Floods created by the tides of the Adriatic occur in spring and autumn. In October 2010, the flood waters combined with strong winds and heavy rains pushed the water level to 40 inches above sea level. The worst flooding occurred in 1996 when the water rose 76 inches causing much damage to landmarks and statues across the city.
According to experts, a primary factor that causes this is the rising floor of the lagoon due to incoming silt and global warming that has increased sea levels around the world. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi started the MOSE project in 2003 to evaluate whether inflatable gates would help hold back the tides.
Venice’s primary influence is seen through its long history of art, music and opera. During the 1700’s, it was a major center of music and music printing. It is the city in which the famous Italian baroque composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi was born. Known as “The Red Priest” due to his striking red hair, his concertos, more than 40 operas and sacred choral works are still performed around the world today. Other local composers included Ippolito Ciera, Girolamo Dalla Cassa and Giovanni Picchi.
Today one of the city’s prime sources of income stems from tourism (50,000 each day – 2007 estimate). In the 1980’s, the city revived its Carnival of Venice held 40 days before Easter, which draws many festivals and conferences. This event features colorful costumes and masks worn during a 10-day event. There is also the Redentore Regatta, a festival held on the Grand Canal in July. The Venice Film Festival also attracts an array of foreign visitors and the Lido di Venezia brings actors and celebrities from around the world.
Tourists arrive in Venice from Marco Polo International Airport and take a bus overland, by cruise ship along the Giudecca Canal or by hopping a train from stations in Milan and Rome. Once they arrive, visitors can take in the sites and sounds of the city’s rich history and traditions. Travelers will learn much about Venice, which includes 117 small islands of the Venetian Lagoon.
There are no vehicles in Venice. Visitors travel either by boat (vaporetti), gondola or by walking the narrow cobblestone streets to see such sites as the Piazza San Marco, magnificent churches, palaces and unique shops.
This bustling square is a favorite of tourists from around the world not only due to its sidewalk cafes and fashionable shops but also for its architecture that seems to loom high into the sky. St. Mark’s Basilica covers one full side of the square and to the right is the bay of San Marco. There is an entrance gate with a winged lion sitting on top, which symbolizes the Venetian Republic.
On another side is the Campanile bell tower which has stood the test of time since the Medieval era. Originally a wooden structure, it was converted after several fires due to lightening into a stone tower 98 metres plus high. There is also a Clock Tower called the Torre Dell ‘Orologio, which was constructed in 1496. This clock is blue with gold and displays the signs of the zodiac as well as the lunar and solar phases – information vital to sailors.
Visitors will also see the intricate facade of La Libreria Sansoviniana built from 1537 and housing 900 books. There is also the Procuratie Vecchie, once home to the city’s powerful prosecutors. Built in the 16th century, this site displays Napoleon’s influence and includes the Correr Museum.
This beautiful basilica built in the 9th century is an architectural marvel 175.5 metres in length. However, it is believed that Saint Alipio ordered the construction of its first portico in 1260. It’s mosaic face relates the tale of Rustico and Bruno, who stole San Marco’s body from Alessandria, Egypt.
Visitors to Saint Mark’s walk 42 steps to a terrace where they can find copies of famous horses, the originals being found inside the church. They were originally brought to Venice by Doge Enrico Dandolo in 1204 but were stolen by the French after the fall of Napoleon. The French government returned them in 1815.
Visitors enter the basilica via the main portal crowned with the lion of St. Mark. Inside they will find marbled columns and amazing mosaics throughout. The site’s treasury has been pillaged and ruined by fire over the years but today still boasts a vast collection of jewels from around the globe. The basilica’s Pala d’oro is an alter containing 3,000 precious stones.
Visitors will undoubtedly be stunned by the basilica’s Pala d’oro, an alter containing 3,000 precious stones, as well as icons with gold inlay. The church also features a small chapel with 110 relics including a beaker that believers say contains Christ’s blood and a reliquary with a bone taken from the arm of San Giorgio.
This palace built in the 16th century was once the center where political and judicial justice were meted out until 1797. It is connected to dark and dismal prisoner’s cells via the bridge of Sighs.
Visitors access this site by climbing a golden staircase to a large wooden door. A secret itinerary of the palace allows visitors into its inner sanctums with its many chambers, offices, grand halls and long corridors – areas that were off limits to the public for many years.
In the Chancellor’s Office, visitors will see where secret documents were created. In the upper part of this office 20 secretaries used to assist him. There are also the crests of former Venetian families above the cabinets where the secret documents were stored. As many as 2,000 government officials carried on business in the Sala Maggiore.
