The Magic of Venice

Magical Venice

There is no doubt that Venice makes a stunning impression. According to all the knowledgeable guides, it is the most romantic and most visited city in the world. A certain peaceful aura hovers here. And, quite unexpectedly, there is an unusual, descending tranquility. And this, despite the crowds of people bustling around you.

Venice is the only city in the world without any wheeled transport. Even bicycles. The streets are so crowded, that in 16th century Venetians abandoned even the horses. For centuries, locals have been deprived of the ability to move quickly. Perhaps this explains their measured and unhurried pace of life. Hence, it seems, the contagious tranquility.

It is an ancient city with a complex urban structure. It is located in the Venice Lagoon on the Adriatic Sea. Venice is the administrative center of Venice region of Italy. The city consists of two parts. The sea and the mainland. The historic center of Venice, due to its unique topography is perceived as a fantastic city, rising straight out of the sea. The impression is indescribable in words.

The city is situated on 118 islands. Each island has a different name. This is a kind of urban quarter. Between the islands – a network of canals. There are exactly 150 of them. The canals are different. Some are big and wide. There are also tiny narrow channels, about four meters wide. Only gondolas float through them.

The most grandiose is the Grand Canal. It is the main transport artery of the city. Here the river transport is already solid. It is also a city transport. Barges, motorboats and boats.

The canal crosses the central Venice in the form of an inverted Latin letter S and divides it into two unequal parts. The length of the canal is about four kilometers. The width in some places reaches 70 m. The depth is about 5 m. The Grand Canal flows into the wide St. Mark’s Canal, in the water of which the grandiose Doge’s Palace is reflected.

During our visit to Venice, the weather was beautifully sunny. Not a cloud or a cloud in the sky. The calm water surface of the canal, colored by the reflected blue of the Venetian sky, looked fabulously beautiful.

The framing of the Grand Canal is delightful. Along both its banks are wonderful palaces of different styles and eras. Their foundations rest on powerful wooden piles driven deep into the ground. There are also poor houses, rusted gates, tiny squares.

It is in these unkempt homes that Byron, Wagner, Fascolo and other world-famous poets, artists and composers once stayed, and sometimes lived and worked for long periods.

On the left bank of the canal is the Santa Lucia train station. It was built on the site where the church of the same name used to stand. Nearby is the railway bridge. It is also a relatively new construction. For almost a hundred years there was a bridge of rather complex construction.

It consisted of 225 arches, set on 75 thousand piles, driven into the bottom of the lagoon. Then the old bridge was demolished, and in 1846 opened a new bridge, which is still in force today. In total, there are about 400 bridges and footbridges in Venice. They connect all 118 islands, forming a single urban infrastructure.

Located on the water, the center of Venice, occupies a relatively small area. Only seven square kilometers. It’s home to about a third of the city’s population. Something like 100,000 inhabitants. The other two thirds live, so to speak, on the mainland. This area is about four kilometers from the Venice Sea.

The two parts of the city are connected by two bridges in addition to water transport. One is a railroad bridge with two tracks. The other with a roadway. In general, the mainland Venice is not of particular interest to tourists. Industrial enterprises are concentrated here. There is a seaport, a university, an academy of arts.

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Our acquaintance with Venice took place according to a long-established ritual. For organized tourists it begins with a visit to St. Mark’s Square. It is literally swarming with people and pigeons. Such assemblage of birds can be seen only on bird markets somewhere on unapproachable rocks of the White Sea.

Fat pigeons circle the square by the hundreds. They roam about the square. Suddenly they hover and land. The place is full of sellers of bird food. I think they are the best-fed pigeons in the world. Tourists from all over the world come to feed them.

There is pigeon droppings all over the place. But this doesn’t seem to annoy anyone. All with open mouths contemplate the surrounding fabulous beauty. First of all, the majestic St. Mark’s Cathedral and no less amazing structure – the Doge’s Palace.

In Venice, we had two excursions. One – through the city. The other – by the above-mentioned palace. And, needless to say, a wonderful walk along the Venetian canals in a gondola. You are comfortably settled on the velvet seat of the chair, and in front of you a handsome Italian, accompanied by a guitar singing barcarolle. The pleasure is fantastic.

