I only had the opportunity to visit Venice for about 13 hours, but it was still an incredible place to see and an experience of this World Heritage Site that will stay with me forever. This was one of the most unique cities that I have ever visited. It is an aggregate of 118 islands situated in the Venice Lagoon that are separated by 150 small canals and joined by 409 bridges. The tourism page for Venice reports that the city received approximately 15 million visitors a year although it only houses 270,400 permanent residents. It also reports one of the lowest crime rates in the world.
It has narrow streets that reminded me of the curving paths on the island of Mykonos, but with three story tall buildings on either side. We thought that we would walk from where we parked the car on the outskirts of the city to my hotel for the night, and just navigating the streets is an adventure. Because of the all of the canals dissecting the city, you need to find a good winding path to travel through the city.
San Marcos is the main square of the city and also is the lowest point of the city. Most tourists head to this square as part of their experience in the city, but there is not a clear path to get there. After a while of walking, we found hand painted signs and arrows that direct people through the maze of buildings to the square. It was interesting that these wayfinding marks where not an officially signed way, but something that appeared to have been done as a grassroots (almost graffiti) effort.
Boat taxis are one of the main ways to get around the city and they range in price of €8 for the official ferry that leaves the Riva degli Schiavoni and navigates down the Canale Della Giudecca to the main dock across from the Venezia Santa Lucia train station. This is a well spent eight Euros because it is a half hour boat ride that gives you a good waterside view of the city. I also had to spend €140 for a personal water taxi from my hotel to the airport (on the mainland) at 4am for my early morning plane back to Athens. That was a cool night time taxi ride that crossed open water, but it was a very efficient way to arrive at the airport for my flight. Puente de la Constitución de Venecia (Constitution Bridge) on the left, is one of the main pedestrian thoroughfares on the northwest side of Venice near the Venezia Santa Lucia train station.
The Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, erected in AD 1565, is in the foreground which currently houses the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere e Arti. In the background is the Santa Maria della Salute which was constructed in the honor of Saint Maria of Health after the black plague devastated the city in AD 1630.
San Marcos Square is evident from the water just off of the Riva degli Schiavoni with the Campanile (bell tower) di San Marco reaching into the sky and the Doge’s Palace to the right. The spire is the bell tower for St. Mark’s Basilica and it was completed in AD 1514, although it collapsed in AD 1902 and was reconstructed in AD 1912. I imagine that it is difficult to construct spires on islands in a lagoon and there are only a few of these landmarks in the city. The Doge’s Palace (or Ducal Palace) was built in AD 1340 and has been the resident of the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice for most of its history, although now it serves as a museum.
Bucentaur's return to the pier by the Palazzo Ducale painted by Giovanni Antonio Canal (aka Canaletto) from 1728 – 1729. This painting is currently in the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow where it has been since AD 1930. I appreciate these historical paintings for providing a time-lapse perspective on these major landmarks.
Across from the Palazzo Ducale is the Biblioteca Marciana which was constructed in the late 1500s and is said to house one of the greatest classical texts collections in the world. On the pillars are the symbols of Venice on the left column, which was erected in AD 1268 is the winged lion which is thought to be designed from a griffin statue that was on a temple to the god Sandon at Tarsus in Cilicia located in Southern Turkey from 300 BC. The lion now represents the Lion of St. Mark and is a symbol of the city of Venice. The figure on the western column is St. Theodore of Amasea standing on a crocodile that is supposed to represent a dragon that he had slain. St. Theodore was the patron saint of the city of Venice prior to St. Mark.
Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco (Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark) is the seat of the archbishop of Venice and is located on a site of early churches that where built around AD 828 which housed the relics of Mark the Evangelist which were stolen by Venetian merchants from Alexandria in AD 832. That original church was later destroyed and the current building had it start around AD 1093 (multiple suggested dates around that time). Above the entrance are the replicas of four bronze horses which were taken by Crusaders from Constantinople (now called Istanbul) in the thirteenth century. The original bronze horses are now housed in a museum as of AD 1970.
