A Venetian Romance

I know, I know… It’s been such a long time since my last post! I’m so sorry! I get writers block every once in a while! It’s because of a combination of utter lack of motivation and a very busy life. I’m trying to save up some extra money you see… Christmas is coming, and with Christmas comes a huge increase in spending costs (Xmas presents = a love hate relationship). Anyway… I’ve recently been to Northern Italy for a week (October to be precise)… And first place I revisited during my stay was one of my all time favorite cities – Venice. I had already visited Venice with my mum when I was younger. She’d taken me there as a gift after doing well in my O Levels. I fell in love with the place immediately. I can still remember catching my first glimpse of the Piazza San Marco from the water bus. The gorgeous architecture, and other worldly atmosphere – like a scene out of a fantasy novel!

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Beautiful, beautiful city, how I adore you! A watery and timelessly stunning city, full of romance, mystery and tragedy. Home of stunning art and grand architecture, extravagant gondoliers, lush carnivals and the infamous ‘aqua alta’. An utter feast to the senses… Visited by thousands year after year, bella Venezia is chock full of things to see, and since it’s such a small city (basically made out of a hundred or so little islands – 117 to be precise), the main attractions are nearly all within walking distance! A three-day stay is ideal for those wishing to see the main sights, so if you’re from the little island of Malta, get on that Ryanair website now and get booking! Flights are cheap; you don’t need to pack luggage for a short stay, and it would be an ideal weekend city getaway!

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Where to stay you may ask?

Well…. Venice is NOT cheap, that is a very well-known fact… Hotels are expensive, and not all that worth it if you ask me! They are most often over rated, and overcharge heavily, especially during peak seasons. Even so, I managed to nab a pretty good deal on a fantastic hotel, with a great location, and breakfast to boot! Hotel Alla Fava located only a couple of minutes away from the famous Rialto bridge, and about five minutes away from Piazza San Marco! It’s located in a quaint little square, Piazza Alla Fava, it’s very easy to find, staff were friendly and helpful during our stay, and the rooms, although slightly dated (I thought it was a great setting for old Venice though), they were very clean and heated! All in all, this was a fantastic place to stay in, so check it out if you’re interested in a Venetian break!

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Getting Around

The best way of getting around Venice is in two ways. The simplest way to do so is by foot, as the city is relatively small and easily manoeuvrable. A paper or mobile map would be highly suggested though,  as the alleys and bridges all start to look the same after a few hours. Another great way to get around is by means of water buses (vaporetti)! I would highly recommend buying a Tourist Travel Card and using that during your stay as it gives the best value, especially if you’re going to be using the water buses often.

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Now before getting into specific sites you might want to visit, I would just suggest that you spend some time just walking around central Venice itself. It’s full of interesting little crannies and nooks, gorgeous buildings and mysterious canals. So just taking an afternoon or evening stroll along the quieter streets is an experience within itself, one which is highly recommend. Saying that, I’ll just go through some of the most interesting places to visit whilst on the islands.

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Piazza San Marco

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It’s an obvious one, I know. But this gorgeous square is the jewel of Venice after all! Overlooked by the stunning St. Mark’s Basilica, as well as the Torre del”Orologio, and Procuratie Vecchie and Nuove (Procurator’s Residences), this masterpiece of a piazza is just a dazzling array of marble, and could easily been seen as one of the most beautiful squares in the world! All of Venice’s most important religious and civil ceremonies have always been held here and now the Piazza San Marco is considered the city’s main symbol and tourist attraction. There are hundreds of pigeons all over the place though, so if you don’t like birds careful, they are very friendly, especially if you’re carrying food. Little bit of warning for you, feeding the pigeons is ILLEGAL, you WILL get fined if you are caught doing it. A police lady was nice enough to let us off with a warning (oops!), but best not push your luck!

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The Piazzetta di San Marco is strictly speaking not part of the Piazza but an adjoining open space connecting the south side of the Piazza to the waterway of the lagoon. This is flanked by the gorgeous Doge’s Palace and gives you spectacular views of the lagoon and beyond. It is marked by two large granite columns carrying symbols of the two patron saints of Venice. The first being Saint Theodore, who was the patron of the city before St Mark, holding a spear and with a crocodile to represent the dragon which he was said to have slain. The second column has a winged lion on top, the Lion of Venice, which is the symbol of St Mark. The columns are now thought to have been erected about 1268, when the water was actually closer inland, and they would have been on the edge of the lagoon, framing the entry to the city from the sea. Gambling was permitted in the space between the columns and this right was said to have been granted as a reward to the man who first raised the columns. Public executions also took place between these columns.