I’ve seen pictures like this in glossy magazines and on TV, so everything was familiar to me. Indescribable delight aroused the fact that the reality in which I found myself, fully consistent with the prevailing stereotype. Sometimes I even wanted to pinch myself to make sure that it was not a dream. In short, sitting in the gondola, you experience a dizzying feeling of extreme pleasure. I have no words to describe it.

Tour of the city held not the first young “garry” Khohlushka, who knows what wind brought from the Ukraine to Venice. She literally ran like a meteor at the head of our group. She would stop for a minute or two at a landmark, and then resume her run.

Only a small group of physically strong people had time to listen to her explanations. I managed it sometimes. My wife did it much less often. All the attention of the rest of the weaker members of our group was consumed solely in trying to keep up. People, of course, did not want to get lost in the narrow Venetian streets. Here – no to the surrounding beauties! It was a question of survival. Or else to escape.

There wasn’t much from the sightseeing tour that survived. But I remembered one fact well. Our beautiful chicero kept to the time allotted to her. Not a minute more. Perfect punctuality. That’s right, though. Sixty minutes was what she was paid for.

The guide took us swiftly to St. Mark’s Square. She said something like goodbye, and rushed on to the next group of tourists. As in Paris, London and other European capitals, in Venice was observed a huge influx of Russian-speaking tourists. It was necessary not to be late with the “Chez”. And the woman was in a hurry.

Then Igor and I, our Israeli guide, strolled along the Venetian canals and channels on our own. With his no less interesting comments, we were able to admire the fabulous beauty of this extraordinary city at a leisurely pace. Of course, it would have been cheaper for the tour company and more convenient for us if only Igor conducted the tour. But, unfortunately, he did not have an Italian license.

We also visited the Doge’s Palace. This amazing building for many centuries was the residence of the Doge, the heads of the Venetian Republic. Then it housed the offices of the Austrian government, the Marcian libraries, the local legislative assembly.

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Now the Doge’s Palace is a museum, where collected huge values, accumulated over the centuries. In addition, various cultural events are held there. The most notable of them is the nightly concerts in the courtyard.

The interior of the palace is striking in its festivity and grandeur. The walls and ceilings of the numerous halls are decorated with inimitable luxury. There are many authentic sculptures by Titian, Francesco Segal, Sansovino, and other great Italian artists.

Particularly magnificent are the three halls: The Collegium, the Senate, and the Council of Ten. The ceilings and walls of the halls are wooden. They are decorated with fine carvings and gilding and serve as a frame for the delightful paintings of the great Renaissance masters inserted in them: Jacopo Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Giovanni Bellini, and others.

The Hall of the Council of Ten was once the seat of the tribunal. Here were investigated and tried prisoners who had committed crimes against the Republic of Venice. The tribunal was made up of ten members of the great council headed by the doge. Hence the name of the hall.

Above it were the jail cells of what was once Venice’s darkest prison, the Piombi. Which translates into Russian as “leaden”. It was so nicknamed because of the lead ceiling in the cells of the criminals. At one time it was the prison of the famous traveler Marco Polo, philosopher and poet Giordano Bruno, writer and outstanding adventurer Giacomo Casanova and other no less famous historical figures.

By a steep staircase across the Bridge of Sighs we made our way to the former prison. By the way, the name of the bridge has nothing to do with the romance of lovers. The bridge spanning the Palace Canal was so nicknamed for an entirely different reason. On their way from the courtroom to the prison, the condemned criminals saw the sunlight through the barred windows of the covered bridge for the last time. This, of course, caused them to sigh heavily.

After the splendor of the palace’s halls, the cramped, wood-fronted prison chambers looked somehow singularly miserable. The darkest sensations, however, are to be found in the torture chambers and the cellar where the most dangerous criminals were held.

The pitiful interiors make one realize that if luxury and fame are not a step away, then at least they are no more than thirty stairs away from squalor and oblivion. A walk through Piombi Prison confirms this indisputable truth with stunning clarity and ironclad authenticity. Frankly, being in the prison, even as a tourist, makes me sad. It seemed to me that the finish of the tour of the Doge’s Palace simply spoiled people’s impression of what they had seen earlier.

