Wonders of Europe-Part 8: The splendour of Venice-the City of Canals and Gondolas
By Dr. Eugene DSouza, Moodubelle
Bellevision Media Network
Udupi, 10 Oct 2013: Waking up early on the early morning of 21 July 2013, we packed our belongings and got ready to move on to the last country on the list of ‘Wonders of Europe’ Tour-Italy in which we were scheduled to visit four historic cities-Venice, Pisa, Florence and Rome. Having had our breakfast at Hotel Olympia we wheeled our luggage to the parking lot where Alessandro, out coach captain helped us to load it in the bus and we hit the road at around 7.30 am and headed towards Italy.
The distance between Innsbruck and Venice is around 392 kilometers which we covered in around 4 hours with a mandatory halt in between. As we crossed the Austrian terrain and entered Italian region, the topography provided a new view and experience. We could see small settlements in the valleys and few monasteries and churches on the top of hills and ridges of mountains.
The agricultural crops were more or less the same as in other European countries. However, the common sight on the way to Venice was the numerous vineyards spread across the landscape as far as one could see, in the plains as well as on the slopes of the hills and mountains.
We reached the Fusina Tourist Village at around 12 noon where we boarded the ferry which was to take us to the island of Venice. Fusina Tourist Village is situated at the mouth of the Brenta River facing the magnificent city of Venice. As the ferry also known as Vaporeto or ‘waterbus’ moved towards the island of Venice, we were served lunch provided by an Indian restaurant from Padova, around 40 kilometers away. It was indeed a strange experience to have lunch in the waterbus as it moved towards the mysterious and one of the most visited cities by tourists in Europe.
After nearly 20 minutes ride in the waterbus, we could see the contours of the old classical buildings lining up the waterfront and within few minutes we reached the jetty by the side of a floating restaurant packed with people having their lunch.
Having alighted from the waterbus, Kunal Gorekar, our Tour Manager briefed us about the tourist points that we would be visiting and also cautioned us that we have to tour the city by walking and that too in crowded lanes and bye lanes and we should be careful with our precious belongings.
Venice is one of Italy’s top travel cities and a beautiful, romantic destination with many attractions. Its small, traffic-free streets along the winding canals make for great walking. Tourists find many magnificent churches and palaces, lively squares and interesting shops.
St. Mark’s Square
St. Mark’s Basilica
St. Mark’s Basilica (Close Up)
Glass Horse outside the Murano Glass Museum
Aerial View of Venice (From Internet)
Venice is on northeast coast of Italy situated on an archipelago of 118 islands formed by 177 canals in a shallow marshy lagoon which stretches along the shoreline, between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. It is connected by 409 bridges. In the old centre, the canals serve the function of roads, and almost every form of transport is on water or on foot. Venice is protected from the Adriatic Sea by a strip of land called the Lido. The region around Venice is called the ‘Veneto’. The main public transport in Venice is the vaporetti, boats that ply the principal waterways. There are also more expensive water taxis and gondolas. Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. The entire city is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon.
The name ‘Venice’ is derived from the ancient Veneti people who inhabited the region by the 10th century BC. The city historically was the capital of the Republic of Venice. It has been known as the “Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals".
The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades as well as a very important center of commerce, especially silk, grain, spice and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century. This made Venice a wealthy city throughout most of its history. It is also known for its several important artistic movements, especially during the Renaissance period.
Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Venice always traded extensively with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim World. By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. At the peak of its power and wealth, it had 36,000 sailors operating 3,300 ships, dominating Mediterranean commerce. During this time, Venice’s leading families vied with each other to build the grandest palaces and support the work of the greatest and most talented artists. The city was governed by the Great Council, which was made up of members of the noble families of Venice.
The buildings of Venice are constructed on closely spaced wooden piles. Most of these piles are still intact after centuries of submersion. The foundations rest on the piles, and buildings of brick or stone sit above these footings. The piles penetrate a softer layer of sand and mud until they reach a much harder layer of compressed clay. Submerged by water, in oxygen-poor conditions, wood does not decay as rapidly as on the surface. Most of these piles were made from trunks of alder trees, a wood noted for its water resistance.
Venice is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world for its celebrated art and architecture. Tourism has been a major sector of Venetian industry since the 18th century, when it was a major center for the Grand Tour, with its beautiful cityscape, uniqueness and rich musical and artistic cultural heritage. In the 19th century, it became a fashionable centre for the rich and famous, often staying or dining at luxury establishments. Today, there are numerous attractions in Venice, such as St Mark’s Basilica, the Grand Canal, and the Piazza San Marco.