The palace also includes two offices once used by state inquisitors and others for the judges of what was known as the Council of Ten or Ducal Council. Visitors will see art work by such well known painters as Tintoretto. In other parts of the palace, they will find more works by Venetian masters.
One of the sites dimly lit corridors leads to a torture chamber for prisoners. In the prison cells called the I Piombi,” the darkened rooms and low ceilings are truly depressing. They were extremely hot during summer and practically froze prisoners to death in winter. The prison once housed the infamous Casanova, not for enticing the wives of Venetian nobles but rather for possession books on magic.
Looking up at the limestone Bridge of Sighs with its small barred windows from the cobblestone street fills one with both wonder and dread. As noted, it connects the Doge’s Palace to the old prisons. Built in 1602, prisoners could get a final view of family and friends on their way to their cells. Undoubtedly, many of them also sighed as they looked out over the beautiful city of Venice as well.
The bridge actually acquired its name from the British poet, Lord George Gordon Byron, in the 1800’s. As poetic as it sounds, it seems only minor criminals were housed in the cells during that time. And in an interesting twist, locals believe kissing ones lover in a gondola under the bridge at sunset brings them true love forever.
As the most famous opera house in Europe, this site has seen performances by many famous people. This was originally the site of the San Benedetto Theatre owned by the Venier family but it burned to the ground in 1774. The Teatro La Fenice also saw two fires and and had to be rebuilt.
The second fire occurred in 1996 and completely consumed the building. The theatre was rebuilt beginning in 2001 and reopened in 2003. Its first concert included works by Stravinsky, Wagner and Beethoven. Its inaugural opera performance was La triviata.
This theatre is one of the most popular opera houses today. Formerly the Teatro San Luca and Teatro Vendramin di San Salvatore (1622), Teatro Apollo (1833) and Teatro Goldini (1875), it is now known as the Teatro Stabile di Veneto “Carlo Goldini” but is still called Teatro Goldoni for short. This theatre sits near the city’s Rialto Bridge.
Over the years, this site owned by the Vendramin family has seen a number of renovations and was the first of its kind to install gas lighting in 1826. Inside the theater visitors will find an auditorium with 800 seats, as well as four tiers of boxes and galleries. Visitors can also enjoy a mix of ballet, concerts, operas, children’s theatre and other productions.
This opera house has seen many performances since the 17th century. The inside is luxuriously decorated and includes five levels of boxes, as well as a stall area. Formerly called the Teatro San Giovanni Grisostomo, this theatre highlights the rich works of architect Thomas Bezzi.
The theatre underwent restoration work in 1834 and became the Teatro Malibran after Maria Malibran, a Spanish operatic singer.
It closed in 1849 when the Austrians arrived and did not reopen until 1913. Security concerns led to its closure after just one season but it reopened in 1919. During this period, it saw productions of works composed by such notables as Handel, Pooarolo and Scarlatti. Aside from operas and operettas, films were also shown. The opera house is now owned by the city.
This civic museum is located in San Marco Square (Piazza San Marco). Visitors will find this building with its many columns across from the Church of San Marco. Inside, visitors can take in the lavish architecture with gold gilding along its balconies and ceilings. This site features not only art but also artifacts, maps and documents that reveal the history of Venice, as well as what life was like for its people over the years.
In the Napoleonic Wing (Ala Napoleonica) there are works by Italian sculptor, Antonio Canova (1757-1822), who became famous for his marble creations. Visitors can also see the five-storey Clock Tower, with its weights, pulleys and balances. Upstairs they will find the Magi and Angel, wooden statues of 1755 but remade by Alviero Giobatta.
The upper floors hold the offices of the Procuratorie Nuove dating back to 1586. The terrace of the Moors displays colossal statues and a magnificent view over the city.
This museum of art can be found in the Palazzo Fortuny. It is named after Mariano Fortuni (1938-1874), a painter from Catalonia, France, as well as works by his fashion designer son. They include art, fabrics and lamps of the day. The museum also features displays on the history of the palazzo, with a library and rich wall hangings. Fortuni’s widow donated the museum to the city after her husband’s death in 1956.
Natural History Museum of Venice (Museo di Storia Naturale di Venezia)
This museum of natural history found in the massive Fontego dei Turchi on the Grand Canal was built in the 13th century. This Byzantine style building was originally home to the Pesaro family and served as a trading depot. It became a museum in 1923 and today, visitors can learn about the lagoon surrounding the city through displays and about two million objects. These include zoological specimens, botanical and entomological items, fossils, books and more.
This museum named for the Rezzonico family highlights 18th century art in a former palace situated on the Grand Canal. There are three floors of works including paintings, furnishings and sculpture. Visitors will see the grand staircase, as well as the Gallery Portego with its landscape paintings and portraits and other rooms with art by Giambattista Tiepolo.
