Venice is a city like no other. Its unusual setting, floating on a lagoon, makes it one of the world’s most spectacular cities. Its palaces, churches and museums speak of a glorious history that is relived with facility, for save the sound of motorboats and chattering tourists, the city has changed little in centuries. Venice was the capital of an independent maritime power that lasted a millennium, beginning before the transfer of Saint Mark’s relics from Egypt in 828 AD until the Napoleonic occupation in 1797. Throughout its history, Venice was uncomfortably wedged between east and west, yet it skilfully managed the delicate balance between Rome and Constantinople, war and trade, religion and diplomacy. Its long supremacy over the eastern Mediterranean waters, and dominance over trade with the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world, brought great wealth that far exceeded anything known in Christian Europe, making Venice the most prosperous city on the continent. Venice continued to shine as a centre of knowledge, art and much-desired industries, even as its trade declined after the discovery of the Cape of Good Hope by the Portuguese, as its power waned in the face of the expanding Ottoman Empire, and as its population was decimated by waves of the plague. Still it survived, but it was left to Napoleon to finally bring an end to la Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia.
While it had always been high on my wishlist, the idea of visiting Venice materialised suddenly and with little advance planning. It was inspired by the newly introduced direct flights from New York to Venice (hey, why not?) and the willingness of a friend to join, but having heard so much about the floating city over the years, what I feared most was disappointment. Yet Venice surpassed my expectations. With its distinctive identity, magical ambiance, unique architecture and fascinating history, (and despite the hordes of tourists) I found Venezia to be extraordinary, mesmerising, and inspiring. Finally, I understood why artists fell in love with Venice, and why paintings of Venice were in such demand.
I guess Venice needs no introduction, for who hasn’t heard all about this Italian city built on water, with its hundreds of bridges, canals and gondolas? But no matter how many pictures I’d seen, or how many stories I’d heard, nothing could prepare me for the kind of beauty that was waiting for me in Venice – it was love at first sight! The minute I stepped out of the bus and took my first look at the colourful buildings surrounded by water, it gave me the impression I was walking around a movie set because it all seemed too perfectly beautiful to be true!
We spent a little over five days in Venice and instead of getting used to its special kind of beauty, the feeling only increased as we ventured further and further into the city, moving away from Piazza San Marco to discover those quiet, almost deserted streets. Many people will tell you that Venice is small and that you only need 2-3 days to visit the city, but in my case, I wish we could have spent even more time there because it truly is the kind of place you want to get lost into. I’ve no idea if my little travel page will do the city any kind of justice but in any case, my advice if you haven’t already been there would be not to take my word for it – go and see for yourself, you won’t regret it!
Here are the best things to do in Venice:
1. Palazzo Ducale – Doge’s Palace
The Doge’s Palace, or Palazzo Ducale, is one of Venice’s most easily recognizable buildings. This Gothic-style palazzo dates back to the 14th century, and until Napoleon conquered the city in 1797, it served as the official residence of the doges who ruled over the Republic of Venice for over a thousand years. The city’s courtroom, government offices as well as a prison could also be found at the palace, which became a museum in 1923. A visit to the Palazzo Ducale includes a self-guided tour of the doge’s private appartments, the government chambers, the spooky prison (reached by walking across the famous “Bridge of Sighs”) and the Museo dell’Opera, where you’ll find the palace’s original statues and columns, among other things. I thought there was a really nice mix of art, architecture and history, and there’s enough to keep you busy for well over an hour!
Tickets to the Palazzo Ducale cost 13 Euros and they give access to all the museums located on Piazza San Marco. There’s also a museum pass available for 18 Euros that includes a few more art museums in the city – that’s the one we got, and I thought it was worth it. I’d recommend buying it at one of the less popular museums (we got ours at Ca’ Pesaro), that way when you show up at the Palazzo Ducale you can skip the huge line of people waiting to buy tickets! There’s also a guided tour available for 18 Euros called “Secret Itineraries” that takes you into rooms that are off limits to other visitors, but to go on that tour you need to book several days, sometimes weeks in advance. I didn’t get to do it so I can’t comment on it but it’s supposed to be very interesting… maybe next time!
I confess, I’m a tourist. I wanted to take a gondola ride, but I wanted it to be special, not like a ride at an amusement park. We ventured throughout the city, enjoying the many sites and then we saw him – our gondolier. He was standing near a small bridge that spanned a small canal in a residential area of the city. He seemed very pleasant as we passed by offering up a smile and a “buona sera” as he stood, hat in hand.
