Venice: The city built on water

Written by | City Break, Italy

The most beautiful inhabited medieval city in the world

Venice is, without any doubt, the most beautiful medieval city on earth which is still inhabited .

The famous canals, due to the city’s positioning in a lagoon, can only accentuate its beauty, and the palaces and the ever-present gondolas complete this picture.

To understand this pearl of the Middle Ages, it is necessary to first make a brief incursion into the history of this city.

Perhaps not everyone knows that Venice would not have existed if the migratory tribes of the Huns and the Lombards would not have invaded Europe during the fifth century.

Because of the fear of these invaders, who pillaged and slayed everything on their way, the inhabitants of Padua plain (today’s northern Italy) take refuge in this marshy area and first establish a series of fishing settlements. Defended by the sea and the marshy land, they gradually organize themselves and due to the constraints of the place, the lack of local resources, they turn into excellent navigators and merchants.

In the year 697, the doge office is set up, at the initiative of the Byzantine court in Ravenna and practically the organized administration of Venice begins.

In the year 726, following a riot of the fishermen, Venice gains the right to freely choose the doge. From now on, the main concern of the inhabitants was to maintain their independence, both from the Catholic and the Byzantine churches.

This concern can be seen throughout the history of Venice and is also reflected in the local architecture of the churches or of the cathedrals, which are intentionally “a little different” from their sisters in the Byzantine empire.

The prestige of the locality has increased greatly when the relics of saint evangelist Mark have been brought from Alexandria, in the year 828, after a kind of religious marketing of the lowest kind. Stolen by two Venetian merchants and brought to Venice, they became the most important asset in strengthening the institution of the Doges, who became the defenders of Christianity overnight.

Therefore, San Marco Square, Marco Polo neighborhood and other derived places that we all visit today, come from here.

Thus, Venice becomes a maritime superpower, which will dominate the Adriatic, Ionian and Aegean seas, preserving its independence for over 1000 years.

In the year 1797 the city was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte, who dissolved the Council of the Republic and forced the last doge, Ludovico Manin, to abdicate. It is the end of the Venetian Republic which is then given to the Austrian Empire.

Finally, in 1866, Venice became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

What impressed me the most in the history of Venice is the fact that, in a dark period in the history of mankind, dominated by autocratic and despotic royalties, by inquisition and lack of religious tolerance, the Venetian Republic represented the most advanced democratic system possible for those times.

Few people know that the doges were elected by free elections, attended by the main Venetian families’ representatives, but still free!!

The power of a doge was rather honorary, having only one vote in the council.

The obsession that no one gets to monopolize power alone is the basis of the success of the Venetian Republic.

All decisions were taken collectively, and justice was based on an extremely well-organized hierarchical system where each one controlled the other.

An interesting thing that you can see as you enter the Doge’s Palace is the institution of denunciation.

To the left of the main gate you will see a hole in the stone wall, used by the denouncers to submit their complaints. However, the denunciations were accepted only if the denouncer gave his name.

What is not visible from outside, but you can see it if you enter the palace, is the fact that inside, there were two doors of this “mailbox”, doors that required two different keys, which were carried by different representatives of the judicial system for mutual control.

How to get to Venice?

Venice is served aerially by two airports: Marco Polo, located at about 12 km from the city and Treviso, located at about 30 km from the city.

Marco Polo Airport is mainly intended for charter flights, while Treviso or Antonio Canova Airports mainly serves low-cost flights.

The airports are connected to the city by the buses of the public transport company ATVO.

An ATVO race from Treviso Airport to Venice (Piazzale Roma) costs Є12 only one way or Є22 for a round trip ticket. The ride takes about 70 minutes, with two intermediate halts in Mestre.

An ATVO race from Marco Polo Airport to Venice (Piazzale Roma) costs Є8 only one way or Є15 a round trip ticket. The ride takes about half an hour, with final destination at Piazzale Roma station.

Venice is nowadays connected to the continent by a bridge that provides both railway and car traffic on several lanes.

The terminus point of all the means of land transport to Venice (by car or train) is Piazzale Roma, from where you have to walk or take taxi by water, following one of the Venetian canals.

The water taxis are quite expensive, a race worth only if you are at least 4 persons travelling.

Important attractions to be visited

Venice is a largely tourist city today.

There is a prestigious university in Venice – Foscari and of course famous theaters, but in reality, the vast majority of the inhabitants of this city leave it during the cold season and only return for the new tourist season.

