Wear very dark sunglasses: protect yourself. Venice can be deadly. In the city centre, the aesthetic radioactivity is very high. Every glare radiates beauty: apparently modest, yet deeply insidious, inexorable. The sublime drips by bucketfuls from the churches, but also the barest calli, featuring no monuments, and the lesser bridges over the rii are quite picturesque. Tiziano Scarpa, Venice is a fish
Notes of a Venetian
(that you can find at Hotel Eurorest 🙂 )
When a guest asks me information about Venice, I would like to be able to tell him “vien co mi che te porto par e sconte” (come with me, I am going to take you to the most hidden parts of Venice). Because Venice is certainly St. Mark’s Square, Rialto, the Academy, the Basilica della Salute (Saint Mary of Health) and the Basilica dei Frari (Basiica of the Friars), but if you want to find its innermost soul, you have to get lost in the maze of its calli (alleys), climb and descend many of its 435 bridges connecting 121 islands, without just limiting yourself to admire the exterior beauty of its wonderful palaces, but enter them and find yourself “teleported” to the atmosphere of 4 or 5 centuries ago.
I am not going to suggest you an itinerary to follow, because I do not know how long you are going to stay and I do not even know how solid the soles of your shoes are. I can assure you that the Venetians literally wear their shoes; knowing all the “sconte” (hidden parts), the Venetians are able to move from one side to another of the city faster on foot than with the steamboats (vaporetti), but to be able to find your way around you need to have spent years living in Venice 🙂
Instead, I am going to suggest you some churches and picturesque places that are less visited by mass tourism, with the addition of some curiosities. For a deeper insight, visit the many sites that describe these wonders and the works housed therein. So, let’s get started:
Chiesa di San Nicolò dei Mendicoli (Church of Saint Nicholas of the Beggars): from “Mendigola”, the name of the island on which this neighbourhood was founded, which was once inhabited by poor people, especially fishermen, called Nicolotti. The Nicolotti and the Castellani were the two factions that formerly formed the city. The church, one of the oldest in the city, was presumably founded in the 7th century.
Chiesa di San Sebastiano (Church of Saint Sebastian): Founded in the 15th century, the Church of San Sebastiano represents one of the most important places of Venetian art. Actually, it contains the grandiose pictorial cycle by Paolo Caliari, known as Veronese. However, once you are there, you will find out that there is a lot more to discover inside it.
Chiesa di San Zaccaria (Church of Saint Zechariah): In 829 St. Magnus founded the Church of San Zaccaria. The building was built on the island called Ombriola. The adjoining monastery was the most important religious institute in Venice, closely linked to the Doge and the nobles. According to an ancient tradition, the first ducal horn, the Doge headgear, was donated in 864 by the convent abbess. Here rest the mortal remains of eight ancient Dogi.
Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto (Church of Our Lady of the Orchard): Built in 1355, it is one of the largest and most beautiful churches in Venice. It is also referred to as the Church of Tintoretto, due to the fact that inside it houses a series of extraordinary canvases by Tintoretto, who was also buried here after his death. Not far from here, at the street number 3399, there is still the original residence where the famous Jacopo Tintoretto lived.
Chiesa di Santa Maria dei Miracoli (Church of Our Lady of Miracles): Much beloved by the Venetians, it is one of the city’s architectural jewels that have been preserved virtually intact. This church of breathtaking beauty was built between 1484 and 1489. A true masterpiece covered with polychrome marbles.
Basilica di San Pietro di Castello (Basilica of St. Peter of Castello): The Basilica, built in the 9th century, which rises on the ancient island of Olivolo, now Castello, is of great importance for the history of Venice. It was a cathedral and patriarchal seat until 1807, when the title passed to St. Mark.
I am stopping here, even though there is much more, quite a lot more… You need to take some time to find them out a little at a time, unhurriedly.
And now, let’s give some numbers for the draw of Venice 🙂
157 churches (another 40 were destroyed), of which more than 30 are closed to worship
170 bell towers – St. Mark’s Campanile (bell tower), called by the Venetians “el paròn” (the master) is 98.6 m high. On its top stands a golden angel, whose swing wings indicate which direction the wind blows at that height.