We asked if he was free, asked the price and off we went. Our ride lasted about 45 minutes and took us through some very scenic areas. We eventually exited out on to the Grand Canal and made our way towards the Rialto Bridge. The perspective of looking at the bridge and surrounding buildings from the gondola was very nice. We then headed back off the grand canal and ended up where we had started.
It was enjoyable, romantic and something you can’t do anywhere else. The cost was 100 Euros and though it wasn’t cheap, I would have never forgiven myself if we didn’t partake.
3. Piazza San Marco
This is the center piece of Venice. It is stunning, iconic and stacked high with history, art and architecture. Its delicately tiled surface is filled with as many pigeons as tourists, and they dive bomb you from the buildings that surround the square, encouraged by the idiots that feed them. I hope at the very least that feed they sell is dosed with a sterilizer to get those rats with wings under control.
The square contains some of the world’s most famous and recognisable buildings, including the Clock Tower which soars up over the square and offers outstanding views, if you are prepared to queue for hours to take a trip up in its curiously named SCAM lifts. The Basilica San Marco is even more impressive inside than it is outside, feeling like you’ve walked into a treasure trove rather than a church.
The other great building is the Doge’s Palace, home to the government of the republic and the duke himself. The tours of this extensive building are an absolute must for lovers of history, architecture or art. My personal favourite of the whole palace was the original maps painted in the time of Venice’s great merchant past, showing a strange view of the world as it was seen back then.
Attached to the palace are the tedious dungeons. These are worth a visit just so you can cross over the Bridge of Sighs, so named because the prisoners were said to sigh as they walked across it and viewed freedom for the last time. The bridge is a must see, but the dungeons are filled with artefacts like cat bones and tooth picks, and isn’t really all that interesting.
4. Campanile di San Marco
The bell tower of St. Mark’s basilica is located right in front of the church on Piazza San Marco. The “Campanile”, as it is most often referred to, is another one of Venice’s easily recognizable structures. It is almost 100m (328ft) tall, and its simple brick design is quite different from the elaborate Byzantine style of the basilica – so much so that the two don’t really seem related at all. Records show that the first bell tower was built during the 9th century, but over the years the Campanile was damaged by several earthquakes and fires, which led to different restoration and reconstruction works. It took on its present form during the 15th century, and the beautiful balcony at the base of the bell tower, called “Sansovino Loggia”, was added in the 16th century. In July 1902, when the Campanile completely collapsed, plans were immediately laid to build a new one that would keep the previous design. The new Campanile and loggia were completed in 1912.
The only time we had to wait in line for anything during our trip to Venice was to go up the Campanile. We waited about 30 minutes to take the elevator that brings visitors up to the belfry, from where it’s possible to enjoy a fantastic view of Venice and the lagoon – that in itself was worth waiting in the sun for half an hour! The Campanile’s five bells – Marangona, Nona, Trottiera, Mezza Terza and Renghiera – can also be seen. It was interesting to learn that back in the days, each bell had a purpose: the first one announced the beginning and the end of the working day, Nona was rang at lunch time, the following two bells announced Upper Council and Senate meetings, repectively, while Renghiera rang when there was an execution. The bells still ring every hour and trust me, they’re loud!!
Tickets for the Campanile cost 8 Euros.
5. Canal Grande
Venice’s Grand Canal is the main “water road” running through the heart of the city. From Piazza San Marco to the Santa Lucia train station, the S-shaped canal covers a distance of about 3.8 km (2.3 miles). Because of the heavy water traffic, building on the Grand Canal was a way for Venitian citizens and parishes to show off their wealth and importance – for this reason, the canal is bordered on both sides by beautiful palazzi and some of the city’s nicest churches. A really great way to see these colourful buildings is to take one of the vaporetto lines that goes up the Grand Canal. Apart from the Rialto Bridge, there are three more bridges crossing the Grand Canal: the Ponte degli Scalzi, the Ponte dell’Accademia, and the Ponte della Constituzione. The latter is the most recent of the bridges – it was built in 2008 to connect the bus station to the train station, and its design is surprisingly modern and therefore rarely appreciated by visitors and locals alike. Other than this “sore thumb” feature, however, the Grand Canal and its surrounding architecture greatly contribute to making Venice one of the most beautiful cities in the world!
6. Basilica di San Marco
St. Mark’s Basilica, or Basilica di San Marco, is Venice’s most famous church. It dates back to the 9th century, when a smaller chapel was built next to the Palazzo Ducale to house the holy relics of St. Mark; at that time, the basilica served as the doges’ private place of worship, a tradition that would last until the beginning of the 19th century. The current church was built for the most part during the 11th century, although additions were made until well into the 13th century. The basilica is one of the world’s nicest examples of Byzantine architecture, mostly thanks to the numerous golden mosaics that can be found both on its remarkable facade and inside the church.
