Among those cities emblazoned in lovers' imaginations, Venice is the ultimate romantic Italian destination. It seems time has stopped and cars never managed to reach the streets, leaving the city and its canals to be roamed by boats and gondolas, resulting in a sense of quietness considered uncommon in tourist destinations nowadays.
The city, founded on 117 tiny island linked by bridges and streaked with canals, got its name from the ancient Veneti people - brilliant merchants and naval warriors who were recorded to have settled in the region as far back as 10th century BC.
These days, tourism is Venice’s main income source, supported by several world famous events organised there such as the Venice Carnival with its “Maschera piu bella” mask contest. This competition is held during the last weekend of the carnival and judged by an international jury of costume and fashion designers.
La Serenissima is also home to the world’s oldest international movie festival, the Mostra Internazionale d'Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia. During this event are also simultaneously held the International Art and International Architecture Exhibitions.
Gondolas and their gondoliers also have their share of fame thanks to rowing races (or regattas) organised year-round.
Nowadays, Venice is nicknamed “La Serenissima”, divided into seven districts or “sestieri” bordered by significant landmarks. For example, separating the districts of San Polo and San Marco, the world-famous Rialto Bridge is an inescapable sight when crossing from one side to the other over the Grand Canale. Another splendid Venetian landmark separating San Marco sestiere from Dorsoduro is the wooden Accademia Bridge from which visitors will get a stunning view of Sante Maria della Saluta and the lagoon behind.
Piazza San Marco
The Piazza San Marco boasts several historic landmarks and sumptuous architecture. Many narrow streets will bring visitors to the most famous piazza in Venice. However, it can be difficult to find your way to the piazza, let alone leaving it. The Piazza san Marco and its Piazzetta (or “little piazza”) is among the most famous landmarks in Venice. The Piazza and Piazzetta embody the heart of the city as the Doge’s Palace was the Republic of Venice’s political centre, the Basilica San Marco its religious core and the piazzas themselves a hub of social gathering.
Crossing the impressive Piazza San Marco towards the Basilica San Marco, visitors will discover the Piazzetta to the south east of the piazza and its breath-taking view of the lagoon and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore. The “little piazza” is home to the Doge’s Palace which was transformed into a museum in 1923 and is run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia along with 12 other major landmarks in the city.
Basilica San Marco
San Marco Basilica, the main church in Venice is said to have been built in the 9th century by Venetians to store the stolen remains of their patron San Marco from Alexandria. Over the centuries, the Basilica became a workshop for the greatest Italian and European artists of their time and the building still displays a variety of art pieces such as gilded Byzantine mosaics and the four proud Greek horses whose replicas stand upon the entrance to the Basilica (the original statues are now kept inside the Basilica’s museum), reminiscent of the Venetians’ power and glory. For its lavish artworks, the church was given the nickname of “Chiesa d’Oro” (Church of Gold) from the 11th century and still bears it today.
San Marco’s campanile
Built in a different style from the basilica, San Marco’s campanile is a bell tower standing apart from the Chiesa d’Oro. Originally constructed in the 9th century, it collapsed in 1902 and was entirely rebuilt. The monument is open to the public although important structural repairs are being done on it to stop the damage of time. The panoramic view from the top of the tower is most impressive. It provides visitors with unbeatable views on the Basilica, the Piazza san Marco and the great Doge’s Palace. Also, the stunning Santa Maria della Salute church is visible in the distance as well as the whole city, surrounded by water, seemingly unreal.
Murano, Burano and the Lido
While visiting Venice, an excursion to the different islands around the city centre provides an excellent insight into the history and heritage of the area: Murano (known for its glass blowing), Burano (its laceworks and colourful house fronts as shown in the picture above) and Lido di Venezia (home to the Venice Film Festival) for which British travel writer Robin Saikia wrote The Venice Lido, recounting the island’s history from its early stages.
How to get there
The most scenic way to arrive in the city of bridges is of course taking a Vaporetto from the airport to the heart of Venice. Visitors will also have the possibility to take a bus over the Ponte della Liberta linking the mainland to the historic city of Venice.
Alternatively, the centrally located train station near Piazza Roma is the second most important in the area and provides transportation towards the Verona, Padua and Mestre. The first most important train station is Venezia Mestre located in the mainland part of the region of Venezia, where trains depart towards all the major Italian destinations.