Venice has a rich and diverse architectural style, the most famous of which is the Gothic style. Venetian Gothic Architecture is a term given to a Venetian building style combining use of the Gothic lancet arch with Byzantine, Ottoman and a lot of Phoenician architectural influences. The city also has several Renaissance and Baroque buildings.
Marco Polo (1254-1324) who visited the Court of Kublai Khan, the great ruler of China was a Venetian merchant. Venice has also inspired writers from abroad. Shakespeare set his famous plays ‘Othello’ and ‘The Merchant of Venice’ in the city. Thomas Mann wrote the novel ‘Death in Venice’, published in 1912. Venice, especially during the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque periods was a major centre of art and developed a unique style known as the ‘Venetian School’. In the Middle-Ages and the Renaissance, Venice, along with Florence and Rome, became one of the most important centers of art in Europe and numerous wealthy Venetians became patrons of the arts. Venice at the time was a rich and prosperous Maritime Republic, which controlled a vast sea and trade empire.
The most important tourist point that we visited in Venice was Saint Mark’s Square also known as the Piazza San Marco. St Mark’s square was described by Napoleon Bonaparte as the most beautiful dining room in Europe. It is the only true square of Venice dominated by its Byzantine Basilica of St. Marks which is a unique architectural masterpiece.
The centerpiece of the piazza is the magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica. Its construction started in 1071and its design and construction was based on Venetian-Byzantine style, a mixture of western and eastern styles. Nicknamed the "Church of Gold" because of its opulence, it has been the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, since 1807.
The basilica has a separate campanile or Bell Tower that stands 98.6 meters tall (323 ft) and is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Originally built in the 9th century it first served Venice as a wooden look-out tower. Constructed of wood it was very vulnerable to lightning strikes and fires. Eventually, it was decided in 1549 to build a stone bell tower that was designed by the great Venetian architect Sansovino. The current version of the bell tower was rebuilt in 1912 after the original tower collapsed in 1902.
The other dominant building around St. Mark’s Square is the Doge’s Palace. A beautiful gothic structure, it faces the Venetian lagoon and was completed in the early 15th century, though portions of it were rebuilt after a fire in 1574.
Also located along the square are the 12th century Procuratie Vecchie, buildings that housed the apartments and offices of the procurators; the Procuratie Nuovo, which provided more offices and was built in the mid 17th century; the National Library of St. Mark’s; the Museum of Archaeology; and the Correr Museum.
Between the Doge’s Palace and the Library is the Piazzetta (little piazza) San Marco. It is known for the two columns located there that pay homage to two of Venice’s patrons - St. Mark and St. Teodoro of Amasea. The columns have long served as the official gateway to the city. Until the mid 18th century, the piazetta was also an area were criminals were executed.
On the opposite side of St Marks square to the bell tower is the Clock Tower which was built between 1496 and 1499 to hold the large blue clock with golden decorations to represent the signs of the zodiac. The clock indicates the time as well as solar and lunar phases used to calculate the tide, in order to know when it was favourable to set sail.
Venice is famous for its ornate glass-work, known as Venetian Glass. It is world-renowned for being colourful, elaborate, and skillfully made. One of the most renowned types of Venetian Glasses are made in Murano, known as Murano Glass, which has been a famous product of the Venetian island of Murano for centuries. We had the good fortune of visiting the Murano Glass blowing factory where I could click the huge glass horse displayed outside. We could view the glass blowing demonstration and the huge retail shop of varieties of glassware and the museum of breathtaking beauty and perfection. However, we were not allowed to click pictures inside.
The last engagement of ours in Venice was the Gondola ride. The gondolas with groups of six tourists in each took us through the narrow canals and the Main Canal passing through numerous buildings standing on wooden piles. We could see a number of gondolas plying by with foreign tourists who were enjoying every bit of the ride some singing the traditional songs prompted by the Venetian gondola captains. The gondola has been one of the most well known and romantic images portraying Venice. It is the most famous Venetian vessel also considered the most elegant means of transport. This is why over the centuries much emphasis has been placed on its physical appearance for both construction as well as its interior furnishings such as the ‘ferro’ (characteristic comb shaped iron work to represent the 6 areas of Venice), the special shape of the ‘forcola (typical oar holder),the curl like stern, etc. The gondola ride was an amazing and exhilarating experience in Venice.
Following the gondola ride, we moved back to the jetty from where we took the waterbus back to Fusina where our bus was parked. After a ride of around 40 kilometers we reached Tulip Inn in Padova. We had dinner and rest for the night before we moved on to Pisa and Florence the next day.