Is there still anything to say about Venice? It might just be said that it is the most beautiful, romantic, astonishing and surprising city in the world.
Through the centuries, so much has been written about Venice, making it almost impossible to speak something new about this floating city. But there is one thing that you have to assume: it doesn’t matter how many times you might have seen Venice on TV show, documentaries, movies or how much you might have read about it on several novel or history books. Nothing can be compared to seeing it live and walking through its narrow alleys or sailing on a gondola on its canals.
So let’s start with few numbers: you might call Venice the city of the records, despite the fact that it has no competitor, nowhere in the world, who can even hardly approximate the figures of Venice.
Take a look at the following list:
a) 116 Islands connected by 423 bridges
b) 177 Water canals called “rii” + 1 main canal called “Canal Grande”
c) 1198 alleys, called “Calli”
d) 6 district called “Sestieri”, namely: Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce
The list of the Venice records is non exhaustive because the rest is up to you to discover.
There is an endless count of sites and places that people do you usually visit once in Venice, therefore, if you want to skip the overcrowded areas, read my suggestions here below and have a different Venice experience.
1) Riva di Biasio: if you get to Venice by train, you’ll see Riva di Biasio, right in front of you as soon as you’ll get out of the station, in the Sestiere of Santa Croce. Cross the Grand Canal via ponte degli scalzi (one of the 4 bridges over the Grand canal) and start strolling in this unique area which, far from the overcrowded St. Mark’s square, offers you the opportunity to see authentic Venetian houses, local shops and restaurants in a more tranquil and pace-related atmosphere. Once on Riva de Biasio think of this story: this walkway overlooking the initial section of the Grand Canal is named after a man named Biagio, who had a butchery shop along its shores. In 1503, Biagio was famous for the quality of its salami, called “luganega”, so that every Venetian became a good customer of his shop. Unfortunately at that time several orphans started vanishing and the citizens of Venice were pretty upset, especially those in the Santa Croce area of the city, until a man bought a “luganega” at Biagio’s and brought it home to share it with his family and when he cut it, he found a kid’s finger in it…Venice had its serial killer too…who was senteced to the cut of both hands.
2) The Jewish ghetto: it is well known that Venice has been the first place in the world to create a Jewish Ghetto. Even the word “ghetto” appears to be born in Venice as the word “geto” in the local dialect means ”waste” and it was mostly used by the workers of the arsenal who were using such word to refer to the wastes of the construction of the ships. To get there from the train Station turn left and walk along “Lista di Spagna” until you cross a small bridge called “ponte delle guglie”. The entrance to the Jewish Getto will be on your left, right after a Kosher grocery store. Stroll inside the ghetto and you’ll see that the buildings are 5 or 6 storeys each, but not very high, as if the residents were dwarves. This is due to the fact that it was impossible for the Jews to build houses out of the ghetto, so the only solution was adding a new storey to the existing buildings. However Venice is a floating city and its foundations, deep into the mud of the lagoon, are not strong enough to support the weight or tall buildings. Once in a little square called “Campo del Ghetto Nuovo” try to find the granite architrave wiht the hinges that were supporting the doors of the ghetto, which were kept closed from sunset to sunrise, everyday.
3) The Arsenal: located in the Sestiere Castello, it’s the place where the mastery of the Venetians in ship making, paved the way for the undisputed power of the former Republic of Venice in the Mediterranean sea and made it one of the richest cities of the past 10 centuries. From Piazza san Marco walk along Riva degli Schiavoni and just before crossing the 6th bridge, take a left and you will get to the Arsenal. Here you can also visit the naval museum and the old tower that the ship makers were using to put the masts on the ships they were assembling.
4) Via Garibaldi (Sestiere Castello) : if you are in need to get out of the crowd and you are looking for some nice restaurant, wine bar or cafeteria, this is the place. Walk along Riva degli Schiavoni and follow the signs pointing to the “Gardens of the Biennale”. Just before approaching the garden, take a left and you’ll get there.
5) The Hospital of Venice (at the borders between Sestiere Cannaregio and Sestiere Castello): it might look pretty weird to highlight a hospital among the list of the 5 must see places in Venice. But this city is unique under every point of view, including its hospital. It is named after S. John and St. Paul because it occupies a building which was originally a monastery. The complex includes two churches. You might not be allowed inside the former monastery but you must visit the churches, run by the Domenicans, to get an idea of the Venetian mastery in art and architecture.
You can visit Venice all year round, just be aware that in summertime it is pretty crowded and the temperature are pretty high, especially considering the high humidity in the air. You need comfortable shoes and a passion for walking. Venice is the only place of earth where cars do simply not exist.
Don’t forget that Venice is also home of a very unique cooking tradition. I’ll post a recipe tomorrow, for the benefit of your palate.