In the history of this terrible prison, only one prisoner managed to escape from it. It was the world-famous adventurer Casanova. No matter what you say, this controversial personality seems to be the most colorful person who ever lived in Venice.

The son of an actor, a talented writer, a consummate lover and adventurer, Giacomo Casanova is now hidden behind many masks. Some of them he put on himself at Venice carnivals as a hereditary comedian. Others were put on him by the literary tradition of the time. His personality is still of interest to this day, at least to creative people. It is no coincidence that the famous Italian directors Federico Fellini, Mario Monicelli and no less famous actor Marcello Mastroianni turned to it.

Today, official Venice has reconciled with its prodigal son. The guide not only showed us the house where Casanova once lived, but even the chic black-painted gondola, which is anchored. According to legend, the dexterous charmer sailed in it from one gallant rendezvous to another.

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Speaking of gondolas. As a means of urban transport they began to be used in the VII century. During that time, a strict standard for these boats was established. Exactly 10.15 meters long and 1.40 wide. The right side of the gondola is 24 centimeters higher than the left side. This design is dictated by the position of the gondolier. He steers the boat by means of an oar lowered into the water only on the right side of the course.

The inside of the gondola is upholstered in velvet, and the outside is covered in an unusually glossy black lacquer. It has five seats. At the stern is a platform for the gondolier. At the front is a seat for the accompanying singer. Such a boat is not cheap. From 30 to 100 thousand “greenbacks”.

Ordinary Venetians travel on municipal motorboats. The more affluent travel in their own motor boats and motor boats. The Venetian port is also full of sea yachts. But this is probably for millionaires.

During the walk in a gondola through the wide and narrow canals of Venice, we enjoyed not only the singer’s barcarolas. The skill and calmness with which the boat was steered by a gondolier who was no longer so young was admirable. The gondolas were at times bunched together. A collision seemed inevitable. But each time the black varnished sides passed side by side without touching. Sometimes just a centimeter or two.

Venice is famous for its amazing carnivals. They take place every year. And they are held with great pageantry. Here from all over the world come gallant gentlemen and refined ladies, dressed in exquisite lush medieval attire. The costumes are not only stunningly beautiful, but insanely expensive. Some of them cost several million dollars. Well, and of course, all the carnival participants walk around Venice wearing the famous Venetian masks. Also not cheap.

During these festive days in the city squares hold concerts, various performances and fireworks. Music plays all day and night, and in the glasses is splashing wine. Wealthy people in the mansions organize balls – masquerades, and many other, as they now say, corporate get-togethers. According to the guide Russian language at the carnival sounds quite loud. The holiday lasts for about two weeks and is usually held in late January – early February.

Venice is known worldwide not only for its beauty. Venetian glass is known no less. Disclosure of its production technology in ancient times was punishable by death. And today, these secrets know few. But most importantly, it is still not exactly established why a nation of sailors, not having its own raw materials, began to produce glass.

Our program included a visit to a Venetian glass factory. A Russian girl took us through two small production rooms in about ten minutes. We were shown the electric furnace where the glass was melted. There were instruments and tools, but the process of making Venetian glass masterpieces was still a mystery.

Then the factory guide led us to a small store, the main goal of the tour. There was a lot to see. But to buy it turned out to be much more problematic. Prices started in triple digits. And what was disappointing – only in euros. After looking through all colors of the rainbow stunning vases, dishes and other items for a while we decided to buy. This lovely vase now graces the dining room table of my daughter’s family.

And here’s another touch that has nothing to do with Venetian glass, but with the toilet of the factory where it is produced. Strictly speaking, a visit to this factory cloakroom was not part of our tour plan. I wandered over there on my own. And I didn’t regret it. And not only for a natural reason.

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In this regard, I would like to recall the poetry of the urban romance immortal Vysotsky. He once wrote so about Paris. More precisely, about its public toilets.

Our penetration of the planet is especially noticeable in the distance. The public toilets in Paris have inscriptions in Russian.

In Parisian toilets I no longer have such inscriptions. After Vysotsky had been in them, a lot of water had flowed out of the Seine. By the time we arrived in Paris, almost all such places had become private and paid for. I think it is for this reason that ordinary Russian tourists avoid looking into them. So there was no one to write in Russian.

