Our first views of Venice were entering the city on the Grand Canal.
Venice is composed of 119 islands and has over 400 bridges and 150 canals.
We were intrigued by the architecture in this 1600 year old city.
Venice has a wealthy history as the first inhabitants were refugee Roman citizens escaping the “barbarians” in what is now northern Italy.
Venice had many castles and homes for rich residents. The old buildings were never torn down, just refurbished for other uses. Former palaces have been subdivided, or repurposed for government offices, hospitals and schools.
The residents used millions of petrified logs placed in the marsh, then wooden pillars, bricks and stone to make their city. None of the buildings are very tall and only the facades are marble or decorative.
The rich and poor lived together and cared about each other. Government officials were elected for life but did not hold much power.
Between the years of 1789-1797 only the United States and Venice had an elected president. The tenants of the Venice government are evident in the US constitution.
Unfortunately, Napoleon conquered Venice in 1797.
Now days, Venice has a declining population, but increasing tourists. Of course one of the iconic tourist activities is the gondola ride. This boat holds some of our tour mates.
Our gondolier was Alessandro and it was very pleasant being taken through the narrow canals and told about Venice and its history.
He explained about the architecture and window shapes and identified those that were Roman, Arab or Byzantine.
Alessandro told us that to be a gondolier you must be born in Venice. You must also own your own boat which can cost 15000 Euros new. (Although currently about par, a Euro has typically valued more than the US dollar.)
Canals and buildings are sometimes curved because they follow the shape of the original islands.
At one time, each original island had its own church, meaning there were 100 churches for 50,000 people
The Church of San Zaccaria holds the remains of Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist. An adjacent building was for the nuns from wealthy families. Only the oldest daughters were allowed a dowry and marriage. The others went to the convent.
At another church we saw the “wheel of shame.” Illegitimate babies, or those a family couldn’t afford to raise, would be placed in an opening in the stone wheel which was turned to give the baby to the nuns.
The nuns helped the city in other ways too. They collected water and provided it to the people twice a day.
Piazza San Marco is the city’s main public square, home to the St. Mark’s Basilica, government buildings and restaurants.
Basilica de San Marco (St. Mark’s) was named after Mark, one of the leading apostles after Jesus’ death. He wrote the gospel of Mark. It is believed that Mark once preached in the Venice lagoon area.
In 828, Mark’s remains were stolen from Alexandria by two Venetian merchants. They were trying to protect the remains from the Muslims as they took over Christian churches. The remains were brought to Venice and the Basilica of St. Marks was built to honor and protect them.
The remains were so well protected that they were lost for a time during basilica renovations. It is considered divine intervention that they were found in a pillar in the year 1094.
Possession of the remains of St. Mark had a powerful impact on the people of Venice and has benefited the area diplomatically and politically.
There are 8000 square meters (85,000 square feet) of mosaic art that was completed over eight centuries.
There were 22 tons of 22 and 24 carat gold used in the mosaics, some of which depict scenes from the bible.
There are reminders of the Eastern Orthodox faith, even though St. Mark’s is a Catholic church.
There are floor mosaics that are also symbolic.
Outside of St. Mark’s is the reminder that this city is built on a series of natural and man made islands. The pumps were running to disperse water from the basilica grounds.
This was a center of activity for tourists. Boats came and left, gondoliers went in and out. There were shops and restaurants all around.
We went out into the lagoon to the islands near Venice. We went past this building placed on its own island as it once held a hospital for those with the plague. The building was bombed during WWI.
The Mose Project has been in the works for decades. It uses a series of 78 gates to protect Venice and other islands in the lagoon from excessively high Adriatic tides. Although not yet complete, it was utilized four times last year.
We visited the island of Murano and visited shops specializing in glassblowing and leather works. These specialties have been important to the area for centuries as descendant generations learned the craft. The continuity of the traditions are at risk as the younger generations aren’t choosing to learn and stay. Apparently, Murano Glass is a famous thing – you may know it, but we did not. They made amazing things and several people on our tour purchased items to be shipped home.
Our favorite lagoon island was the colorful Burano.
In fact, of all the places we went in Italy, the place we chose to bring home art from was Burano.
The leaning building behind us is Burano’s Bell Tower. Built in the seventeenth century, it inclines 1.83 meters due to settling land beneath it.
If only Pisa was next, but it isn’t. Next we see Verona and Juliet’s balcony.