There are many of the cathedrals throughout the city. Across the bay from San Marcos Square is a beautiful church that sets the view. The first church for the Basilica San Giorgio Maggiore was built in AD 790, but it was destroyed in an earthquake in AD 1223. The current buildings where built at this location between AD 1566 – 1610. The bell tower (campanile) was first built in AD 1467 but it fell in AD 1774. It was pater rebuilt in 1791. As you can see, Venice has an issue with buildings collapsing or receiving damage from earthquakes.
Gondole (plural for gondola) are the classic transportation for the city of Venice and there are a controlled number of gondaliers in the city which has been set at 425. The price for a gondola ride is set at €90 for a 30-45 minutes ride. We saw so many gondole in the canals that they made traffic jams.
The Torre dell’Orologio (Clock Tower) on San Marcos square is an astronomical clock that was commission in AD 1493 and completed in AD 1499.
Bridges are, of course, a great architectural feature and focus of the landscape in Venice. The Bridge Ponte Longo is one of the major bridges along the Fondamenta delle Zattere Ai Gesuati. Each of these bridges provides a great view as you cross the canals.
Ponte di Rialto is probably the most photographed bridge in Venice and was the location of the first bridge in Venice which was a pontoon bridge built in AD 1181. This original bridge was destroyed and subsequent timber bridges collapsed on multiple occasions until the current bridge was built in stone and completed in AD 1591. This night time picture was taken from the water taxi at about 4am.
One of the coolest market ideas that I saw in Venice was a vegetable barge that pulled up along a canal to sell its wares. I did not spend much time in the city and did not have the chance to explore grocery stores options, but it is an interesting dilemma to provide food for all of the residents and visitors to an island city that does not have any property dedicated to food production in the city limits.
The city of Venice has been sinking into the Adriatic Sea for much of its history as people continue to build on the sediment in the lagoon. Reports state that the city sank 23 cm (about 9 inches) over the last century and that the city was sinking more quickly in the past due to pumping fresh water from the aquifer under the city. Because of this expected water logging, many of the buildings are constructed from Russian larch wood which is known to resist decay when it is submerged for long periods of time.
The MOSE (MOdulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico, Experimental Electromechanical Module) was developed as a series of mobile gates that could protect Venice from tides of up to 3 meters in height. This project was started in 2003 and was 80% complete in 2013. When work on this system started, Dr. Tony Rathburn and his students at Indiana State University were invited to study the forms of benthic foramnifera ( small marine invertebrates that live in sediment) in the Venice Lagoon. The foramnifera were known to deform when living in heavily contaminated sediment so the amount of malformed organisms could be used to map contamination levels in the Venice Lagoon (Kluesner et al. 2005, Waggoner et al. 2007). More work was done on the pore fluids to document the amount of contamination present in the sediment that was being disturbed in the Venice Lagoon from this series of gates that was bring installed (Gieskes et al. 2011). The hopes are that this gate system will protect Venice from future flooding due to climate change related sea-level rise.
Such famous people as Casanova Giacomo (usually just known as Casanova), the composer Antonio Vivaldi, and the explorer Marco Polo were all born in Venice.
Kluesner, J., Rathburn, A.E., Perez, E., Basak, C., & Gieskes, J.M. (2005). Living (Rose Bengal Stained) Benthic Foramnifera from the Venice Lagoon, Italy. In 2005, Salt Lake City Annual Meeting.
Gieskes, J. M., Han, S., Rathburn, A., Perez, E., Barbanti, A., Perin, F., & DeHeyn, D. D. (2011). Geochemistry of Sedimentary Pore Fluids in Venice Lagoon, Results of the SIOSED Program from 2005-2007, A Background Report. Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
Waggoner, J., Rathburn, A.E., Perez, E., Brouillette, E., Gray, C., Kluesner, J., & Gieskes, L. (2007). Rose Bengal Stained Benthic Foramnifera from a Conatamination Gradient in the Venice Lagoon, Italy. In 2997, GSA Denver Annual Meeting.