Magical Venice – how to describe it? Perhaps it’s best to begin with the number one question in most people’s minds…”WHY?” Why is Venice there and who’s bright idea was it to build a city in the middle of a swampy lagoon?! We ventured off to Venice in May 2011 to investigate this question. Well, actually to satisfy our curiousity about the sights, sounds and tastes of this unique city. It seems to be on nearly everyone’s “bucket list” including ours, and now we know why.
So, back to the original question, “Why does Venice exist?” As in the case of most new lands, people are drawn to settle new areas usually to seek security and/or wealth. In the case of Venice, both are true, beginning with the earliest settlers seeking refuge from mainland barbarians nearly 1,500 years ago. Little did they know, but its location at the head of the Adriatic Sea put Venice in an ideal stategic position for trade between western Europe and the rest of the world. By the Middle Ages, Venice had established itself as the greatest merchant empire for East-West trade in all of Europe. And by the late 13th century, the Republic of Venice, governed by the Great Council and its head member, the Doge (or Duke) was at its peak of power and wealth. During this time of prosperity, it acquired most of the islands in the Aegean, including Crete. A visit to our little port city of Hania will testify to the expansive Venetian influence.
Venice’s decline began with the costly war against the Ottoman empire and was further devastated by Portugal’s two great discoveries of the 15th century – America and a sea trade route to India that quickly destroyed Venice’s land route monoply. Since that time, Venice has slowly been sinking literally and figuratively. Humidity and the seasonal floods make this city a maintenance nightmare. Over the years, Venice has lost many of its locals to the more economical mainland. Still, it has a charm like no other European city and the best advice we got about touring this “Gem of the Adriatic” can be summed up in two words…get lost. And so we did.
After doing the cursory tour of the Doge’s Palace, St. Mark’s Basilica and the Correr Museum which enclose three sides of Piazza San Marco (photos in gallery), we strolled the narrow pedestrian paths, walked over countless little bridges, studied art masterpieces in local churches and rested in piazzas tucked away deep inside the city.
We found the surprising green space of Santa Elena, a primarily residential area of Venice with a big public park.
And when we tired of walking, we jumped on a vaporetto (water taxi) and cruised down the Grand Canal taking in the sights and sounds of the world’s slowest, and most relaxing, highway.
But if Venice is beautiful by day, it’s hands-down stunningly magical at night. A stroll through St. Mark’s square at dusk was both peaceful and entertaining.
And as the city takes on a completely different ambience reflected in the dark water, it’s easy to agree that romance can be spelled V-E-N-I-C-E.