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Ve(ry)nice

Arriving in Venice (Venezia) is like stepping into a surreal never-never land. Where most cities have car-choked roads and impenetrable one-way systems, Venice has gondolas, vaporetti sestieri (districts) for a glimpse of Venice's beguiling and melancholic nature (water buses) and a labyrinthine network of canals. But the beauty comes at a price. Both for you (Venice is Italy's most expensive city) and for the city itself (Venice's frequently flooded alleyways simply weren't designed for up to 20 million visitors a year).

History

Venice’s origins date to the 5th and 6th centuries, when barbarian invasions forced the Veneto’s inhabitants to seek refuge on the lagoon’s islands. The city was initially ruled by the Byzantines from Ravenna, but in AD 726 the Venetians elected their first doge (duke).

Over successive centuries the Venetian Republic grew into a great merchant power, dominating half the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the trade routes to the Levant – it was from Venice that Marco Polo set out for China in 1271. Decline began in the 16th century and in 1797 the city authorities opened the gates to Napoleon who, in turn, handed the city over to the Austrians. In 1866 Venice was incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy.

A good way to whet your sightseeing appetite is to take vaporetto 1 along the Grand Canal, which is lined with rococo Gothic, Moorish and Renaissance palaces. Alight at Piazza San Marco, Venice’s most famous sight.

 

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco beautifully encapsulates the splendour of Venice’s past and its tourist-fuelled present. Flanked by the arcaded Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove, it’s filled for much of the day with tourists, pigeons, balloon-vendors and police officers. While you’re taking it all in, you might see the bronze mori (Moors) strike the bell of the 15th-century Torre dell’Orologio (clock tower).

But, it’s to the remarkable Basilica di San Marco that all eyes are drawn. Sporting spangled spires, Byzantine domes, luminous mosaics and lavish marblework, it was originally built to house the remains of St Mark. According to legend, the Evangelist’s body was stolen from Alexandria in Egypt and smuggled to Venice in a barrel of pork. He’s since been buried several times, his body now resting under the high altar. The original chapel was destroyed by fire in AD 932 and a new basilica was consecrated in its place in 1094. For the next 500 years it was a work in progress as successive doges added mosaics and embellishments looted from the East. The bronze horses above the entrance are replicas of statues ‘liberated’ from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade (1204). Behind the main altar is the Pala d’Oro, a stunning gold altarpiece decorated with priceless jewels.

The basilica’s 99m freestanding campanile dates from the 10th century, although it suddenly collapsed on 14 July 1902 and had to be rebuilt.

Palazzo Ducale

The official residence of the doges from the 9th century and the seat of the Republic’s government, Palazzo Ducale also housed Venice’s prisons. On the 2nd floor, the massive Sala del Maggiore Consiglio is dominated by Tintoretto’s Paradiso (Paradise), one of the world’s largest oil paintings, which measures 22m by 7m.

The Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) connects the palace to an additional wing of the city dungeons. It’s named after the sighs that prisoners – including Giacomo Casanova – emitted en route from court to cell.

Galleria dell’Accademia

One of Venice’s top galleries, the Galleria dell’Accademia traces the development of Venetian art from the 14th to the 18th century. You’ll find works by Bellini, Titian, Carpaccio, Tintoretto, Giorgione and Veronese.

Collezione Peggy Guggenheim

For something more contemporary, visit the Collezione Peggy Guggenheim. Housed in the American heiress’ former home, the spellbinding collection runs the gamut of modern art with works by Bacon, Pollock, Picasso and Dalí.

Churches

Venice’s churches harbour innumerable treasures; unusually, though, you have to pay to get into many of them.

Scene of the annual Festa del Redentore, the Chiesa del SS Redentore, on the island of Giudecca, was built by Palladio to commemorate the end of the great plague in 1577. 

Guarding the entrance to the Grand Canal, the 17th-century Chiesa di Santa Maria della Salute contains works by Tintoretto and Titian. Arguably the greatest of Venice’s artists, Titian’s celebrated masterpiece the Assunta (Assumption; 1518) hangs in the Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the same church in which he’s buried.

The vast Gothic Chiesa dei SS Giovanni e Paolo is famous for its glorious 15th-century stained-glass window, the largest in Venice.

