I went to Venice from beautiful, peaceful, serene, waterfront Levanto and landed in what felt like a giant town carnival in rush hour traffic. It was a hard adjustment and I’m not sure I ever caught onto the busy rhythm and noise of Venice, but the beauty is incomparable. More than 60,000 people visit Venice every day, that makes for a very crowded city, but one can get away from the crowds.
On my first morning, I met a fellow-traveler named Mischa from Washington DC, we both liked the idea of an English-speaking companion so we decided to spend our first day exploring together. Of course, we went to Piazza San Marco first.
San Marco. Venice was first inhabited because the vast salt water lagoon and marshy soil protected the inhabitants from invasion by Goths, Huns and Lombards; but by the 9th Century, Venice began to use the deep water channels to become an economic and military powerhouse. By the 13th Century, Venice was the principle link for the spice trade. The major cities of the world, Byzantine Constantinople and Islamic Cairo played a critical role in shaping the art and architecture of Venice. Hence, the architecture is a fusion of Byzantine and Islamic forms overlaying a Latin Christian foundation. (http://www.approachguides.com/blog/venice-architecture-byzantine-islamic-influences). These influences are visible everywhere in Venice; they’re impossible to miss and give Venice a more exotic appearance than other ancient cities of Italy.
The Christian and Islamic influences on St Marks are instantly apparent.
If you look at the top of the picture, you will see the time, 11:20. This is the world’s first digital clock.
A nearby art gallery caught my eye; no, I don’t know what they represent, Venetian courtiers from the Renaissance period, perhaps?
A friend back home had suggested I go out to the island of Burano, so, after Saint Mark’s, Mischa and I headed for the boat dock to sail out to the island. We passed the island of Murano which is famous for beautiful blown glass and went on to the lace-makers’ island of Burano. We were glad we went, it was beautiful in every way, the people were lovely, the lace was heart-stopping and the village seemed like we’d stepped into a fairy tale. Burano is a slice of heaven.
LACE!! The lace was so gorgeous I had a very hard time walking past the shops, I wanted to touch and buy everything I saw. Fortunately, common sense and a small suitcase won the day.
When we got back to Venice, we headed to San Marco for a nightcap and tiramisu at a restaurant filled with beautiful frescoes and old paintings and featuring a live orchestra. Across from each other on the piazza are competing orchestras that play most of the day and evening. It’s a beautiful and entertaining addition to the piazza, but one must pay a big premium to eat in one of the salons where the music can be heard, so Mischa and I opted for a quieter, less costly room.
The next day, I did the whole Venice tourist route – I started at first light and went to San Marco for Mass, at 7:00, there were only 3 of us celebrating. But, they have Mass continually so as the day progressed, the Masses were more full. Mass is in the Cathedral next to where the tourists traipse around; it seems they’d want to isolate it more the way they do in Milan. But, who am I to judge? After Mass, I was first in line to get tickets and headed to the Cathedral and the Doge’s Palace.
The Doge’s Palace
The palace was designed to impress and intimidate friends and foes alike. The duke would wait at the top of the stairs, if anyone wished to speak with him, he was expected to climb those stairs and then bow when he reached the duke. There was to be no question who was in charge.
It was gilded and frescoed everywhere; the duke showcased his wealth and power to significant effect.
This clock has 24 hours.
There is an impressive weapons display, the duke didn’t intimidate only with his massive display of wealth, but his military might as well. Imagine someone wielding one of those in your direction.
The duke had a prison in his palace, going from the pomp and beauty of the palace to the narrow, dark steps of the prison was disconcerting to say the least. One famous prisoner was Giacomo Casanova who claimed to have escaped through the roof, entering the palace and leaving through the entrance. I question his honesty since it looks inescapable.
This is the Bridge of Sighs, when prisoners were scheduled to be executed, they walked across this bridge and looked out the small window, it is said that they sighed as they caught their last glimpse of their beloved Venezia.
The view from the Bridge of Sighs.
This was the end of my tour as a tour guide came up behind me and slammed one of the prison doors against the wall to make a loud clamor and give everyone a feel for what it would be like to be locked in. I was suddenly taken with a severe case of claustrophobia and found a kind docent who helped me escape through various velvet ropes to the nearest exit.
Whew, outside and breathing again! This is the Bridge of Sighs from the outside.
The Cathedral of San Marco is beautiful, but it is not nearly as ostentatious as the Ducal Palace.
There are mosaics everywhere.
It turned out, pictures weren’t allowed so I only got a couple before the guards stopped me. It’s a big, stunning, intimidating cathedral with many ancient and historic artworks. It has so many antiquities that it is a museum in itself and every bit of mosaic and gilding is a magnificent reminder that we are there to worship a great God who is worthy of the best we can offer.
After the cathedral, I headed over to the museum.
I loved the various glass chandeliers made centuries ago on the island of Murano.
The Battle of Lepanto. In 1571, a war took place between Catholic naval forces and a vast Turkish navy, which had at least 12,000 slaves as rowers. A patchwork force from Spain, Venice and Genoa led by Don Juan of Austria bravely rowed out to face the enemy even though they were greatly outnumbered and overpowered, they had no hope of victory, but they were willing to go down fighting for Christianity and freedom. Knowing there was no hope, St. Pope Pius V sent out an urgent call that all of Europe would pray the rosary for the defeat of the Turks; the men serving aboard vessels were also ordered to pray the rosary. Just when all seemed lost, the wind changed direction entirely in favor of the Christian ships. The victory over the Turks was as decisive as it was stunning. It is said that Pope Pius V interrupted a meeting at the Vatican at the moment the battle turned and said, “The Christian fleet is victorious” and cried with joy and gratitude. This was the last battle at sea of “oared” ships of the most powerful fleet in the world, the Muslim navy.
From the top of the painting, we see Our Lady, Mary, pleading with Jesus for the protection of the Christian forces.
Venice was a naval power so there are lots of images of naval conflict.
After the museum, I explored Venice some more.
It is beautiful.
More Islamic influence in the architecture.
Hercules and his horse fighting the giant sea serpent, it looks like the serpent is winning.
And, Venice can be weird.
Then there was the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, the church that became my home church in Venice. It is one of those off-the-beaten-path treasures you can find everywhere if you look. When I first entered, I noticed that it was delightfully cool after the blazing sun and there was a group of Franciscan friars praying the rosary. I hadn’t heard it in Italian before, but I decided to sit in the back and quietly say it in English as they recited it in Italian. At least one of the men turned to look at the strange person who had sneaked into their chapel. After the rosary, we celebrated a beautiful Mass.
John the Baptist
Then, before I knew it, it was time to move on to Florence in Tuscany. So, I said goodbye to Venice and headed to the train station.
The dining area in the hotel’s garden.