Entrance to St. Mark’s Basilica is free, and there’s a little trick if you don’t want to wait in line: drop off your backpack (you can’t bring it inside anyways), purse or coat at the Ateneo San Basso, which is located on a small street next to the Piazzetta dei Leoncini (on the north side of the basilica, you’ll see the sign). They will hold it for you free of charge for one hour and give you a special pass that allows you to skip the entire line! I thought 1h was sufficient to visit the basilica, especially since it can get pretty crowded and you’re sort of forced to move along. It’s also possible to visit St. Mark’s museum (4 Euros), the treasury (3 Euros), and the high altar with its “Pala d’Oro” (2 Euros). We chose to visit St. Mark’s museum, mostly because it’s located on the upper level of the basilica so you get a really nice view of the richly decorated nave. The museum includes an interesting collection of religious art pieces, including the original group of bronze sculptures known as “St. Mark’s Horses” that probably date back to the 4th century BC. The museum also gives access to a small outside terrace where you can enjoy great views of Piazza San Marco. Of course, no visit to the basilica would be complete without taking the time to admire its exterior – among other things, don’t miss the Tetrachs sculptures that were brought back from Constantinople at the time of the Fourth Cruisade.
7. Rialto Bridge
Another of Venices most famous landmarks.
This was the only crossing point for those on foot over the Rialto until 1854, with the addition of the Accademia Bridge!
As an important commercial centre, bridges of various constructions, usually wood, have lasted varying amounts of time at this point. One such wooden bridge was destroyed by the army of Tiepolo, escaping from San Marco on the night of June 15th 1310. The wooden bridge that replaced it collapsed in 1444, due to the weight of the crowd gathered there to view the wedding procession of the Marquis of Ferrara float below them. Subsequent bridges continued to perish, so the decision was made in 1524, for a stone bridge to be designed.
The bridge seen today was designed, following a competition (lasting 60 years!) by the State to find a suitable design, (which had many of the days finest architects, including Michaelangelo, competing for the honour). Antonio da Ponte (what an appropriate name!) won, by submitting a plan for a bridge with slanted arcades, that housed rows of shops, and which blended in with the splendid buildings lining the Grand Canal built during different eras and in different styles. There’s always a critic though! Edward Gibbon was quoted saying “A fine bridge, spoilt by two rows of houses upon it”.
Visitors to Venice flock to this bridge, day and night, to walk over its well trodden pathway, to admire the views of the bustling Grand Canal below, with its vaporettas, gondolas and small boats weaving up and down. Lining the Grand Canal are many distinguished buildings, intermingling with the busy pavement cafes and walkways.
Check out the carvings of angels and saints on the facades.
Be aware of your possessions, as with most crowded tourist attractions, this could be a prime pick pocketing spot.
My favourite memory of my first Christmas visit to this bridge is of finding myself here in the dark on Christmas Eve, and just standing enjoying the scene and atmosphere, then again on Christmas Day morning phoning family and friends to wish them Happy Christmas as the sun glistened on the water below.
Listening to some good buskers, particularly a saxophonist on Christmas night, and an elderly guitarist on a previous visit have been happy memories, and just enjoying the bustling scene on the Grand Canal, with the changes of the sun on the water and the different colours of the skies.
8. Ponte dei Sospiri
The Ponte del Sospiri or Bridge of Sighs is one of those attractions in Venice that visitors flock to see. Although I had seen it numerous times from the outside, it wasn’t until my most recent trip to Venice, I got to actually walk across.
As part of our visit to the Palazzo Ducale, we were able to get a close up look at the Bridge of Sighs. The bridge was originally used by prisoners, to cross over high above the canal into the dungeons. It is said that their sighs could be heard as they crossed, hence the name of the bridge.
There are two levels to this enclosed bridge, so prisoners walking in either direction would not see each other.
I must say I was quite excited to be able to walk across the bridge, and I took lots of photos looking through the holes in the bridge wall.
9. Murano Island
Venice is practically a patchwork of tiny islands isolated in a sea of canals, but it also has a number of actual islands dotted around outside the main city. I visited three: San Giorgio Maggiore, Lido and Murano.
The Isola San Giorgio Maggiore is a tiny island that sits opposite the Piazza San Marco and offers great views of the Clock Tower and Doge’s Palace. If you want to get a good night shot on solid ground, then take the short taxi trip across the water to the SGM. The island boasts its own special history, and its own grand architecture, in the form of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. This church with its spire so similar to the clock tower in the Piazza has existed on the island since the 9th century.