435 bridges – many of which have strange names, such as: dei Bareteri (of the Beret Makers), from the name of the cap makers who had their workshops in this area; dei Lustraferi (of the Polishers), as in this area they polished iron, above all iron implements of gondolas, as well as many others to discover. Up to the 16th century, people used to go on horseback, so there were no steps. There are still two of them left without steps, one in Torcello – called the Devil’s Bridge – and the other in S. Felice, near the Great School of Mercy.
178 Rii and canals – A Rio, also called Rivo, is a Venetian waterway smaller than a canal
2,000 wells – In every campo (square) they built the puteals (wellheads) from which you could draw the rainwater filtered by layers of clay.
about 3000 calli (streets or alleys) – the narrowest ones being: Calle Varisco (53 cm), Calle dell’Ocio Grosso (58 cm), Calle della Raffineria (59 cm). You’d better allow for a few days’ diet before walking though them!!!
3247 m is the length of the Grand Canal, which is crossed by 4 bridges, namely: Rialto Bridge, Ponte dell’Accademia, Ponte degli Scalzi (Bridge of the Barefoot or Discalced Monks), Ponte della Costituzione (Constitution Bridge, aka Calatrava’s Bridge).
Other strange names that you are going to find, which identify the “streets” of Venice: fondamenta, campo, campiello, salizada, piscina, ruga, ramo, calle and callesella; in Venice there are only 1 piazza (square) – that of St. Mark – and 2 vie (streets) – namely Via Garibaldi and Via XXII Marzo. If you raise your eyes, you will see the names of the “streets” indicated on the “nizioleto”, that is the typical road sign of Venice, consisting on a painting made on building walls and plasters upon a white background enclosed in a black box (whence the word nizioleto, meaning little bed sheet).
HOLIDAYS NOT TO BE MISSED:
FEBRUARY – The Carnival of Venice. One of the oldest Carnivals in the world, which dresses the city of true magic.
APRIL – Saint Mark, 25th April. For the Venetians, April 25th is a much older celebration than the present national holiday. In fact, it coincides with the day of the city Patron Saint, Mark, whose relics, which were in Islamic land, in Alexandria, were eventually brought back to Venice in 828 by two Venetian merchants: Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello.
MAY – The Vogalonga (“Long” Rowing Regatta) – Born with the aim of bring to the general attention the problem of the preservation of Venice against the effect of the wave motion, this is an event very much felt by the Venetians, which sees the participation of more than 1,800 crafts, rigorously rowing boats.
JUNE – Festa della Sensa (i.e. Feast of the Ascension, on Ascension Day, between May and June), a water procession sailing from Saint Mark to the Lido, consisting of traditional rowing boats led by the Serenissima, the boat aboard which are now the mayor and the city authorities. It commemorates the rite of the Marriage of the Sea, when the Doge used to throw a gold ring into the sea.
JULY – Festa del Redentore (Feast of the Redeemer). Held in front of the Tempio del Redentore (Church of the Most Holy Redeemer), by Andrea Palladio, built as a place of worship as a token of gratitude after the end of the plague in 1577. This is a feast very much felt by the Venetians. Since then, each year, on the third Sunday of July, they celebrate in company of their friends, eating and drinking either aboard the boats or on the banks, awaiting the beginning of the unrivalled fireworks, which start at 11:30 pm.
SEPTEMBER – Historical Regatta. It is a very impressive parade along the Grand Canal, with actors aboard historical boats in period costume, gondolas and crafts of the local rowing associations for the preservation of the traditional Venetian rowing technique.
NOVEMBER: Festa della Madonna della Salute (Feast of Saint Mary of Health). The Festa della Salute is without doubt, the one with the less “tourist” impact, which evokes instead a sincere popular religious sentiment.
This Feast too, like that of the Redeemer, commemorates another terrible plague, which occurred between 1630 and 1631, and the resulting vow made by the Doge to obtain the Virgin’s intercession.
Still today, thousands of citizens parade on 21st November in front of the main altar of the imposing Chiesa della Salute (Church of Saint Mary of Health) to perpetuate the secular bond of gratitude that links the city to the Virgin Mary.
Do you have any extra days?
