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Arts & Culture

Arrivederci Venice!

Our last day in Venice…and there’s still so much more to see! We spent the day on a walking tour of Venetian architecture with our British guide, Susan. As with everything in this city, the way things were built here is unique and a testament to human ingenuity and perseverance.

It is amazing to think that the great churches and palazzos of Venice are, in effect, built on rafts.  Centuries ago, as mainlanders moved away from foreign invaders onto the many small islands in what is now known as the Venetian lagoon, they developed a building system that enabled them to expand and stabilize the land.  Tree trunks were driven into the mud of the lagoon, wooden “rafts” laid on top of these, and then on this level surface things could be constructed.

Over time, however, as the wooden substrata settled, so did the buildings above.  This can be seen in the often uneven terrazzo floors in places like St. Mark’s Cathedral.

As the Venetians built their edifices, they had to be certain to distribute the tremendous weight of the building as evenly as possible.  Things such as campanile (bell towers) sometimes had to be taken down because of the threat such concentrated weight brought to the rest of the structure.  The great Campanile in the Piazza San Marco is currently undergoing work to sure it up so it doesn’t fall down!

As Venice was the place where East met West, there are strong Byzantine features in many of the buildings alongside traditional Western elements.  The great St. Mark’s cathedral is a wonderful fusion of East and West.

It was bitterly cold in Venice today and yet the afternoon tour was barely long enough to begin to understand how this unique place has coped with its unique situation.

Although Venice can often seem frozen in time, a couple of things show that this city too changes with the times.  There are sets of traffic lights along some of the busier canals; I guess even boats need to be controlled!  And as we head into the second decade of the 21st century, Venice now has its first female gondolier (over the objections of some of the older gondoliers). 

It is, perhaps, this fusion of the old and the new that makes Venice such an iconic place; it moves with the times and yet drags its past very comfortably with it.  It may no longer be its own republic, but people still flock to it from all over the world because it’s still extremely special.

Tomorrow the tour moves on to Verona via Padua where we stop for a private tour of the Scrovegni Chapel famous for its Giotto frescoes dating from the turn of the 14th century.

More details next time.