The Lido

A thin strip of an island about a 15-minute vaporetto ride from Venice proper, the Lido hosts the Venice Film Festival and boasts the city’s best beach. Be warned, though, that it’s almost impossible to find space on the sand in summer. 

Islands

Murano is the home of Venetian glass, and Burano, with its cheery pastel-coloured houses, is renowned for its lace. Torcello, the republic’s original island settlement, was abandoned due to malaria and now counts no more than 80 residents. Torcello’s Byzantine cathedral, Santa Maria Assunta, is Venice’s oldest.

At Venetian prices you’ll be glad of the many affordable self-catering/snack options. For a sit-down meal, avoid the obvious tourist traps and duck down the side streets. Venetian specialities include risi e bisi (pea soup thickened with rice), sarde di saor (fried sardines marinated in vinegar and onions) and fragolino (a fragrant strawberry- flavoured wine).

 

At Venetian prices you’ll be glad of the many affordable self-catering/snack options. For a sit-down meal, avoid the obvious tourist traps and duck down the side streets. Venetian specialities include risi e bisi (pea soup thickened with rice), sarde di saor (fried sardines marinated in vinegar and onions) and fragolino (a fragrant strawberry- flavoured wine).

Quick Eats

 

Osteria da Baco

(Calle delle Rasse, Castello 6672) A friendly local bar where gondoliers like to relax between trips, Osteria da Baco offers a range of tasty tremezzini that can be washed down with a beer or glass of fragolino.

All’Arco

(Calle dell’Arco, San Polo 436) Popular with locals, this tiny osteria serves wonderful, fresh panini, a range of cicheti (bar snacks) and wine by the glass.

Pizza al Volo

(Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 2944) In need of a pizza pit stop? Here’s your opportunity. You’ll be in the company of a steady stream of interns from the Guggenheim.

Riva Reno

(Salizada San Lio, Castello 5662) This sleek branch of the excellent national gelato chain is conveniently located between the Rialto and Piazza San Marco.
RestaurantsAe Oche (Calle del Tentor, Santa Croce 1552a/b) Students adore the Tex- Mex decor and huge pizza list at this bustling place. It’s on the main path between the ferrovia and San Marco.

Antica Adelaide

(Calle Priuli, Cannaregio 3728) The ancient Adelaide was in the food business as far back as the 18th century. You can pop in for a drink and cicheti or tuck into a hearty bowl of pasta or full meal.

Osteria La Zucca

(Calle del Tentor, Santa Croce 1762) A wonderful, unpretentious little restaurant in an out-of-the-way spot, ‘The Pumpkin’ serves a range of innovative Mediterranean dishes prepared with fresh, seasonal ingredients.

  

Venice harbours hundreds of bars and cafes, but the highest concentration is in the area around Campo Santa Margherita.

Caffè Bar Ai Artisti 

(Fondamenta della Toletta, Dorsoduro 1169a) On Campo S Barnaba, this welcoming place is good for coffee during the day, but even better for a drink or two at night.

Chet Bar 

(Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 3684) Late at night, patrons at this laid-back drinking den spill out of the bar and sit on the steps of the nearby bridge.

Il Caffè

(Campo Santa Margherita, Dorsoduro 2963) Popular with foreign and Italian students, this is one of Venice’s historic drinking spots. Known to locals as Café Rosso because of its red frontage, it’s got outdoor seating and great sprizze (a type of aperitif).

La Cantina 

(Campo San Felice 3689, Cannaregio) Sit at one of the outdoor tables at this enoteca (wine bar) and watch the passing traffic promenade up and down the Strada Nuova.

Paradiso Perduto

(Fondamenta della Misericordia, Cannaregio 2540) Queer-friendly and flamboyant, this restaurant- cum-club heats up late, but when the DJs pump up the decibels it jives. There’s live music most weekends.

Muro Vino e Cucina

(Campo Cesare Battisti, San Polo 222) The centre of a happening nightlife scene in the market squares of the Rialto, Muro joins a number of bars in attracting huge gaggles of swarming drinkers.


Recommendations

1

It was really good staying away from all the hustle and bustle of the centre and the free shuttel was an added bonus."

Cheryl, USA

#hopon to Venice