This collection of art from the 20th century is located in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in a site that was once her home. An American socialite, Guggenheim collected works by such notables as Pablo Picasso, Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock.
Visitors to this gallery located in the center of the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carita
will see stunning Venetian treasures from the Byzantine and Gothic eras up to and including the Renaissance (14th to 18th century ) with paintings by such artists as Titian, Carpaccio, Veneziano, Bellini, Guardi and Tiopolo. The museum is open Monday, 8.15 a.m to 2 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday 8:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.
This Benedictine church built in the 16th century in the Renaissance style cannot be missed due to its gleaming white marble. It sits along the Riva degli Shiavano (one of Venice’s main streets) across from the Piazzetta named after Italian Rococo painter, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta.
Originally the site of a Beneditine monastery which was destroyed by an earthquake, a church was rebuilt on the site but was demolished in 1516. Yet another building was erected and completed in 1575 with work inside ongoing until 1610.
Visitors marvel at this church’s high columns that sit on pedestals, as well as statues of Saint Stephen and Saint George, and paintings of The Last Supper and The Fall of Manna by Tintoretto. They can also take a lift to the bell tower for a wonderful view of Venice.
This basilica featuring Byzantine architecture and 12 semi-columns with arches sits on the island of Torcello. The first church here (circa 639), underwent renovations in 824 by order of Bishop Adeodatus II. The church’s bell tower dates back to the 11th century and its front portico was improved in the 14th century.
With some floors of marble and large mosaics including Madona with Child, the Last Judgement and the Universal Judgement, this cathedral is a magnificent site. The skull of Saint Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, is also kept here.
Tourists can hop a boat for a short ride to the island of Murano to a site dedicated to hand made glass making, which has a long and storied history in the area. Glass blowing in Venice goes back to 982 when furnaces were located on the island and over the years, the industry spread its influence across Europe. These talented artisans learned to develop and work with crystalline glass, milk glass, imitation gemstones, enameled glass and threads of gold glass.
Visitors can see objects in many colors from vases, figurines, sculptures, mirrors, picture frames, jewelry including pendants, necklaces, earrings, bracelets, hair clips, cuff links, rings, candle holders, paper weights and even glass silverware in the island’s galleries, museums and showrooms. They can also see demonstrations by artisans on site.
In the 7th century, Murano was already a busy commercial port and over the next 300 years, became a major trading center. In 1291, local glass makers were told to move their furnaces to the island to prevent fires in Venice proper. These artisans became prominent there and were even allowed to wear swords. By the 15th century, their daughters were even permitted to marry into royal families. However, the artisans were not allowed to move off the island. If they tried, they could face the lose of a hand or even death.
No trip to Venice would be complete without taking a gondola ride along the city’s canals. There are more than 400 gondolas that are used by tourists, wedding parties, for regattas, pageants and more. Tourists can visit the Museo Storico Navale to learn more about them.
The ride is usually 40 minutes and rather expensive. However, you can negotiate with the gondolier for a shorter one or take up to six people at a time. Some of them do speak English. Also note that night rides cost more than those during the day.
A gondola is a rowing boat with a flat bottom most suitable for maneuvering the lagoon. These boats served at one time as the primary means of transportation. They are utilized during the city’s annual rowing races (regattas) held by the gondoliers. When in use, the gondolier stands to row the boat using a pole instead of an oar.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, there were believed to be as many as 10,000 gondolas in use across Venice. Today visitors to the city also see motor boat making their way along the waterways. In fact, you can hire a taxi boat to get around.
Taking a gondola ride can be a romantic experience. Lean back on the many pillows provided, listen to the gondolier sing, enjoy the scenery and don’t forget to kiss your partner under the Bridge of Sighs.
For more information about tours and sites around Venice go to the tourist office in either St. Mark’s Square or at the Santa Lucia Train Station. Walking tours and tours of the Grand Canal can also be arranged.
- St Mark’s Square in Venice (ebookers.com)
- Day 2 (chrisinitalia.wordpress.com)
- Venezia, Italia (aspartanabroad.wordpress.com)
- Venice: readers’ tips, recommendations and travel advice (telegraph.co.uk)
- The Sites of Venice, Italy (europeanhomerentals.wordpress.com)
- Hotel Danieli in Venice (ebookers.com)
- Day 14: Venice, The Floating City (July 3, 2010) (florianisjaaf.wordpress.com)
- Venice in Winter (euroscapetravel.wordpress.com)
- Venice: the arrival of 2012 in Laguna (ilgiardinodeibucaneve.wordpress.com)