Lido is the biggest of the islands, and is located a good 30 minutes or so away from the Piazza San Marco. It is a long strip of land that acts as a break against the Adriatic, and has some of the best beaches in the area. It’s so big it even has roads, cars and buses, that do little more than circle its 11 km (6.8 miles) length. Apart from the beaches the island also offers grand views of all of Venice, with the Alps visible behind on clear days, across the Laguna Veneta.
Murano is an island on the north side Venice, that can be accessed by a water taxi that sails via the cemetery island, so be careful not to get off too early. Murano is famous for its glass, and has a museum dedicated to its history. I personally found the museum to be a little small and uninteresting, and wouldn’t recommend it unless you have very little to do, or have a great interest in glass blowing techniques.
The island is pleasant enough to wander around, and the lack of crowds makes for a pleasant change from the main canals of Venice.
10. Castello District – Sestiere Castello
Parco delle Rimembranze
I’ve heard many people complain about how overcrowded Venice can get at certain times. While this wasn’t the case during our visit in late May, we still enjoyed discovering the Parco delle Rimembranze in the Castello area. This park, which is dedicated to the memory of soldiers who died during the Second World war, is the perfect place to go to get away from the crowds. With its beautiful trees and numerous park benches, there isn’t another place quite like it in Venice to relax, perhaps read for a while, or even have a small picnic with a nice bottle of wine (it’s OK to drink wine in public areas in Venice). It’s also worth checking out the view of the lagoon from the park, and when you decide to head back to the heart of the city you can either do so on foot, by following the street that goes along the lagoon, or you can catch a vaporetto at the Santa Elena stop, which is great because the boats are practically empty at that point so you can pick a good spot on board and take all the pictures you want!
Walking along Riva degli Schiavoni
If you walk past the Palazzo Ducale heading for the Castello area, you’ll find yourself on the Riva degli Schiavoni which, together with Piazza San Marco, has for a very long time been one of Venice’s most popular high-scale tourist areas. Even if you don’t plan on staying at one of the Riva’s upscale hotels or have dinner at one of the rather expensive restaurants, it’s still fun to go on a lazy stroll in the evening and take in all the sights and atmosphere.
From the Ponte della Paglia, you can first admire the “Bridge of Sighs”, which was built at the beginning of the 17th century to connect the Palazzo Ducale with the new prisons. Although it sounds and looks quite romantic, the “Ponte dei Sospiri” actually got its name from the prisoners’ laments as they made their was across the bridge and into the prison. Another point of interest on the Riva degli Schiavoni is Hotel Danieli, an upscale hotel established in a 14th century palazzo that has attracted many famous guests throughout the years, including authors such as Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens as well as composers such as Claude Debussy and Richard Wagner – it’s definitely worth going inside to take a look at the gorgeous lobby area! Another hotel with a literary connection on the Riva degli Schiavoni that was of interest to me is the Pensione Wildner, where Henry James resided in 1881 as he was putting the final touch to his famous novel “The Portrait of a Lady”.
If you walk all the way to the end of Riva degli Schiavoni, you’ll eventually end up near Via Garibaldi, which has to be one of the largest streets in all of Venice. It was actually created by Napoleon in 1808 when he gave orders to fill up a large canal that would lead to the public gardens he also planned on establishing. It’s actually a little weird to come upon a street that’s large enough to accommodate cars after having spent several days walking around Venice’s tiny little streets! The very first house on Via Garibaldi once belonged to Giovanni Caboto, or John Cabot as he is better known in Canada. This Venitian explorer landed in Newfoundland in 1497 and became the first European since the Vikings to set foot in what was to become Canada. The entrance to the public gardens can be found a little way further down the street, maked by a beautiful bronze statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi. These gardens are home to several pavilions used during the “Biennale di Venezia”, one of the world’s most famous art festivals.
11. Markets – Mercati
The area known as Rialto is one of the oldest in Venice. While most people associated this name with the famous bridge, the area first gained popularity because of its markets established during the 11th century. In fact, the Rialto bridge was constructed to give more people access to the Rialto markets, which are still in operation today. It’s worth getting up early at least once during a trip to Venice (the markets are open until noon, from Monday to Saturday) to walk around the “mercati” area and see boats arrive full of fresh fruits and vegetables for the Erberia market while others make their way over to the Campo della Pescheria to deliver fish and seafood. I also really enjoyed walking around the little streets crammed between the bridge and the markets – perhaps because it’s one of the city’s oldest areas, we found some streets that were no more than a few feet wide!
12. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute
One of the worst ever plague outbreaks to hit the city of Venice took place in the years 1629-1630, killing nearly a third of the population. Prior to this terrible outbreak, a series of “plague churches” had been built when the city had been affected by this disease. People thought that by dedicating a church to a saint and asking for his protection, the epidemic would stop. Given how severe the 1629-1630 outbreak was, people decided to build an even bigger church and to dedicate it to the Virgin Mary. Baldassare Longhena designed the church of Santa Maria della Salute in the style of his master, Andrea Palladio. It took over 50 years to build the church – Longhena, who had been a young man when his project was chosen, died only one year after the completion of his life’s most significant work. Inside, six chapels decorated by the works of Luca Giordano, Titian and Tintoretto along with the high altar give the church its unusual octogonal shape. Santa Maria della Salute is located in the Dorsoduro area, facing the Grand Canal, and can thus be seen from the Piazza San Marco. I thought it was one of the city’s nicest churches, and admission is free!
13. Chiesa di San Trovaso
This church is just one of the many we got to visit in Venice, but it’s the one that stands out the most in my mind because of its unique architecture: the church has two identical facades, one facing the canal and another one at a 90° angle facing the campo. The story goes that the church was built in the area where lived two rival families, the Castellani and Nicolotti. During the 16th century, when plans were made to build a new church to replace the one that was getting too old, a decision was made to build two separate entrances so that both families could attend mass without ever having to see each other. I guess this story about the Montagues and Capulets wasn’t so far fetched after all!
14. Burano Island
Burano is one of the islands of the Venetian archipeligo. Combining a trip out with a visit to the Cathedral at Torcello means that you not only get a half-day trip out of Venice, but also you get to feeling that you have gained some sort of value out of your expensive Vaporetto pass.
The island is about 40 minutes away across the lagoon. Most people head to Murano and take a boat from there, but it is also possible to take a direct ferry from St Mark’s.
The island itself has become some sort of a tourist trap with the main ‘street’ laden with shops selling the traditional lace products of the island. Just shooting off down any sidestreet soon gets you away from the sheep and land you in a mix-match of different coloured houses. Houses are painted in all sorts of mainly pastel shades. You should be able to take a good photograph here.
The tradition of painting houses in brightly covered colours appears to be quite well regulated – you have to lodge a request to the council and they give you a list of allowable colours for your residence.
However, it works. The cornucopia of colours somehow reminded me of a small village in the west of Ireland. Perhaps Burano is what Ireland would look like if it ever got any sunshine. A must visit.
There are only 4 bridges over Grand Canal! Until 1850 Rialto was the only one, ten years later two more were added (Scalzi and Academia) and only the last years the Venetians saw another bridge (Calatrava’s).
Rialto bridge is the oldest and the most famous bridge over Grand Canal. It is located near the fish market and you can have a nice view of it from the vaporetto that goes up and down the canal or if you walk on Riva del Vin near the bridge. The view on the canal from the bridge is gorgeous too, that’s why it is always packed with tourists that try to catch a good photo. There were many wooden bridges at the same spot and all of them had collapsed repeatedly. The one we see today was designed in 1591 by Antonio da Ponte (1512-1595). This stone arch bridge is 28.80m (95ft) long and 7.32m (24ft) high but I was surprised when I realised that its width is 22.90 meters (98ft) !! Although I liked the bridge I prefer the café under it where we had some relaxing moments watching the boats passing by.
Ponte dell’ Accademia is near Accademia Galleries of course and connects Dorsoduro with San Marco. There was a wooden bridge that was made in 1933 to replace the original steel bridge of 1854. In 1985, the one we see today was built with steel bracing for extra support. It will be the first bridge you will see on the canal if you are in San Marco and heading by boat towards Piazzale Roma. If you walk on it you will have great views over the palaces at the Grand Canal and the Salute church (ok, you have great views everywhere in Venice…).
Ponte degli Scalzi (bridge of the barefoot!) is facing the train station and connects Cannaregio and Santa Croce districts. It is always packed with people. The bridge was designed by Eugenio Miozzi in 1934 at the same spot of a former iron bridge. We crossed it many times and the only time we were alone on it was at 4:50am.
Calatrava’s bridge is the newest bridge. It connects the arrival area of Venice (Piazzale Roma) with the train station and it’s an ugly modern one that believe it or not doesn’t have wheelchair access!! It was designed by Santiago Calatrava in 2008 and is 80m (262ft) long, 9m (30ft) wide and 7m (23ft) high. It is made of stone, glass and steel.
16. Peggy Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Collection is housed in the 18th century Palazzo Venier dei Leoni which was originally intended to be a four storey palace rising beside the Grand Canal, however it never actually got any further than the ground floor and so the building gets it’s nickname Il Palazaao Nonfinito which means “the Unfinished Palace”. In 1949 the building was bought by the wealthy American Peggy Guggenheim who was a collector of modern arts covering all modern arts movements.
