The Mediterranean Muse – The Allure of Venice
Venice is a city in northeastern Italy. It is the capital of the Veneto Region and the Province of Venice and is nicknamed La Serenissima (“The Serene”). Its historic center (centro storico) is situated on the larger islands in the Venetian Lagoon. In the lagoon there are 118 islands. Venice extends over some 50 km between the mouths of the rivers Adige in the south and Piave in the north in the Adriatic Sea. Venice was until 1797 the capital of the Republic of Venice and with over 180,000 inhabitants, one of Europe’s largest cities. Until the 16th century it was one of the biggest commercial cities and settled the trade between Western Europe and the eastern Mediterranean. Venice’s nobles profited from trade in luxury goods, spices, salt and wheat. Venice became the largest financial center and dominated a colonial empire that stretched from northern Italy to Crete and at times up to Cyprus.
Art rose to the highest importance in Venice during the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It was the “antithesis” to Florence and home to many artists like Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese, and Canaletto.
Venice has about 175 channels with a total length of around 38 km. The main channel and waterway is the Grand Canal. Many other channels sit alongside the historic center. Through a system of water regulation there is a continuous circulation that purifies the city and water. Since the 18th century many canals were either filled in, or shut down, which can be read on the label “Rio Terà” in many cases. For example, the wide Via Garibaldi was created by filling in a channel in 1776.
One of the most famous bridges, the Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri) connects the former state prison on the ground floor, the so-called Pozzi, with the Ducal Palace. Other bridges are named after the extravagant Rio, a nearby palace or a church, or oftentimes after a saint. The name Ponte Storto, probably occurs in Venice no less than ten times. Local legends claim that riding under the Bridge of Sighs at sunrise brings good luck.
The most common means of transportation in Venice is the gondola. The Traghetti (gondola ferries) cross the Grand Canal at eight places and bring their passengers from one bank to the other. This shuttle service is only one of the commitments of each gondolier. Be ready to be serenaded and entertained by these multi-talented individuals during your trip.
The gondolas originated during the days when only the Rialto Bridge was erected over the channel. At one time in the past, 10,000 gondolas existed. Now there are maybe 300, although little more than 400 licenses have been granted. The most common gondola type developed by boat builder, Domenico Tramontin, is the oldest, a design preserved from 1890.
Churches in Venice
Venice is full of churches (close to 124) that range in style from the Romanesque (crypt of San Zaccaria) to the Baroque. The Venetian church architecture follows Roman and European trends.
One symbol of Venice as a city and former Republic is St Mark’s Cathedral, originally constructed the Byzantine style as a shrine for the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist. It was built in the style of a cross-domed church based on the model of Constantinople. An earlier construction was the Basilica on Torcello, Santa Maria Assunta. Its architectural style dates back to the 7th century. Older churches such as San Giacomo di Rialto have undergone strong structural changes, while San Giovanni Decollato still contains its original architecture but on a much larger scale, exhibiting an architectural style that predominantly originates from the 14th century.
Only two structures in the city have been designated as palaces: the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale) and the residence of the Patriarch of Venice, the Palazzo patriarchal.
There are only a few Byzantine palaces left and they have been greatly changed in the 19th century. A good example of palaces built during the 13th century is the Fondaco dei Turchi whose name indicates a Turkish trading company. There is also the Ca’da Mosto from the 13th century.
The decorative details of the Loredan and Farsetti, now the town hall and local government originate largely from the 19th century. However, the facade composition of a typical casa-fondaco (another word for a Venetian palace) can still be clearly interpreted as Byzantine as demonstrated by a row of arcades on the ground floor which was suitable for the loading and unloading of goods.
During the Gothic period the room proportions were steeper and the T-shaped floor plan was abandoned in favor of a slightly L-shaped, later only straight through the hall. The largest building is the Ca ‘Foscari on the first bend of the Grand Canal. And the Ca ‘d’Oro (Golden House) showcases a painting that has images of Vittore Carpaccio and Gentile Bellini, showing a heavy influence by gothic architecture.
The Libreria Vecchia
The most important work of the architect Sansovino sits opposite of Doge’s Palace… a structure known as the Old Library or the Libreria Vecchia (National Library of St Mark’s) since 1540. Sansovino ideas for the design of the facade were influenced by Mauro Codussi whose work is the Palazzo Vendramin-Calerghi. The idea was to establish a link between the usual arcades in Venice and the colonnade structure of the Florentine Renaissance.
Opera houses and theatres
Since the Baroque period, Venice has been one of the centers of Western music, the opera and the theater. In the repeatedly rebuilt baroque Teatro La Fenice, a classical music lover can experience symphony concerts throughout the year since the opera season runs from December to June. Less famous but equally extravagant in the 18th century was the Teatro Malibran, which is named after the French mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran. Opened in 1678 under the name of Teatro di San Giovanni Grisostomo, it was already a few years later the biggest and most beautiful theater of the city, famous for the performance of operas. Since 1637 the ordinary people had access to the public opera, while in other cities opera was kind of an expensive art reserved only for the resident aristocracy. The Teatro Goldoni has always and still serves as the top location for live theatrical presentations.
We hope you’ve enjoyed your picturesque tour through Venice, the city of water and Carnivale. Join us for the next installment of the Mediterranean Muse when we head to romantic Florence!