Away from the madding crowd, I had finally come to terms with how beautiful and extraordinary the city of Venice actually is! Stripped of visitors, vendors and the overwhelming crowd that plagues the city all year round, Venice, amidst the pandemic was a sight to behold and a sheer joy to visit. Cleaner air, clearer waters and bright blue skies, the month of July witnessed a quiet summer with a handful of tourists and locals, who after many years of intense tourism had the hustling, bustling city all to themselves. Restored to a state of grandeur and magnificence, the long lost spirit of Venice echoed in all things Venetian – the lonely alleys, the ornamental bridges, the marble churches and the gurgling waters of the grand canal.
A city of canals and alternatively, the most romantic city in the world, there is much that gives the city the reputation that it rightly deserves. The city of Venice as we know it today was formerly an independent republic that lasted from 697 AD to 1797 AD. After 1100 years of existence, the republic fell into the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte who invaded the republic under the pretext of entering Austria. The French Revolutionary Wars ended with the French returning the city to Austria before it became a part of Unified Italy in 1866.
The story of Venice as an independent republic makes a fascinating study in history. A major port, Venice played a dominant role in trade and commerce making the Venetian merchants both wealthy and powerful. A paragon of luxury and opulence, Venice quickly became a home to some of the wealthiest merchants with unprecedented wealth that could even keep the papal forces at bay. By majoring in salt trade, the Venetian empire became a seat of power in the Mediterranean sea through its control of trade between Europe, Asia and North Africa. Through the subsequent rise and fall of many dynasties and battles including the Holy War, the legacy of Venice is one of power, wealth, grandeur and gradual demise.
A city that has gained notoriety for unceasing crowds with almost 20M visitors per year, is usually a place that would not interest introverts such as myself in normal times. However, with this year being one of a kind, I decided to take a chance and embark on a Venetian adventure, hoping to experience a short-lived vacation away from the confinement of the four walls of my room. As someone who has always prided myself in making good travel decisions, this particular travel frenzy had to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Unbelievable but true, this was a Venice that was so different from anything I had ever imagined!
This was my second visit to Venice; I had been to the city in 2012 but back then, something was just not right! Being an expensive city, I only had a day to explore Venice and all I can remember is running from one spot to another, trying to cram in everything at the same time. It was 40 degrees Celsius, the queues were long, and the 5 Euros coffee tasted like spoilt milk. A complete disaster! After much deliberation, I decided to give the city a second chance and much to my surprise, the Venice I remembered from the first visit became a distant nightmare only to replaced by a Venice that lives up to its reputation of all things grand, picturesque and noble!
Greeted by cries of screeching seagulls and the sound of the lapping waters that gently crash against the the low lying concrete, I ferried past the twists and turns of the grand canal witnessing architectural grandeurs that demonstrate skillful craftsmanship and expertise in the form of grand palaces and arching bridges. An array of 18th and 19th century houses constructed in oriental designs and white-walled churches adorn the banks of the meandering canal. The landscape of Venice is unique and stands in stark contrast to the Classical architecture of Rome or the Romanesque architecture of the Habsburgs. No two houses are alike and the marble used is of the finest quality. Such was the wealth of the Venetians!
The city of Venice when viewed from an aerial distance resembles a fish. Towards its tail lies Piazza San Marco, which is understandably one of the most visited spots in the world. The remains of St. Mark the Apostle, who is also the patron saint of Venice lies buried inside the magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica. It is believed that his sacred remains were stolen from Alexandria, brought to Venice and hidden deep inside a crypt. The interiors of the basilica are magnificent and definitely worth the long queues. The four bronze horses that guard the entrance to the basilica are exact replicas of the original ones that were brought from Constantinople following the sack of Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade. The Campanile or the Basilica’s bell tower rises to a height of 98.6 m and was reconstructed in 1912 after enduring numerous collapses over the ages.
The Doge’s Palace built in a Venetian Gothic style was home to the doge or the supreme magistrate of the Independent Republic of Venice. The Bridge of Sighs, carved in white limestone, connects the New Prison to the Doge’s Palace. It is so named because of the prisoners who would walk on the bridge and take a last glimpse of the blue lagoon before meeting their death. The piazza is the heart of Venice and hosts numerous restaurants, concerts and events in modern times.
The smell of salt was everywhere; the nights were quiet, the streets were empty and San Marco’s piazza dazzled in the jubilant light emanating from the tripod lamps. Gondolas gently wobbled on the peaceful waters and San Giorgio’s brick red walls stood half a mile away. Faint city lights twinkled at a distance and as the night closed in, the Venetian sky assumed an arresting shade of royal blue.
Venice is sinking at a rate of 1 – 2 mm per year. Frequent floodings, earthquakes and catastrophic lightnings have been known to inflict heavy casualties to Venetians and their livelihood. Furthermore, the population of Venice is on a steady decline and some fear that it could be a ghost town by the year 2030. This mass exodus is triggered by the rising prices of houses, the ageing population, lack of employment opportunities and the overwhelming number of tourists per year. If this is the beginning of the end, the gradual disappearance of Venetian pride, identity and livelihood will be forever gone, swept under the tide of the ocean, until centuries pass and our great-great-great… grandchildren frown upon Venice as just another mythical city – a Venetian Atlantis perhaps?
Sometimes, it needs a second or perhaps a third visit to experience the true spirit of a city. An empty Venice in the summer months is rare, peaceful and radiates exquisite beauty. Its memorable imprints will linger in my mind for a very long time, its winding canals and embellished squares reminding me why it is important to preserve the remnants of a glorious past.
© Copyright: Leah Chrestien. November 2020. The post Venice like Never Before| Italy first appeared on The Ecstatic Storyteller. The author reserves the right to the content and the pictures.