Located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon, stretching along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po and Piave Rivers, is a grouping of 118 small islands separated by meandering canals. This area was at one time inhabited by fisherman (or Lagoon Dwellers as they were known). Today, the islands in their entirety, and the stunning lagoon in which they bask, make up one of the world’s most impressive and extensive historical sites, a romantic paradise known as Venice.
Venice has been given countless titles over the centuries, most of which have been inspired by the cities magical impression of floating amongst the Adriatic Sea. The city ignites passion and romance in her visitors, and awakens a magical inclination long since lost in childhood. Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, art, history and architecture. Four hundred foot bridges and one hundred and seventy boat canals connect the city to make it an entirely unique island hopping experience. The ancient city is slowly decaying, descending a little more every year into the cool waters of the Adriatic Sea. The irresistible romance of this historic wonderland sinking into the depths of an enchanting ocean is reason enough for millions of visitors to flock to Venice each year. If it isn’t the romance that inspires the journey to the City of Canals, it is often the splendid history the city holds.
The finest way to meet Venice is to travel down the Grand Canal. The 3.5 km journey will reveal many secrets about how the city has, and will always operate. While the palace-lined waterway may be void of the overloaded merchandise boats that once swarmed the area, the Grand Canal remains the thoroughfare of the city. With a little imagination it will offer insight into the past workings of the city. Come armed with a little understanding of how this enchanting city works, and an appreciation for her past, and this city will be yours to devour.
The most spectacular way to see the city, feel the city and discover her many mysteries, is to simply get lost in the ancient stone streets. Every turn will overwhelm and astound. When you tire of walking, sit at any café and watch the world go by – this simple act aside from offering up delicious coffee, will also garner some visual snapshots to take home of Venice.
Venice is composed of six districts, at the heart of which is the tourist hot spot, San Marco, where the famed Piazza San Marco [St. Mark’s Square] is located. The square was named after the remarkable cathedral, Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco, which sits regally on the east end, adjacent to the ancient Doges’ Palace. The slender bell tower of the Basilica, named the Campanile di San Marco, is one of the squares most spectacular attractions. It is the best place to observe the breathtaking bustle of the square below.
A journey across the Bridge of Sighs from the Doge’s Palace to the old Piombi prison is a truly memorable experience. The bridge received its name in the 19th century after Lord Byron’s famous reference in his poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage – “I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs, a palace and prison on each hand”. The bridge was the last time many prisoners would catch a glimpse of freedom before entering Piombi. The prison was once home to the seductive legend Casanova.
Three sides of St. Mark’s Square are connected by the Procuratie Vecchie of the 12th century and Procuratie Nuove of the 16th century, which were the apartments and offices of the procurators of Venice, government officials who oversaw the administration of the Venetian Republic. The buildings now house Venice’s renowned Correr Museum. The museum holds a number of collections reflecting both the history and art of the city.
Several outstanding cafés spill out into the intricate stone square below the Correr Museum. Caffè Florian in Venice is an iconic favourite for locals and tourists. The café was opened on December, 29, 1729 and is arguably the oldest Café in the world. The most delectable coffee and wines have been served at Florian ́s to famed clients including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Lord Byron, Charles Dickens, Marcel Proust and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Not far from the historical St. Mark’s Square is the fashion mecca of Venice. An exquisite selection of boutiques and top designer labels, including Prada, Armani, Valentino, Versace and Laura Biagiotti, lace throughout the pathways of the San Marco district. The prestigious collection of stores ensures that the latest industry trends are readily available.
The original and main bridge that crosses the Grand Canal is the Rialto Bridge. It is lined with a tremendous number of exquisite little shops and is the gateway to the Rialto Market, an intriguing and lively food market. A quick walk from the Rialto Bridge is the perfect local resting place – Al Volto, is an extraordinary wine bar that has been thriving since 1936. The bar is made up of two, small, dimly lit rooms, whose roofs are plastered with wine labels dating back to the venues opening. It is a classic restaurant offering simple fare and an impressive wine list.
When your legs tire from wandering throughout the city a leisurely trip down one of the canals is the perfect way to unwind. The ever famous Gondola is believed to be one of the most charming ways to see the great city. The gondola ride is traditionally believed to bring couples closer together. If romance is not what you seek the public waterbus, or Vaporetto, offers an invigorating and exciting alternative. Better still, head down to Brussa and rent your own boat- they are easy to operate and give you total freedom. Taking a day trip to neighboring islands will offer a quiet escape from the busy city. Murano is a favourite for the wondrous Venetian glass that is made there, and Burano is a colourful community famous for lace.
There are truly endless ways to spend your time in The Floating City. Venice is yours to explore, you can shape your Venetian experience into anything you dream it to be. The only thing that is for certain: everyone falls in love in Venice – whether with the art, the culture, the food, a new partner, or more so with an old one – Venice will enchant you, and forever hold you under her romantic spell.
Carnevale di Venezia
Cities come to life during festivals. The splendour of colours, lights, laughter and people make streets dance with vitality. Forty days before Easter every year, roughly two weeks before Ash Wednesday, the city of Venice hosts one of the most renowned celebrations in the world: Carnival.
Originally, Carnival was a time for all members of society to don masks and elaborate costumes and celebrate in the streets together with no knowledge of identity, or more importantly class.
The masks offered citizens a truly liberating experience, no identity gave people the freedom to do and behave as they pleased without fear of reprcussions. Today Carnival is much tamer than it once was. The 10-day celebration dates back to the mid-13th century.
Highlights include mask parades in St. Marks Square, gondola and boat parades down the Grand Canal, the Carnival for Children in the Cannaregio district and the great fireworks show on the final day of the festival.
By: Sheila May – NICHE Magazine Winter 2013