Peggy Guggeheim died in 1979 and the house is now a museum displaying the collection. This collection includes works by Jackson Pollock, Miró, Pablo Picasso, Kandinsky and many other big names.
There are sculpures laid out in the gardens which are remarkably tranquil and enjoyable with their view of the dome of Santa Maria della Salute. Here is perhaps the most provocative work in the collection, Angelo della Citta by Marino Marini which depicts a man sitting on a horse, erect in all respects.
Like all Venetian museums and galleries, the tickets are not cheap at €12 per adult. Most of the staff appear to be American and so speak English. Most information about the works is given in English as well.
17. Torre dell’Orologio – St. Mark’s Clocktower
The central part of the clock tower was designed in 1499, by Mauro Codussi, and the wings are believed to be the work of Pietro Lombardo.
The clocks workings were by Paolo and Carlo Rainieri, brothers from Reggio Emilia. It took them 3 years to complete.
Local legend stated that other cities were so jealous of this fine clock, they circulated a rumour that the citizens of Venice tore out the eyes of the brothers to prevent them from ever building a similar piece. It is more likely that they were instead very well rewarded for their work! As was tradition, they were given housing in the tower, as were their descendants, which further discounts the rumour.
The clock doesn’t just give an accurate time, but also shows the zodiac sign and the latest lunar phase for the time. This is one of a few clocks in Venice that shows a 24 hours clockface.
The legend ‘Horas non numero nisi serenas’ is depicted, and translates as ‘I only count happy hours’.
At one time, ships leaving the Grand Canal used the clock to help them plan the best time and route for setting sail, and in 1858, it was also declared that all clocks in the city would be set by this timepiece.
On top of the tower are two bronze figures of ‘The Moors’ or ‘The Mori’, who ‘sound the hours’. Originally the intention was for the men to be giants, but as the bronze quickly darkened in the Venetian atmosphere, they became known as ‘The Moors’ . These huge bronzes were cast in 1497, in the Arsenale. They represent the ‘chaos and primordial darkness that preceded The Creation of the World’.
Apparently during Epiphany and Ascension week, this vision is further enhanced by figures of the three kings and an Angel appearing, to pay homage to the Madonna.
18. Carnival Time
These Carnaval creatures seem to have popped out of a weird dream, moving slowly, as all of these costumes must be uncomfortable to wear, making the scene even more unreal. They matched perfectly the place by St Marco water walk, giving life to it. I don’t want to imagine Venice without the Carnival – it would be incomplete.
These masked ladies were having a photoshoot session. So I hurried to take a picture. Of course I am not a professional and they were looking elsewhere, but I just thought – these are real venetian costumes. They are worth being photographed.
19. Canareggio area
Modonna dell’Orto is a church of suggestive beauty, situated in a small quiet campo overlooked by a terracotta facade with a fine Gothic-Renaissance portal. The great Jacopo Tintoretto is buried here, in the chapel on the right of the precbytery. Two of his works hang in the church, along with painting by Cima da Conegliano. The Madonna and Child by Bellini, which used to hang in the Velier chapel, was stolen in 1993.
Santa Maria di Nazareth
The church was built in the 17th century and dedicated to Santa Maria di Nazareth, recovering the cult from an image of the Virgin transported here from the old Lazzareto. The church is also called Chiesa degli Scalzi, being the seat of the Discalzed Carmelites (scalzi = barefoot). Project is by Baldassare Longhena, recognizable in its baroque style. In the second half of the 17th century the front facade was reconstructed in a Rococo style by Giuseppe Sardi, while the statues are work of Bernardo Falconi.
The altar has numerous 18th century paintings, but the church is famous for its ceiling, entirely frescoed by Tiepolo and unfortunately damaged during the straffings. The rest of the frescoes survived of the ceiling are today kept at the Galleries of the Academia.
The church of Saint Apostles has been founded in 643, built on a site where St. Magnus saw twelve cranes, after an apparition of the tvelwe apostles told him to look for this sign. The church was rebuilt in 1020 but destroyed in fire in 1105 and rebuilt. It was rebuilt and restored again several times.
The church is dominated by its high bell tower and the domed exterior of the corner chapel. Santi Apostoli has a luminous altarpiece by Gianbatistta Tiepolo.
20. Campo S.Giacomo dell’Orio
We were very fortunate to have rented an apartment within 300 feet of this wonderful square in Santa Croce. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon and soon after we settled in to the apartment, we wandered up to the square to do some food shopping at the Coop there.
We were delighted to find literally dozens of children (mostly littlies) playing soccer and riding their little bikes with trainer wheels and some of the older ones on skates and skateboards all having a great time with their families. Many of the fathers were supervising the games whilst the mothers were chatting and generally “catching up” with each other. There was even a big circle of senior citizens, some in wheelchairs, having a catch up of their own.
