Tuesday, 28 April 2015

V for Venezia

The phrase, saving the best till last, certainly seems appropriate here. I'm nearly at the end of my year in Italy, and last week I finally got to visit one of the cities that's been top of my list for a very long time. Venice.

Famous for its Venetian masks, the birthplace of the legendary Marco Polo and Casanova, and its uniqueness as the city that's built on water, here are some more fun facts I've unearthed about Venezia:
  • Venice dates back to the year 400, and was founded in its unique location out of necessity, due to barbarian invasions encroaching from land on the north and east
  • Venice is made up of 118 islands connected by over 400 foot bridges
  • Venice was not built directly onto these islands, but rather on wooden platforms entrenched in the sea bed by thousands of wooden piles
  • 50,000 tourists visit Venice each day, almost dwarfing the number of true residents (60,000)
  • Venice has 150 canals, the biggest is the S-shaped Grand Canal which flows through the centre of the city
  • There are 400 gondoliers in Venice. Only 3 to 4 gondolier licences are issued annually. Applicants must pass a rigorous exam after extensive training on the geography of Venice's many canals. (I imagine it to be bit like London cabbies' the Knowledge, but on the water). 
  • There are 3 ancient bridges over the Grand Canal: the Rialto, Accademia, and Scalzi
  • Venice is sinking by 1-2 millilitres each year. Acqua alta (high water) is a problem for the city, especially in November and December. A big engineering project is currently under way to help prevent water from flooding the town.

Venice feels a little like a rabbit warren when you're walking around - the streets are narrow and seem to lead nowhere and everywhere all at once. My advice would be to ignore the signs, don't even try to not get lost, and just enjoy wandering and exploring. 

On one of the many footbridges

One of the many gondolas

There are no roads in Venice (obviously) and one of my favourite things was seeing tiny footbridges that just led to someone's front door. As well as private boats, 'parked' outside people's houses.

Venetian Masks

On our way to the Rialto bridge

We eventually stumbled upon San Marco's square (Venice is like a beautiful maze, which confusingly has signs for San Marco on literally every corner), and decided to visit the top of the tower which gave us an amazing view of the whole city. This was the only proper 'touristy' thing we did while we were there, and I can't recommend it enough. Try to avoid going up on a windy day though - it was freezing up there! Also, this is the only city tower I've been up in Italy where they not only have a lift - taking the stairs didn't even seem to be an option. It seems things really are more modernised up North.

San Marco's Square

And the view from above...

Everyone should visit Venice once in their lifetime. Yes, it can be incredibly crowded with tourists, especially from April onwards. Yet it is also incredibly beautiful, historic, and pretty amazing when you consider that a city literally built on the sea is still standing, (and looking great while doing it), over 1500 years later. 

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