You’ve got to see Venice,” he began. “You’ve got to see a city of slender towers and white domes, sleeping in the water like a mass of water lilies. You’ve got to see dark waterways, mysterious threads of shadow, binding all these flowers of stone together.
― E. Temple Thurston
The first time we went to Italy (1996), we skipped Venice and opted to go to Naples instead. I’m not sure why, but I think the fact that one of my friends had gone years before and found it dirty and crowded made me decide to avoid it. Those of you who have been to both cities are probably laughing as Naples is probably more crowded and dirtier than Venice, and while it has its own bit of charm, it is no Venice.
It was October 2010 before Mike and I returned to Venice, and let’s just say we thought once was enough. In 2014, I was alone in Bologna for six weeks, and I decided that I’d take a train over for the day to explore areas I hadn’t in the three days during that first trip. I ended up getting lost in the narrow hidden streets, enjoying cichetti (snacks), and dodging crowds on the bridges all over town.
Because Venice is too beautiful to cover in one post, I’ll upload a number of posts so you can see why people from all over the world love her.
The 60-foot piles are a type of alder that is more water-resistan than other woods, and the settlers pounded them through the water, layers of silt and dirt until they reached hard clay. They cut the tops off so that water completely covered them. Since wood rots when exposed to both air and water, the lack of air prevented that. Finally, the piles absorbed the silt and sediment in the water, petrifying it into stone at a quicker rate than normal.
Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square) (above) is the lowest point in Venice, and each winter it floods due to acqua alta (high water) which comes, believe it or not, from drain holes in the square, not from the lagoon itself. More than 1,000,000 piles hold up the piazza, and under the Campanile di San Marco (the bell tower on left), there are 100,000. In front of the campanile is the Marciana Library; a bit to the right behind the campanile is the Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower); to it’s right is Basilica San Marco; and in front of the basilica is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace). The buildings that surround the piazza (below left) today house restaurants, cafes, and shops, but they used to be offices of the city.
The Palazzo Ducale was the residence of the Doge of Venezia and the seat of the Republic of Venice. At one point, the bottom floor of the palazzo housed a jail until the new one was built. If you look at the photo on the bottom right, we’re facing the side of the basilica, but the columns on the far right side are the palace. The two pink columns mark the spot where the doge announced death sentences. The condemned would hang from the area beneath, and authorities left the bodies hanging for a few days.
On the other side of the palace, a covered bridge connected it with the Prigioni Nuove (new prison). Prisoners trudged to their cells through the limestone bridge. The two windows allowed them one last view of the lagoon before they served their sentence.
The Canale Grande (Grand Canal) is the reverse-S-shaped main “highway” of Venice. At about two miles in length, the Grand Canal divides the city in two. Palaces, hotels, restaurants, apartments, business, shops, and museums line both sides of the canal. The average depth of the canal is 17-feet, and it is 100-225 wide at different points. Four bridges, including the Rialto, cross it at different points.
There are 150 Venetian canals that flow from the Grand Canal. These smaller canals connect the city and function as roads since foot and boat traffic are the way to get around the city. Venice, if you didn’t know, is the only car/truck-free city that remains that way to this day.
Next time: Gondole, gondoliers, transportation in Venice.