We ended up having a meal in one of the cafes there because we had no desire to go away and leave this lovely community of people. When the church bells started to ring before evening Mass, the noise of the children quickly abated and the families either went to church or went home.
Apparently they come out to play most afternoons but Saturday is definitely the big day for them.
It was wonderful to see a small part of how the real Venetians live.
21. Pigeons in Piazza San Marco
The Piazza San Marco was originally created in the 9th century as a small area in front of the original St Mark’s Basilica. It was enlarged to its present size and shape in 1177, and encompasses the area including the Palace of the Doge and numerous shops and restaurants.
The Piazza is considered the center of Venice. Aside from state offices, it has been the seat of the archbishopric since the 19th century. Today, visitors can be treated to live music, a ton of pigeons and summer crowds, as well as a spectacular view of the Basilica and Palace.
When you get to St. Mark’s Square, you will not see lovely little birdies flitting around. Instead, you cannot miss the tons of large, overfed pigeons covering the ground. For 1 euro you can purchase dried corn and feed the birds. While I’m sure this is a great time for kids, I passed on the opportunity and my husband and I just tried to avoid being covered in bird doo.
22. San Giorgio Maggiore – Church and Island
Also known as Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore and Chiesa San Giorgio in Isola.
This is one of the largest churches in Venice. It is located on the small island of the same name (only accessible by vaporetto No 2) in the Southern lagoon, nearly a stones throw from Piazzo San Marco.
Building commenced in 1565 and it wasn’t completed until 1610, when the facade was erected. This was thirty years after the death of its architect Andrea Palladio. Simone Sorella was responsible for the final work, which he completed following Palladios exact design.
The facade is formed from Istrian marble, it is typical of Palladian style – based on classical Greek or Roman temples, with elegant columns and side naves which were inspired by Christian churches.
Its interior is light and airy, predominantly white. Natural light streams in through the upper windows. Apparently Palladio stated “Among all colours what is most suited to Temples is whiteness so that the purity of the colour and of life is highly pleasing to God”.
Worth noting are the choir stalls behind the altar, with carvings showing scenes from the life of Saint Benedict that date back to 1590.
Paintings include Jacopo Tintoretto’s ‘Collecting the Mana’ and ‘The Last Supper’ and his son Domenico’s ‘Stoning of St Stephen’, ‘The Risen Christ’ and ‘Saints Benedict, Gregory, Maurice and Placid and other Benedictine Saints’.
These paintings by Tintoretto Senior were completed in his later years. A third painting by him, ‘Deposition’, is believed to have been his last piece of work. It was completed by Domenico. This is to be found in the Capella dei Morti (Chapel of the Dead). A door to the right of the choir takes you into the corridor that leads to this room.
Other paintings include ‘St Lucy dragged to Martyrdom’ by Leandro Bassano, ‘St George and the Dragon’ by Matteo Ponzone and ‘The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple’ by Palma il Giovane.
The high altar has black stone, contrasting with the whiteness of the church. A statue of Christ is seen standing on a globe. Above him, a triangular halo! The altar is the work of Gerolamo Campagna. He also created the ‘Statue of Our Lady’, which is seen at the 2nd altar to the left of the entrance door.
Before or after viewing the church, it is well worth paying the 3 euros that buys you some of the best views of Venice and the lagoon, and to the sea and mountains beyond. A lift takes you to the top of the campanile, where you can take in the extensive views. (in my opinion, this is much better than the one in San Marco – here at least you are more likely to have less crowds jostling for the views – there was only myself, my husband and a young couple at the time of my visit).
23. Accademia Art Museum
Like the Prado in Madrid and the Louvre in Paris, the Accademia is Venice’s most famous art museum. Venice’s Accademia started out as an art institute, founded in 1750 and famous for being one of the first art schools to teach art of restoration, before becoming a museum. It houses the world’s biggest collection of Venitian art, ranging from the Middle Ages to the 18th century Baroque and Rococo styles, with a great portion of the museum dedicated to Renaissance paintings and sculptures. The Accademia’s most prized possession is Leonardo Da Vinci’s drawing of the “Vitruvian Man”, but it can only be seen on special occasions. Unfortunately, there were major restoration works going on when we were there so that some rooms were closed and some pieces had been shifted around; these works are obviously necessary though: the building in which the Accademia is located dates back to 1343, and most rooms are in dire need of a fresh coat of paint. This did take quite a bit away from the experience; on the other hand, there were not as many visitors. But unless you only plan on visiting Venice once, I would recommend waiting until these works are over before visiting the Accademia.
