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A Guide to Venice (part one)

Updated: Dec 31, 2022

Oh my goodness, I love Venice! Venice, or Venezia in Italian, is one of the most popular destinations in all of Europe. This UNESCO World Heritage site welcomes tens of millions of visitors every year. My favourite Italian city is this floating city of 117 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges, but it can also be terribly expensive and feel like a tourist trap if you don’t do your research. I try to include Venice in every trip to Italy. I have led student groups on performance trips and travelled there with ATB #1 and on a couple of solo trips. None of my visits have been longer than 4 days but multiple trips have given me the opportunity to explore the area pretty thoroughly. Today's post is going to cover an overview of Venice and a few of the highlights in each of the neighbourhoods. This is part one and is longer than usual but it is packed with information. Grab a cup of coffee and settle in.

Venice has fought with water and tides since its formation. The clay is soft and buildings settled and settled some more and continued to settle. Traditionally, residents abandoned the lower floors and would build new floors on top of their existing homes. Adding floors (or any additions) is strictly forbidden in modern times. As you move around Venice, you will notice that each floor of the buildings often has a different style of window, arch, and design. You see canal waters lapping right into the lower (abandoned) floors of homes and businesses. Human activities and changing climatic factors have hastened the process. Respected studies suggest that the city will be underwater by the end of this century without major interventions. The Italian government is working with UNESCO and other experts to try to protect the city with ambitious plans including limiting tourism, tourism fees, stronger regulations for cruise ships, as well as building sea walls and flood gates. The city was founded in 421 AD during the time that the Roman Empire was defending the area from constant invasions. The first Doge of Venice was elected in 697 AD as the leader and magistrate of the area. Subsequent doges ruled from the Doge's Palace in Piazza San Marco until the end of the 18th century.

As a great maritime power, the Republic of Venice was one of the wealthiest states in Europe, specializing in the trade of silks and spices. Wealthy patrons supported the artistic and musical scene during the Renaissance and Baroque eras, creating a home for great artists and musicians such as Canaletto, Giorgione, and Vivaldi.

During the Age of Discovery (15th - 17th centuries) new land trade routes were opened and Venice lost its importance. Napoleon invaded at the end of the 1700s and Venice was annexed to the Austrian Empire. Eventually, the city joined the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.

The Sestieris

Venice has six different and unique neighbourhoods, known as sestieri. While they have canals and stunning architecture, each has their own unique highlights and atmosphere. From touristy and spectacular San Marco to the more relaxed Santa Croce or the authenticity of Cannaregio, each sestieri has its own charm.

San Marco

The most famous and popular neighbourhood in Venice is also one oof the smallest. Named after the patron saint of the city, Saint Mark, it is filled with attractions and many, many people.

Piazza San Marco

The main plaza of Venice is San Marco. This expansive plaza is where you will find some of the most well-known sights and buildings. It's also one of the places where you can arrange a gondola ride (more on that in the next post ~ L).

The plaza is surrounded by shops and restaurants with seating in the plaza. Many of these restaurants do not welcome solo diners at the prime tables during peak meal times and frankly, offer over-priced and mediocre meals.

Torre dell'Orologio

The Torre dell'Orologio is one of the original Renaissance buildings in the city. The central tower is beautifully decorated with an ornate mechanical clock that includes the signs of the zodiac and the moon/sun phases.

Look for the sculpture of the Lion of Saint Mark on the facade and the Two Moors Bell on the top.

The Torre is open daily from 12pm to 4pm by reservation only and visitors must be accompanied by a guide. Tickets cost €12 and can be purchased from the official website, Civic Museums Foundation of Venice. For those who want to visit even more museums and cultural spaces, a Museum Pass is available (€36) which gives access to 12 museums in the city.

Basilica di San Marco

The Basilica di San Marco is likely the most famous basilica in Italy and is located beside the Doge's Palace. This basilica was inspired by the Hagia Sophia and the Church of the Holy Apostle