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St. Mark’s Basilica

Undoubtedly the mightiest of Venetian monuments, the great Basilica of St. Mark was built over several centuries and boasts a variety of architectural styles, including the most obvious Byzantine, as well as Roman, and Venetian. Treasures from as far as Asia have made it to this glorious masterpiece of a building, which has through time, continued to develop and transform into the building we see today!

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Legend says that in 828 A.D., two Venetian merchants St. Mark’s remains from his tomb in Alexandria and brought them back to Venice by ship, after hiding them in a chest full of vegetables and pork to avoid strict Muslim control (determined dudes right???). In the middle ages, owning the remains of a saint (even just a couple of bones) meant great earnings for a city as numerous religious pilgrimages to the site of worship would mean increased trade and cultural exchange. Owning an entire body of an Evangelist was thus an exceptional triumph for the city, so when the saint’s body reached Venice it was welcomed with a tremendous celebration. The Doge had a new church built as his tomb – that being the Basilica and the symbol of St Mark, a winged lion armed with a sword, became the city’s emblem. You can see the winged lion in various areas around the city, but the most prominent is the golden one on the facade of the Basilica, right above the main doorway.

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The church structure is enormous, with an impressive gothic facade; a rich composition of columns, arches, spires and reliefs, and five huge domes, supported by five great arches. The inside of the basilica glitters and gleams with golden mosaics covering all the walls and ceilings of the interior. It is said that to obtain this glowing shimmer, all the tiny squares were placed to lean in different directions, in order to better catch and reflect the light from every possible angle. It’s just such a beautiful building! Admission to the basilica is free but you can pay to visit the large treasury which boasts a huge collection of pieces of gold, silver, glass and other precious materials, many of which came from the conquests in the Holy Land when Venice was at the peak of its glory. Make sure to take some time to gawk at the most spectacular (and precious) piece behind the altar – the famous Golden Pala, an altar pala made from hundreds of pieces of enamel stuck onto a golden leaf. It’s chock full of precious gems – sapphires, garnets, pearls, emeralds, amethysts, rubies, agate, topaz, you name it, it’s there!!! A total of 1927 stones!!! WOW!!! You can also access the top floor and viewing gallery of the basilica for an extra free where you can also find the original four large bronze horses of which there are replicas on the exterior of the church. Photos are prohibited… Still managed to get a few secret shots in though! 😉

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The Bell Tower – aka. St. Mark’s Campanile

Admission: €8.00

If you want to have a bird’s-eye view of Venice and her islands, this is definitely the place to visit! The famous bell tower of St. Mark is 98 metres high and on top of it sits a 3 meter golden weathervane in the form of the winged archangel Gabriel. Venetians believe that when the weathervane is pointing towards the Basilica, aqua alta (high water) is due! So take note of this when you visit! Maybe it’ll give you some time to bring out your wellies before flooding starts! 😉 The tower itself was actually used as a lighthouse for shipping in the past.

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The bell tower itself housed 5 bells; each of which having had a special purpose in the past. The Maleficio announced executions; the Nona sounded midday; the Marangona, the biggest bell, rang to mark the beginning and ending of working day and finally the Trottiera and the bell of the Pregadi, that called the judges and senators to their seats in the Doge’s Palace. Of the five original bells only the largest remains. The others, now replaced, were destroyed when the tower collapsed in 1902. Galileo Galilei used the Campanile to demonstrate his telescope to the Doge of Venice Antonio Priuli on August 21, 1609 and you can find a commemorative plaque of this event at the viewing area of the tower. Access is only available via elevator, so no need to prepare for any hard climbing, it’s a smooth and easy uphill ride!

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Views at the top are magnificent, especially on clear days, so I would definitely recommend a visit!

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The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)

Admission: €19.00 (includes admission to combined itinerary of Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana).

You simply cannot visit Venice without seeing this magnificent building. The Palace itself is the most representative symbol of Venice’s culture, which, together with the Basilica of San Marco at the back and the Piazzetta in the forefront, makes up for one of the most well-known scenes in the world.

In the past the Doge’s palace had three main functions: it was the official Doge residence, was used as the seat of the Venetian government, and was also the palace of judgement. The prisons of Venice were also found inside the Doge’s Palace.