But in the free toilet at the Venetian glass factory, I had a chance to observe the signs of Russian penetration deep into the Apennine Peninsula. Here I found beautifully rendered inscriptions in Russian, with a decent dose of humor.

Actually, they were not made by tourists from Russia, but just for them. There was nothing unseemly in the texts. Actually, they were not even inscriptions in the vulgar sense of the word, but instructions on how to use the toilet. I wrote them down, and I am now quoting this unique material verbatim.

“Dear Gentlemen of Russia, we earnestly ask you not to climb on it with your feet when using the toilet. Do not assume an eagle’s pose during the process. Sit on the toilet board. It’s completely clean here. This is the only way you can have real pleasure.”

The flush button was embedded in the wall. The Russian guys, unable to find the usual rope, let things slide. This approach to hygiene probably didn’t sit well with the purgators either. To help the sluggish toilet users they made a nice big arrow pointing at a disguised button. The arrow was accompanied by an inscription apparently borrowed from the Internet. “Click here!”

We toured the Venice mainland as well. This is the industrial-port area of the city. There are a couple of museums here. We went to the Gallery of the Academy of Art. But in principle there was nothing to see there, except for the stores. An ordinary provincial town.

I liked it all. Mostly I saw it all and rode the gondola. But I didn’t go inside, I didn’t have time. I read with interest about the visit to the Doge’s Palace. In one of the reviews, someone wrote to you why you didn’t visit Brodsky’s tomb. People don’t understand what a tour is. It’s always a dependency on the guide. There on the island of San Miguel is also buried Sergei Diaghilev, who died on tour in Venice from a diabetic coma. From afar we were shown this island. Regards Nina.

Thank you, Nina. Yes, you are right, a lot depends on the guide. However we had three hours of free time in Venice. But my wife and I preferred a gondola ride to the cemetery. And I’m not at all sorry about it. Sve.

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The magic and charm of Venice

Venice is indeed one of the most beautiful and unusual cities in the world. It is a city with its own genuine spirit, character and meaning. To comprehend its discreet charms, you need to take your time, discover this city gradually and let it enchant you with its magic.

Venice

The “floating” city consists of equal parts water and stone. Venice is made up of 118 tiny islands, in between which run 150 small and large canals. It is said of Venice that there is the sea instead of the floor, the sky instead of the roof and a stream of water instead of the walls.

This city is depicted in paintings and cinematography, photographed, described in literature and sung in songs, ballads and operas, like no other city in the world. They say about Venice – the city is breathtakingly beautiful. On overcast days it is a huge expanse of gray water, looking like a mirage, but on sunny days, when the water shines with thousands of colorful rays – the magic of this spectacle takes your breath away.

Venice

The city was founded around the year 1200, though this date is disputed, and the first mention of settlers on the islands in those areas dates back to the beginning of the last millennium.

The best time to visit Venice is from April to October. True, all the tourist brochures say – avoid visiting Venice in July and August, when the climate is particularly hot, and high humidity in this heat makes sticky air and everything around.

We went there just in August:). The weather was exactly as promised: unbearably hot, humid, sticky, and stuffy. But in spite of that, I had never seen such a huge crowd of people in such a small space. To say that “there was nowhere to fall” is like saying nothing at all.

The first thing every tourist sees is the Grand Canal, as boats, boats and gondolas are the only means of transportation.

Venice

After obediently putting the car in park, we, along with our bags, boarded the boat, as did all the other new arrivals. Along the way we looked around and listened to the announcements, trying not to miss our stop to get to the hotel. I will say briefly about the prices in Venice – everything in Venice is expensive, and there are two categories of prices: expensive and very expensive. Our hotel was located near Piazza San Marco – the main square of Venice, and it took about 40 minutes to get by boat, which replaced the bus. So I took out my camera and began to take pictures of everything I saw around, the magic charm of this city did not bypass me:).

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Note. All pictures in this photo essay were taken from a boat, so some of them look, shall we say, not quite even:).

Lana Harrell (Essex, England)

Send feedback and comments to the editorial board

Published in Russian Woman Journal www.russianwomanjournal.com – 12 March 2009

Dear Guests of the Journal!

Send your letters, stories, feedback, questions, advice, insights and wishes to lana@russianwomanjournal.com.

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