The Accademia is open daily and admission costs 6.50 Euros. It can be reached by walking across the Ponte dell’Accademia, one of the four bridges crossing the Grand Canal and the only one made of wood (the current structure dates back to 1985).
If you’re coming to Venice by cruiseship, chances are you’ll get your first taste of the city by walking along the Zattere, a nice promenade built over a series of quays that border the Giudecca Canal and, incidentally, offer great views of Il Redentore, the main church located on the island of La Giudecca. “Zaterre” is the Italian word for “rafts”, and it refers to the area’s original vocation, which was a landing dock for rafts that would arrive to Venice full of timber and other construction materials. As the practice came to an end and rafts came to be replaced by cruiseships that dock at the nearby Terminal Venezia Passeggeri, the lumberyards were gradually transformed into hotels and restaurants. I really enjoyed walking along the Zattere, which I thought were in some ways similar to the Riva degli Schiavoni, but much less crowded. The promenade stretches from the San Basilio Pier to the Dogana di Mare (Customs House), and there are plenty of nice (though slightly expensive) cafes and restaurants offering lovely terraces right on the water, which is something you don’t find at the Riva degli Schiavoni. It truly is an area that’s worth exploring!
Three hundred years ago, back when it was the city’s main means of transportation, it’s estimated that there were about 10,000 gondolas in Venice. Today, there are less than 500 gondolas left in the city and most of them cater to the tourist industry. There’s only one “gondola yard” left in Venice and it’s located at Squero di San Trovaso, in the Dorsoduro area. Although group visits can be arranged, the yard is usually closed to visitors; however, you can get a pretty good view from across the small canal on Fondamenta Maravegie. It takes about three months to build a gondola, the construction of which is regulated by the city. A gondola is typically made of 280 pieces of wood, iron and steel, it’s 11m (36ft) long and 1.5m (5ft) wide. Although new gondolas are still being built every year, most of the work that goes on at Squero di San Trovaso involves the maintenance and repairs of those already existing (a gondola has a lifespan of about 30 years). I thought it was pretty interesting to spy on the workers from across the canal!
25. Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo
The basilica dedicated to St. John and St. Paul is one of the biggest churches in all of Venice. Its rather sober and narrow brick facade doesn’t exactly prepare you for what you find once you step inside – the basilica’s nave stretches for several feet, supported by ten enormous stone columns. “Zanipolo”, as the church is known to Venitians, dates back to the 13th century, when a Venitian doge decided to build a church that would be worthy of the city’s Dominican friars. The church was finally completed in 1430, and from then on the funeral services of the city’s Doges took place there. Even though some chose to be buried elsewhere, 25 doges picked Zanipolo as their final resting place, and the church therefore boasts some of the city’s most elaborate funeral monuments, including some by Pietro Lombardo, one of Venice’s most renowned Renaissance sculptor. The basilica’s numerous chapels are also home to great works of art, along with one of St. Catherine of Siena’s feet (!). The basilica is open daily and admission costs 2.50 Euros (not included in the Chorus Pass).
- Featured image: myself [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 1. Palazzo Ducale – Doge’s Palace: Maria Schnitzmeier – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license
- 2. Gondola: Saffron Blaze [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 3. Piazza San Marco: Matteo Mazziotti [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 4. Campanile di San Marco: Gary Houston [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 5. Canal Grande: Wolfgang Moroder. [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 6. Basilica di San Marco: Gary Houston [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 7. Rialto Bridge: © Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons
- 8. Ponte dei Sospiri: Antonio Contin [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 9. Murano Island: View from a bridge on the island of Murano – Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic
- 10. Castello District – Sestiere Castello: Didier Descouens [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 11. Markets – Mercati: Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 12. Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute: Reywas92 at the English language Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 13. Chiesa di San Trovaso: San Trovaso [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 14. Burano Island: Fabio Mangione bu3 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 15. Bridges: Didier Descouens [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 16. Peggy Guggenheim Museum: G.Lanting [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 17. Torre dell’Orologio – St. Mark’s Clocktower: User: Airin at wikivoyage shared [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 18. Carnival Time: Stefan Insam from Bolzano, Italy [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 19. Canareggio area: Joadl [CC BY-SA 3.0 at], via Wikimedia Commons
- 20. Campo S.Giacomo dell’Orio: Manfred Heyde [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 21. Pigeons in Piazza San Marco: Deror_avi [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 22. San Giorgio Maggiore – Church and Island: Wolfgang Moroder – [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 23. Accademia Art Museum: Paolo Veronese [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- 24. Dorsoduro: Wolfgang Moroder – [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
- 25. Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo: Santi Giovanni e Paolo [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons