I recently read a blog about Venice advising tourists not to stay on the mainland because it was too busy, not to eat the pizza because it wasn’t stone baked and to use a GPS to avoid getting lost. Well for me, mainland Venice is definitely the place to stay, the pizza was perfezionare and getting lost is the best part of exploring a new city….
Although I visited Venice in February and it rained for the entire trip, I still found this island the most enchanting, enticing and captivating city I have ever visited.
A Bit of History
Venice lies in the middle of the Venetian Lagoon and is made up of 118 islands connected by bridges. It was built in the 5th century after the fall of the Roman Empire when residents from the mainland fled to Venice to escape the ‘Barbaric’ raids, there they were safe from enemy invasion. The city is built upon thousands of wooden stakes, submerged under water and driven into the muddy seabed, on top of those wooden stakes rests stone platforms on which the city is built. The flow of the salt water petrifies the wooden stakes, therefore turning them into a stone-like material and, being submerged under water and not exposed to oxygen, they won’t decay or rot.
I’ve always wanted to visit Venice because it will, inevitably, one day sink from existence and become another lost city of Atlantis.
The rising sea levels and high tides are causing the city to sink, it has already sunk 9 inches over the last 100 years but they have now constructed floodgates around the island to separate it from the Adriatic sea, so I’m hoping it will last another 1600 years.
Staying on Grande Canal
I stayed as central as you can get, in a tiny hotel on Grand Canal; the room had fabric walls, old Italian furniture and wasn’t big enough to swing a cat. But the shutters opened up onto the canal and in the early morning all I could hear were the delivery boats dropping off supplies for the day ahead.
Piazza San Marco
To start the trip I visited the central square – Piazza San Marco . There stood St Mark’s Church (Basilica di San Marco), grand in gesture and internally tiled with Byzantine mosaic. The Basilica, like many you’d find across Italy was beautifully crafted inside and out but this one was not like any other I had seen; the gold ceiling told a story of religion and history and was the most magnificent sight in all of venice.
Ponte di Rialto
Another main attraction is the Rialto bridge (Ponte di Rialto), it was the first bridge constructed in Venice and crosses the Grand Canal. This is central to Venice and is where you will find the Mercati di Rialto and many of the main high street shops.
The most fascinating part of visiting Venice is knowing there are no cars, only boats. There’s a taxi boat, a police boat, an ambulance boat and even a speed camera to make sure no one drives over 7 kph. One thing I would definitely recommend is the Vaporetto – a water bus that can take you all over the mainland via the canals, it can also take you outside of Venice to visit the surrounding islands. A day ticket costs €20 and it was the best way to get around for me.
The islands surrounding Venice are diverse and purposeful in their own right. Firstly Murano; well known for its famous Murano glass, is the largest of the islands. There you can visit shops, factories and can attend workshops on how to blow glass.
The second island I visited was Burano. This is unmistakably the most colourful place in all of Italy, maybe even the world! Burano is most notable for its hand crafted lace and colourful houses. It is said that the houses were painted so vibrantly so that fishermen could identify their home and therefore knew where to birth their boat. And in turn, the lace making craft was started by the fishermen’s wives, occupying them while they awaited their husbands’ return.
Another island of complete wonder was Torcello, once a home to thousands it is now the least inhabited of the islands. Malaria caused its people to flee to the mainland and now it is a small tourist attraction but houses Museo Provinciale di Torcello, a museum of Torcello’s history; the Cathedral of Santa Maria and the long standing Diavolo bridge. This island was eerie to walk around, especially on a quiet, dismal February day but the history of it was what I was most interested in.
And finally, an island that I found exceptionally eerie, was Isola di San Michele, this was a cemetery. I discovered that Venetians believed burial on the mainland was unsanitary and the living should not dwell amongst the dead; so bodies were carried on funeral gondolas over to St Michele’s Island instead. If history and culture are the reasons you visit Italy, then Venice would fascinate you the most.
If you are planning a trip to Venice I would highly recommend it! If you go in February/March time you will also get to see the famous Carnival , a festivity from which the Venetian masks derived.
I hope my little snippet of the history of the sinking city has tickled your curiosity and if you get to visit Venice just remember: Stay in the centre of the chaos, eat the pizza and enjoy getting lost!
Thanks for reading.