During my time in Venice I celebrated three years since I sailed out of Hull marina, and realised that “La Serenissima”, as it is known, is my favourite place of the 150 places I have visited during those three years. And these are the reasons why…..
As the Roman Empire fell in 5AD, Italy was attacked by Attila the Hun. Some Italians escaped to the marshlands of Venice lagoon, then inhabited by fishermen.
In the centuries to follow, Venice became the richest city in Europe, a great maritime power and the trading link between East and West.
Today, Venice is 118 islands separated by canals and linked by 400 bridges, and to create the magnificent city we see today foundations were created by driving wooden piles into the marsh and laying marble blocks onto the piles. The wood, transported by sea from Slovenia, Croatia and Montenegro, petrified in the mud to create a lasting foundation for the city. It is believed that 1,106,657 (to be exact!) 4m wood piles were used to create the foundation for Santa Maria della Salute church, in the photograph.
In 1204, and allied with the crusades, the Venetians captured and ransacked Constantinople. Four gilt bronze horses were taken and placed at the entrance of St Marks Palace as it was built. Great cities needed a saint, and the relics of St Mark were stolen from Alexandria and to this day the winged lion of St Mark adorns the palace and the square.
At the height of its power, Venice had 36,000 sailors and 3,300 ships, and was producing a merchant or naval vessel every day from the shipyards of the Arsenale.
Many famous people came from Venice, including Vivaldi, Casanova, Marco Polo and the artists Canaletto and Titian. One not-so-famous Venetian was Aldus Manutius. By 1482 Venice was the printing capital of the world and Manutius invented the paperback book to fit into a saddlebag.
Venice was the first centre of international finance, which probably began in the Gheto, where the Jewish community had been forced to live.
In fear of fire spreading among the early wooden buildings, the glassmaking community were moved to the nearby island of Murano. Today, Barovier & Tuso, established in 1295, is one of the oldest companies in the world.
But all good things come to an end and the decline of Venice began in the 15c. The plague, the loss of Constantinople to the Turk, Sultan Mehmet II and Vasco da Gama’s discovery of the potential trading route to India via the Cape of Good Hope weakened the Venetian Empire. Finally, in 1797, Napoleon forced the surrender of Venice and less than 100 years later Venice became a part of Italy in 1866.
The greatness of Venice though, continues today. Shakespeares plays Othello and The Merchants of Venice were set in the city and among the many films set in Venice my favourite sequence is the final scene the 2010 film, The Tourist.
Today, the Venice Film Festival is the oldest in the world and the city continues to be famous for its carnival, Biennale and Festa del Redentore…..these last two I was able to witness.
…..and words such as arsenal, ghetto, lagoon and regatta originated in Venice.
While it is great to see such wonders as the Doges Palace, it is the small permanent and transient experiences that has made Venice special to me….
- Ombra and Cicchetti in one of the many Bacari in Venice, All’Arco in the sestiere San Polo.
- The Damien Hirst exhibition, Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable.
- The Gheto.
- Lorenzo Quinn’s “Hands” of the Biennale, in the photograph.
- Acqua Alta bookshop.
- The islands of Murano (for its glass) and Murano (for its colourful houses).
- Cynar Spritz at the end of a long hot day of walking the canals.
- The final firework display for the Festa del Redentore.
- Getting lost in Venice with Alec, my eldest son, and…
- The train to Florence.
Florence had been on my “bucket list” for many years and it was my plan to use my extended stay in Venice to spend a few days there. Originally, the plan was to hire a Fiat 500 and drive there. But good sense prevailed and I caught a train in Venice Santa Lucia station direct to Florence and organised an AirBnB room just a five minute walk from Santa Maria Novella station.
Florence’s renaissance period began after the decline of Venice, and there is much to see and do in a visit to a city regarded as “one of the most beautiful cities in the world”. This is what kept me enthralled for almost four days, and in the intense heat a beer or two should be added to the list!
- The Galileo museum.
- The Ufizzi Gallery, and especially the Leonardo da Vinci exhibition.
- The Bargelo.
- The Duomo, which dominates the cityscape.
- Ponte Vecchio, in the photograph.
- Borboli Gardens.
- Piazza Michelangelo (and the statue of David) for a sunrise or sunset view of Florence.
- Lampredotto street food.
- The Apple Store in Piazza della Repubblica, where I bought a much needed iPhone charger!
- My first AirBnB Experience….Tuscany Wine Tasting.
Venice AND Florence in July 2017 will remain with me forever, and I extend my thanks to Attila the Hun!