Venice is certainly one of the most unique places on earth. The entire city is composed of numerous islands within a huge lagoon. It is pedestrian-only, with transportation provided by boat along the many canals which separate the over 100 islands. Since Venice, in earlier times, was a major link in the trade route between East and West, it accumulated much wealth and cultural diversity which today is still on display.
Weaving its way through the center of the Old City is the Grand Canal, a wide thoroughfare which is perpetually busy with boat traffic. The major tourist transportation along this waterway is the Vaporetto or water taxi. There are numerous stops along the canal from which areas of the city can be accessed. At one end of the Grand Canal are the train station and primary automobile parking lots. At the other end is the major tourist area, which contains the Piazza San Marco and other sights. Beyond here is the lagoon and access to fringe areas of the city, such as the islands of Murano, Burano, and the Lido (beach).
From the Grand Canal, there are side canals which lead into the neighborhoods of the city. There are also several (3) bridges which cross the Grand Canal and also numerous bridges which connect the smaller islands of the city. Venice is great for walking because there are no cars to dodge or corners to wait at. Do expect to get lost, however, since there are so many tiny, narrow alleyways.
One bridge across the Grand Canal which is a must for any visitor is the Rialto Bridge, a beautiful white, stone bridge which is lined with vendors, selling their treasures.
Piazza San Marco, in Venice, is certainly one of the great city squares in Europe, even in the world. It is huge, attracts large numbers of pigeons, and is the major gathering place in Venice because it is surrounded by some of the most famous sights in the city, including the Basilica San Marco, the Doge’s Palace, and the Campanile. Because of Venice’s flooding problem, most noticeable after heavy rains, the piazza is sometimes under several feet of water, but the resourceful Italians drag out raised platforms to make walkways across the lowest part of the square, and restaurants take in their ubiquitous outdoor tables until the water recedes. Things usually get back to normal in a surprisingly short period of time.
St Mark’s Basilica is a blend of Eastern and Western architecture which coincides with Venice’s role, for many years, as the connection between those two worlds. The mosaics along the main facade are spectacular. Much of the church is reminiscent of Constantinople, which is where the Four Horses above the main entrance were brought from. The “booty” from voyages far and wide adorns the church. Much of the wealth is displayed in the Treasury (separate admission). The altarpiece (Pala d’Oro), which stands behind the main altar, is made of gold and inlaid with numerous precious gems (some were stolen by Napoleon). A visit to the Galleria and Museum reveals the original bronze horses, replicas of which now grace the church’s facade.
The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) was the home of the reigning duke or doge of Venice. The architecture, as is normal in Venice, is a mix of East and West. Entry through the Porta della Carta brings the visitor into the internal courtyard.
Upon arrival at the Hall of the Grand Council (Sala del Maggior Consiglio), note the huge Tintoretto oil painting Paradise (the largest oil painting in the world) behind the Doge’s throne. As you walk over the Bridge of Sighs, so-named since prisoners sighed and said goodbye to the world as they crossed from here into the prison, imagine being sentenced to a dank, dark prison with no hope of ever seeing Venice’s canals again.
Exit is via the Giant’s Staircase, named for the large statues which straddle its doorway into the palace.
1. The Campanile or bell tower is also worth a visit, since the view of Venice and its lagoon from the observation level is spectacular.
2. Despite the cost, a gondola ride is a must when visiting Venice. Many of the gondoliers will serenade their passengers, and all will narrate the trip through some of Venice’s small canals. The effect of the gondola traveling through these tight places with an expert at the helm is both soothing and enchanting
3. Also be sure to stop at Harry’s Bar, located near the San Marco Vaporetto stop, for a delicious, but overpriced, Bellini, a drink made from a sweet white Prosecco wine and peach juice.