Venice is unlike any other place in the world. Built on an archipelago of 117 islands, formed by 177 canals and connected by 409 bridges. Transportation within the city is entirely on water or by foot, unchanged from centuries ago.
Venice, the city-state, was founded in 461AD, became a Byzantine province in 812 and, under the protection of the Eastern Roman Empire was able to develop in peace. Trade began to flourish and with its prime maritime location between east and west, Venice developed into a trading power and managed to build extraordinary wealth. By 1381 Venice was a maritime empire with 4,000 merchant ships and dominated trade in the Mediterranean region. Its reign was short lived, however, due to the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, the resulting 300-year war with the Turks, a shifting of trade centers from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic, as well as two devastating plague epidemics. It ceased to exist when captured by Napoleon in 1797.
We first visited Venice in 2011 with an overnight stop on a Mediterranean cruise. Cruising to our dock, I can still remember viewing Venice from the upper deck of the ship-the canals, bridges and San Marco-it was gorgeous! We had limited time on that first visit but were still able to wander around the streets and savor the atmosphere, have a great dinner and a late night drink in San Marco Square where we listened to dueling orchestras. We were able to return to Venice this past May, this time for three nights, and had a great time. We did the same things we had did in 2011 and added a trip to Burano as well as a visit to St Marks Basilica and the Doges Palace.
As a traveler, there are two Venice’s, one in mid day and afternoon which has throngs of tourists, and the Venice of early morning and evenings when the tourists have left the island for their cruise ships or off island accommodations. I much prefer the early morning and evenings where you have the city to yourself and better appreciate its beauty.
As far as getting around if not walking, your options are water taxis (very expensive) which are speed boats that will whisk you around the lagoon and islands and vaparettos which are water buses (much less expensive), the only drawback being that they can be very crowded. Another mode of transportation (primarily in the inner city) is gondolas. This is really a tourist thing and not really meant as a way to travel but is one thing you should do when in Venice. We shared a gondola this past May with another couple and were serenaded by an Italian tenor in our boat-what a treat!
Burano and Murano are two of the adjacent islands in the lagoon. Murano is known for its glass factory tours and showrooms where you can purchase Murano glass while Burano is known for its lace. We didn’t visit Murano and opted to go to glass blowing demonstrations and purchase our Murano glass in Venice. We did go to Burano, not for the lace, but for the quaint quiet village and colorful buildings. My guidebook must have been outdated because this place was packed with tourists. It was still an enjoyable afternoon and we had a great lunch but I am not sure I would spend most of my afternoon on crowded Vaporetto’s to repeat this experience.
One of the places you will certainly visit when in Venice is San Marco Piazza, which is the largest public square in Venice. At the east end of square is St Marks Basilica and the Doges Palace as well as the Campanile (bell tower). Around the square are shops and cafes including Café Florian originally open in 1720. Also around the square are streets heading off in all directions of Venice. There are bandstands and classical orchestra’s that play music all afternoon and in the evening. There is an informal tradition of the “battle of the bands” in the evening where tourists stream from bandstand to bandstand. This is free unless you want a seat in which case there is a cover. The Square is also lit up at night and I recommend visiting at this time.
Also common to many piazzas in Italy is a bell tower or Campanile. What isn’t common is that this one has an elevator to the top so you don’t have to climb 500 steps to get to the top. The view from the top is fantastic where you view the domes of the basilica and great views of Venice and its canals.
Adjacent to the Basilica is the Doges Palace, which was the seat of Government in Venice. Doges were elected to life terms by a committee of the aristocracy and taking a tour of the Palace is worthwhile of you have the time. Entering the Palace, you should climb the staircase called the Scala d’Oro “golden staircase” for its gilded, stucco ceiling. It was built to provide a grand entrance for visiting dignitaries. As you might expect, there is over the top opulence in the rest of the palace, which is typical for the age. Also worth seeing is the prison and “bridge of sighs” which is bridge connecting the palace to the prison. It is so named as it offered the prisoners their final view of Venice before prison.
Venice is beautiful and I really enjoyed our recent trip there. I would enjoy visiting here again with no scheduled attractions other than wandering around the city, sampling the food and drink and drinking in the atmosphere.
I hope you enjoy my pictures and thanks for visiting