Venice is a city like no other. There are no streets, no cars: the only way to get around is by boat or vaporetto (water taxi) floating down a labyrinth of narrow canals that connect to Venice’s main thoroughfare, the aptly named Grand Canal. Called “The Floating City” or “The Queen of the Adriatic” or the “City of Bridges” Venice lives up to its many names: built atop a lagoon, the city consists of 118 islands connected via waterways and over 400 bridges. It is no wonder that fourteenth-century Tuscan poet Petrarch referred to Venice as a “mundus alter” or “another world” – there is truly no place quite like it.
Venice’s unique topography – and unique history – have resulted in some of the most magnificent art and architecture ever produced. Once a major maritime power and trading center, in Renaissance times Venice served as Italy’s main link to Byzantium and other parts of the world. Venice’s cultural and artistic ties gave rise to an incredible convergence of styles that make Venetian art and architecture especially sumptuous and expressive.
The Palazzo Ducale (on the banks of the Grand Canal) is one such example. A spectacular Gothic structure, the building’s geometric façade of colored stone is late Byzantine in style, while the openwork and lower arcades speak to Islamic influences. Adjacent to the Palazzo Ducale is the resplendent St. Mark’s Basilica, adorned with marble imported from Egypt, Palestine, and Syria. With a richly detailed façade covered in sculpture and mosaics, over 500 columns, impressive Byzantine domes, and over 8000 square meters of luminous mosaics decorating the interior, St. Mark’s Basilica is the pinnacle of Venetian opulence. For an unforgettable sight, visit the basilica just before sunset, when the sunlight catches on the mosaics and alights them in gold.
In fact, the play of light significantly influenced Venetian art. Drifting down the Grand Canal, you’ll be entranced by the refraction of sunlight off the water – an effect that captivated Venetian Renaissance artists. Unlike Florentine artists, who were more interested in drawing and linework, Venetian artists emphasized color and light. Artists like Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and Tintoretto exploited the expressive potential of oil paint (a relatively new medium at the time) to produce some of the most vivid works of the Renaissance. Influenced by oil painting techniques of the Northern Renaissance, they applied paint in thin layers – called glazes – which allowed for a careful handling of light and shadow and an incredible depth of color.
For a taste of the exquisite beauty of Venetian art, be sure to visit Venice’s historic Gallerie dell’Accademia, full of showstoppers by Bellini, Titian, and Veronese, among others. The Scuola Grande di San Rocco (called “The Sistine Chapel of Venice”) houses the finest collection of works by Venetian master Tintoretto (and is also Dr. Rocky’s favorite place in all of Venice!). You will find more masterpieces in Venice’s Museo Correr and in the magnificent Palazzo Ducale, though the art doesn’t stop there: there are a multitude museums, churches, and galleries to visit. You won’t be short on art in Venice!
Venice is also known for its artisanal crafts. You will find shops full of beautifully handcrafted wares throughout Venice, though for Venetian glass and lace, take a vaporetto to the islands of Murano and Burano. Venetian glassmaking has been relegated to Murano since 1291, and if you visit the island today, you will find artisans still hard at work hand-blowing fantastical glass objects. You can also learn about Venice’s centuries-old glassmaking tradition and view a selection of historic glass at Murano’s Museo del Vetro. For handmade Venetian lace (once coveted by the European aristocracy) visit the local shops of the picturesque island of Burano.
There are endless things to see and do in Venice. Visit the beautiful palazzi and churches, explore the marvels of Venetian art, discover local artisans, enjoy cicchetti (Venetian tapas) and a Spritz in a traditional bar, and of course, take a romantic gondola ride down the Grand Canal. Buon viaggio!