting the glories of Venetian architecture lining its banks. At the end of Venice’s signature waterway, Palazzo Ducale and Basilica di San Marco add double exclamation points. But wait until you see what’s hiding in narrow backstreets: neighborhood churches lined with Veroneses and priceless marbles, Tiepolo’s glimpses of heaven on homeless-shelter ceilings, and a tiny Titian that mysteriously lights up an entire cathedral.
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Basilica di San Marco
This stunning church is one of the major attractions in Venice. It was erected on a Greek cross plan and has five big domes adorned with kilometers of fine mosaics. The cathedral houses many treasures such as the Pala d’oro, made of gold, statues, amazing glasses, and carving and was constructed during the 9th century as St. Mark’s shrine. We suggest visitors use the elevator and enjoy the spectacular panoramic view over the lagoon. It will the best sight in Venice and it’s heartily recommended.
Ponte di Rialto
The Rialto bridge was built in the late 16th century as a result of a competition held in Venice to replace the older version on the Canal Grande. Many illustrious architects such as Palladio, Sansovino, and Vignola, tried to win the competition but was Antonio da Ponte to be chosen. The bridge now houses several jewellery and Murano glass shops reflecting the commercial atmosphere that you can breathe in this area.
Santa Maria Della Salute
The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was built in 1630 when the plague that killed about a third of Venetian people was definitively gone. The Salute is a very huge structure built on an octagonal plan and full of Saint Mary’s reference marks.
Inside the church, there are many valuable paintings by Tiziano such as “Doctors of the Church and the Evangelists”, “David and Goliath, Abraham and Isaac”, “Pentecost” and many others.
Amongst the beautiful monuments in Venice, there is also the Palazzo Mocenigo. This stunning palace was built to house one of the most illustrious families in Venice. Walking through the building will give you the possibility to imagine the old Venetian lifestyle looking at the paintings, the amazing floor, furniture, and traditional clothes displayed.
Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) and Bridge of Sighs
Visitors arriving in Venice once stepped ashore under the façade of this extraordinary palace. They couldn’t have failed to be impressed, both by its size and the finesse of its architecture. If they were received inside by the Doges, the impression would only strengthen as they entered through the Porta della Carta, a perfect example of Venetian Gothic at its height, and ascended the monumental Scala dei Giganti and the gold vaulted Scala d’Oro to be received in what many consider to be the palace’s most beautiful chamber, Sala del Collegio.
Even jaded 21st-century travelers gasp in awe at the palace’s grandeur and lavish decoration. You’ll see works by all the Venetian greats including Tintoretto, whose Paradise is the largest oil painting in the world. Not open on public tours but included on private tours is a walk across the Bridge of Sighs to the dark cells of the Prigioni – the prisons from which Casanova made his famous escape.
The Venice Ghetto refers to the district where the Venetian republic segregates the Jews to placate the Roman Catholic Church. This enclosed neighborhood did not have a negative meaning in fact Venice had separate living quarters also for Turkish and German merchants.
You can visit the ghetto going to Ponte delle Guglie on foot or taking a waterbus. You can visit the Ghetto Nuovo, Ghetto Vecchio, and the Jewish community museum.
Campanile di San Marco
The St. Mark bell tower is the highest structure of the city. From its 97 m, you can enjoy a breathtaking view over the whole city and the St. Mark cathedral’s dome.
The tower was built in the 9th century and then rebuilt several times in the following centuries. Unexpectedly it crashed to the ground in 1902 fortunately hurting nobody and rebuilt following the original structure rescuing also the ancient bells.
The delicate marble filigree by Bartolomeo Bon seems too lace-like to be carved of stone, and you can only imagine the impression this façade must have made covered in its original paint and gold. Along with the Porta Della Carta in the Palazzo Ducale, also created by Bartolomeo Bon, this is considered the most perfect example of Venetian Gothic. You can admire the interior, too, as this palazzo is now an art museum, restored to provide both a setting for the artworks and a look at the way wealthy Venetians lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. The connoisseur responsible for saving the palace, Baron Giorgio Franchetti, gave his art collection to the state in 1922, with works by Titian, Mantegna, Van Dyck, Tullio Lombardo, and Bernini.
When to go
At summer’s end, the Venice Film Festival turns the sleepy Lido into a mini Hollywood.
Venice is a unique, magical place 365 days a year. But much of the time you’ll be sharing that magic with thousands of other visitors. Numbers peak in summer, despite the heat, humidity, and swarms of mosquitoes. Spring and autumn are much more pleasant months. I especially like late autumn (mid-October to mid-November) when, if you’re lucky with the weather, it can still be warm enough to eat outside. But my favorite season of all is winter, a time of misty vistas when tourists are few and far between, rooms are cheap and the city is reclaimed by Venetians.
An exception is Carnevale, in the two weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday (Feb/Mar), which brings in hordes of revelers and sends accommodation prices through the roof. Other regular annual events include the June-November Art Biennale (odd years) and Architecture Biennale (even years), the Film Festival (10 days end of August to early September) and local festivities like the Festa del Redentore on the third weekend in July when the city and lagoon are lit up by fireworks.
Local laws and etiquette
Venice is a pedestrian city, and alleyways and bridges are its highways and flyovers – so sitting on a bridge is a bit like parking in the middle of the road. Italians always say hello and goodbye in social situations. A simple “buon giorno” in the morning or “Buona sera” in the afternoon or evening goes a long way. “Ciao” is more informal. If somebody says “Grazie”, it’s polite to say “prego” in return. If you’re invited to dinner, flowers or chocolates for the hostess are a more usual gift than a bottle of wine.
Things Not to Miss in Venice
Venice is just as otherworldly as it appears on film. Here, three of the best activities:
• Campanile di San Marco—Erected in 1912, the bell tower of St. Mark affords spectacular views from the top. It’s a Venice travel must.
• Torre dell’ Orologio—Take a guided tour of this restored astronomical clock.
• Ca ‘Pesaro—This museum houses a serious collection of modern art.
• Basilica di San Marco—When visiting this architectural wonder, keep in mind no large bags or cameras of any kind are allowed inside.
• Galleria dell’ Accademia di Venezia—This is one of Italy’s best art museums.
Why I Love Venice
Venice is the consummate magician. It makes marble palaces vanish into silent fogs, labyrinthine calli (streets) disappear at the whim of moody tides, and can even turn the most pedestrian of people into fantastical, masked creatures. Just like its world-famous Carnevale, Venice thrives on mystery and awe, from the secret passageways that riddle Gothic Palazzo Ducale, to the esoteric powers of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, to the inexplicable radiance of Titian’s Assunta altarpiece. After countless sojourns, I am yet to tire of the place. Some spells are simply too hard to break.