If you are planning to stay for a few days at Hotel Eurorest and want to devote more time to Venice, dive into the Venetian everyday life in Via Garibaldi, in the Castello district (sestiere). Full of shops of all kinds, bars and restaurants, Via Garibaldi is always alive. In the morning there is a fish, fruit and vegetable market, and it is great to hear housewives’ chatter, strictly in Venetian dialect, even if you are not going to understand very much.
From here I suggest you to continue and, after walking past the Arsenal, to reach the island of San Pietro crossing the wooden bridge of Quintavalle. In this still intact and quiet corner, away from mass tourism, you will find the Church of San Pietro di Castello, that we already mentioned at the beginning, built according to Palladio’s design.
At least a couple of hours should be dedicated to the Giudecca Island, which is actually made up of 8 islets connected by bridges and little bridges.
For centuries, it was the holiday resort of the nobles, who owned villas with orchards and gardens. Walking along the foundations while admiring Venice beyond the canal is really an experience worth a try. Formerly known as Spinalonga, due to its narrow and long shape that resembles a fish, it faces on one side Venice with the Zattere (Rafts) and, on the other, it overlooks the lagoon. This side of the island is very different from the other, as you will find orchards, gardens, small factories and fishermen’s homes.
With the fishermen’s houses, the monasteries wrapped in tranquillity, the resting place for the dead, or blanketed with orchards or vineyards or scattered with glass and lace shops, each of them has its own story to tell.
Here are some of them:
S. FRANCESCO DEL DESERTO
The island is inhabited by 4 Franciscan friars, who take care of it. The beauty and serenity of this place will not be easily forgotten.
S. LAZZARO DEGLI ARMENI (Saint Lazarus of the Armenians)
Formerly used as leprosy, in the 18th century it was transformed into a place of charity and culture.
It houses a library, which is the largest in the world of Armenian culture; it contains over 150,000 ancient and very rare manuscripts. Amongst a huge amount of relics received as gifts from every corner of the world, there is also an Egyptian mummy, one of the best preserved in the world. I recommend buying some jam produced from the roses that the friars grow with love on the island.
Here the atmosphere is really unusual. Silent and wild, it is dotted with vineyards, orchards and vegetable gardens. I recommend hiring a bicycle, because it is rather large.
10 FLASH TIPS
1) Wear comfortable shoes. Avoid thin heels, as they might get jammed into nay cracks in the flooring 🙂
2) Take a detailed map with you
3) Visit St Mark’s Square in the evening, when the crowd decreases and everything is dressed in magic
4) For an aperitif, go to Rialto. There you can find delightful shops called “bacari” with a terrace overlooking the Grand Canal. Spritz and cicchetti as much as you like [bacari are chicchetti bars, i.e. where small snacks are served alongside alcoholic drinks]
5) Walking is the best way to visit Venice, but if you want to get on a vaporetto (steamboat) the most striking routes I recommend are: lines 1 and 2, along the Grand Canal, and lines 4.1 / 4.2 and 5.1 / 5.2, which run along the Fondamenta Nuove, offering beautiful views of Venice and its lagoon.
6) If you would have liked to get on a gondola, but the tour is too expensive, you can ferry across the Grand Canal for just 2.00 €. Here is where you find the stops. Which are called “stazi” (7 in all): San Marcuola – Fondaco dei Turchi, Ca’ d’Oro – Pescaria, Riva del Carbon – Fondamenta dei Vini, San Tomà – Sant’Angelo, Ca’ Rezzonico – San Samuele and Salute – Campo del Traghetto.
7) If you happen to be in Venice with high water, the local tobacconists sell special “disposable boots”
8) Avoid restaurants for tourists. There are lots of typical eating places. Let yourself be helped by your good sense and check the menu and prices before entering.
9) If you are visiting the Ducal Palace, do not miss the Secret Itineraries of the Ducal Palace, a visit that takes place together with a specialized guide (reservation is required).
10) Do not take selfies on the steps of the shores! They are so slippery that a fall into the water is assured! 🙂
Well, if you have read everything up to here, this means that you are really eager to get to know and understand this city, so spectacular and fragile at the same time, vulnerable and delicate, and increasingly in need of love and respect.
If you need more other notes from a Venetian, please ask me at the Reception of Hotel Eurorest. Obviously, I am not always here, but my colleagues will be able to provide you with precious tips, because in Venice there is so much, everything you may expect and much more to discover…