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The internal courtyard of the palace is a beautiful way to start touring the grounds. As on the outside, the facades indicate the double motive of the portico on the lower floors and of the walls with wide windows on the higher part. Here you can find the Giant’s Stairway, flanked by two huge statues of Mars and Neptune which symbolised the Republic’s authority over land and sea. This is where that the Doge’s crowning used to take place, an important happening for every Venetian in the past.

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Within the palace are numerous halls and chambers which include the Senate Hall, Higher Council Hall, a Voting Hall, the Hall of the Inquisitors and another hall known as that of the Compass. Each hall and chamber had a specific function, with the Higher Council Hall being the most grand and impressive – holding up to 2000 individuals at one time. The Doge’s apartment only occupies one of the Palace’s three floors, and to get to it you must use the beautiful Golden Staircase which owes its name to the lavish golden stucco used to adorn the vaults.

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As I mentioned earlier, the old prisons were housed within the palace itself. The most inhospitable were situated on the ground floor, and came to be known as the Pozzi. The Piombi were housed in rooms under the roof. They owe their name to the slabs of lead that covered the roofs, making these rooms extremely hot in summer and ice-cold in winter. These rooms were in general designated to upper-class inmates or to those awaiting trial. The most famous guest of the Piombi was in fact none other than the legendary seducer, Casanova himself, who managed to escape by sliding down a drain pipe, slipping into the palace and managing to persuade someone to open to door for him, allowing for a quick escape via gondola! His memoirs entitled “The story of my escape from the Piombi” were printed in 1788 and soon became the equivalent of a modern best-seller!

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The New Prisons were linked to the Palace via il Ponte dei Sospiri – the beautiful Bridge of Sighs, a well-known landmark which tourists theme to photograph on a yearly basis. Legend says that from this bridge one could hear the sighs of the condemned as they were being led to prison so make sure to sigh loudly when passing through the bridge! You have to! It’s tradition!

Rialto Bridge

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The most famous of the hundreds of Venetian bridges? The Rialto Bridge of course!!! Crossing the Grand Canal itself, this bridge originally housed the food market. The current Rialto Bridge, a stone massive (and quite impressive) arch, was constructed under the supervision of Antonio da Ponte, between 1588 and 1591. It’s an absolute must to climb atop the Rialto and take a photo of the buzzing and chaotic Grand Canal. Beware though, it gets pretty crowded!

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Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute

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Even though I did not get the chance to visit this beautiful Basilica, I would recommend you pass by, should you get the chance. It is a beautiful church, with a gorgeous exterior synonymous with some of the most stunning photos of the Grand Canal. Its triangular form recalls the bow of a ship and, at its extremity, towards the lagoon, the statue of Fortune governs the world – it is depicted as a golden globe supported by two giants. Just a short note – it does close during the afternoon, so if you do want to visit, do so before midday, or after 4:00PM.

The Islands

As most of you already know, Venice is made up of more than 100 islands – the main attractions all being around the central large area. There are a few smaller islands, further away from the centre, which are definitely worth a visit. These are namely Murano, Burano and Torcello. During my last visit, due to very poor weather, and limited time, I only managed to make it to Burano (here’s what I have to say about my visit —> CLICK ME!!!), but visiting all three in one day is very doable! You can do so via vaporetto (water bus)!

Torcello is the smallest of the three – but has the largest history as it was actually the first of the lagoon islands to be inhabited by a mainland population fleeing the Barbarian hordes that overran the Italian peninsula during the Dark Ages. There’s a number of interesting sights you can visit on this little islands which are chock full of history, including the Cathedral of Torcello, Santa Fosca, the archeological museum and Atilla’s Throne. Murano, on the other hand, is a series of islands very well-known for their history in glass making. You can take tours of the glass making factories, stroll through the quaint canal walkways and visit the Murano Glass Museum in just a few hours. Burano, the most colourful of the three can also be seen in a couple of hours. It’s actually made up of four interlinked islands – with fishing and lace making being the specialities of the locale.

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You’ll recognise Burano when you get there. All the house exteriors are brightly painted in different shades and hues. Legend has it that fishermen used to paint their homes brightly so they would recognize them when fishing in the lagoons! I guess that point is now moot, considering all the houses of the island are bright and colourful nowadays!

So there you have it. The top things to see whilst in the elegant and stunning city of Venice. If you haven’t been, I would highly recommend a visit, time and time again. It’s a place unlike I’ve ever seen before, a city touched by magic. ❤

Until next time!

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