I went to Venice for Christmas. 🙂
And it completely knocked me out. Venice is ridiculously, improbably, insanely beautiful. Fantastically impressive, and improbably old. A 100m x 100m square taken at random from any part of the island probably contains more exquisite and original C14th – C16th architecture than all of Amsterdam, for instance.
Now I could show you all the photos I made of these beautiful buildings, canals, bridges, gondoliers – but I decided not to.
I have decided instead to give you the side of Venice the guide books don’t show you: the dogshit and the pigeonshit, the filthy water, the grafitti, the touts, the Long Dong Michelangelo’s David apron stalls, the toothless Romanian beggar women, the countless hordes of Japanese tourists, the interminable building sites…
….OK, just kidding. But if I posted everything my blog would be full up, so this is just the edited highlights.
Venice’s front door (the campanile, the Doge’s palace, and the two columns) is just the most spectacular visiting card you will ever see:
Nothing speaks more eloquently of the fact that Venice was a world power for four hundred years, using superior ships and weapons to control the worlds’ trading routes, just as Amsterdam did later in the 1600s. Walking between these enormous, exquisite buildings and into the huge Piazzo San Marco is a breathtaking experience and one which you must have at some point in your life. So, book it now, before Venice rots away into the rising seas. And go at Christmas, when it’s warm and sunny and nobody’s there. 🙂
The sinuous Canal Grande, the one navigable route through the city, is naturally where the richest merchants and princes vied to build the largest, grandest and most beautiful palaces. There are countless images of these stunning buildings online so here are just a couple:
With side streets
giving tantalizing glimpses of the inner city. And yes, I know that ‘tantalizing’ is a stupid tourist guidebook word. The fact is that Venice reduces you to a quivering mess of these sorts of clichés. Sorry, but it can’t be helped. Anyway….
The natural climax to this orgiastic display of civic pride and wealth is the Rialto Bridge, for many years the only crossing over the Canal Grande and therefore the natural site for a market. The stone, non-lifting version was built in 1570:
Oh, and by the way, it’s fucking huge too:
But what really beggars belief is the level of exquisite detailing in combination with the scale of the buildings and the whole city. Can there really be this much beautiful ornament and detail in a single city? No wonder it got Ruskin‘s rocks off. Here’s a random corner.
And here’s a random bit of wall with a gallery behind it.
But what do the inhabitants actually do all day? It turns out that since the decline of Venice’s military and naval might in the 16th century they have spent most of their time perfecting the art of window dressing. Two little examples out of literally thousands of tourist-tempting displays:
Well, alright, here’s a third, for Ella – yes, that’s a full-size Harley Davidson in wood:
Hey, nobody said it had to be tasteful – it just has to sell to the Japanese.
Right, on to the gondolas. These look so at home:
And the gondolieri are a cheerful lot:
But historically it’s a dying trade; there are only 401 gondolieri today, when there were at least 10,000 in the 1600s. Well, what do they expect, at 75 a throw? No wonder the only customers are Japanese, and even they invariably look glum.
Venice is only one island out of lots that are dotted round about. It’s well worth taking a 2-minute ferry to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, whose Palladio-designed church of the same name has a belltower you can go up (in a lift, they blocked the stairs) for 3…
…and enjoy a wonderful view of the whole of Venice, with the incredible Piazza di San Marco, columns, belltower and Doge’s palace seen from yet another stunning vantage point:
It’s worth remembering that much of Venice’s fabulous wealth came out of the barrel of a gun. From 1400 onward its Arsenale
(derived from the Arabic word Dar al Sina’a, ‘dockyard’, and which gives English the word ‘arsenal’) was the world’s most important shipyard, eventually employing 16,000 men and assembly-line techniques to turn out a ship a day (!) and to invent and produce new, state-of-the-art warships and weapons. Like Holland in later centuries, Venice simply saw war as a logical extension of commerce.
The 1934 Ponte degli Scalzi, “barefoot bridge”, is great:
Calatrava is supposed to be building a fourth bridge somewhere, apparently, but I saw no sign of it.
After a hard day’s walking about doing nothing but gawk openmouthed at stuff, it was time to head off to one of the parks to snooze in style. I wasn’t alone:
OK, that’s enough ordered exposition. Here are a bunch of unconnected photos. The mouseovers should tell you all you need to know…
And here are my tips for those of you planning a visit:
– park the car on the mainland at Mestre. Buses and trains will take you cheaply right into town. The convenience of the car park at Tronchetto doesn’t really outweigh its 20/day rate.
– nobody ever checked my 20 ticket on the ferries. Not once.
– there’s a COOP supermarket conveniently sited between the bus station and the train station. Essentials (like tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, olive oil and ham – duh!) are all cheaper than in Amsterdam. Stock up there rather than pay the restaurants’ mad prices.
– bring along a nice bag to take the supermarket stuff in, rather than toting plastic COOP bags all day looking like a cheapskate dork like I did.
– and a knife and spoon. Jesus, I’m way too old to be learning this kind of stuff now…