So you don’t have to be afraid of anything. Venice is a “tourist friendly” city. Crime is also very low.

People are happy to give you guidance if you get lost on the little streets, and the pubs and taverns are countless. However, the prices are quite big, especially in the area of San Marco Square and in the adjacent streets.

An interesting thing I noticed is the absolutely chaotic numbering of the houses.

No chance to establish a rule based on numbers, the best solution being the guidelines in Google Maps, which have a fairly high accuracy rate..

Venice is an eminently pedestrian city. It is nice, as one local told us, that in a maximum of 20 minutes you can reach on foot, any place in the city, no matter where you are.

From the multitude of sights that can be visited, as usual, we tell you about the ones that we liked the most, leaving it up to you to discover other facets of this wonderful city.

San Marco Basilica, Campanilla and Doge’s Palace

All these attractions are located in the San Marco Square, which represents the absolute centre of Venice.

This famous market hosts hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

We arrived there at the beginning of June and it was not yet very crowded, but in high season you can hardly find a place to sit and admire the surroundings.

On one side of the square is the San Marco Basilica, with a byzantine architecture, but with many Venetian influences.

Next to it is the Doge’s Palace, which communicates directly with the Basilica.

On the right side, another defining objective of Venice is the bell tower (Campanilla) of San Marco Basilica, a construction of bricks that rises to the height of 98.6 m above the square.

All 3 objectives can be visited.

Up in Campanilla, you arrive with a pretty old lift, of low capacity, so you have to be patient if you want to see Venice from above. The view is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful, so I strongly recommend you to climb.

If you want to visit the Doge’s Palace, I highly recommend a guided tour with “skip the line” tickets.

Without a good local guide, you will miss the most important part of such a visit, namely the historical details whose traces are visible on the walls.

We chose a tour that, in addition to the visit to the Doge’s Palace and the San Marco Basilica, also included a visit of about an hour and a half through Venice (Hidden Venice)

We did not regret spending this money (about Є40 for a person) because we could admire, during 3 hours, everything that Venice has most beautiful, without any rush. We were given radio receivers with disposable headphones where the guide tells everyone all the time about the things he/her is seeing, the history of the places and guides him/her to understand how people lived during the time of the Venetian Republic.

If you arrive at the Doge’s Palace, do not forget to go through the famous Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri), where the convicts used to pass from  Doge’s Palace to prison.

Seen from outside, from the port, the famous bridge looks like this:

Gondola ride on the canals

A visit to Venice would not be complete without a gondola ride on the canals in central Venice. I know it’s a stereotype, but after all, if you are there why not to do it?

The gondolier occupation is one of the most appreciated among the venetians, their number and implicitly the available gondolas, being closely controlled by the town hall. Basically the job is inherited from father to son.

You can choose several options: from group riding (up to 10 persons sharing the boat with other tourists), to an individual ride, which of course is more expensive.

Prices range from Є30-40 if you share the gondola with up to 6 persons and Є150 if you want to be alone with your partner in the gondola. My recommendation is to buy tickets online, where the prices are slightly lower and the departure time from the jetty is fixed. This way you won’t have to stand too long in line to catch a gondola.

No matter how much money you give, the tour does not exceed 25-30 minutes. On the route, if you go in a group of boats, there is an occasional “singer” playing the accordion and humming well-known Italian canzonettas. It is quite a pleasant experience, the echo of the voice resonating pleasantly, especially on the narrow and damp canals.

Murano, Burano and Torcello

I grouped them in the same chapter because probably the best sold small ship trip in the lagoon includes these three objectives.

Of course, each island can be also visited separately, using public ATV transport services in the lagoon.

Honestly, Murano was, for me at least, a disappointment. In fact, the visit is organized exclusively for the purpose of landing tourists directly in the showroom of the Murano factory, where, in the absence of any other attraction, you have to buy something.

First of all, you are rushed on the steps of a small room where they show you, at the highest speed, something that you have certainly also seen in Romania at “Curtea Sticlarilor”, if you have ever been there.

Then quickly you are pushed into the factory shop, where a few sales representatives chatter about the miraculous Murano glass.

This is not a place I would particularly recommend to you. Maybe only if you really want to buy a Murano vase for prices ranging from several hundred to several thousand Euro.

The island of Burano is home to an extremely picturesque fishing village. Each house has a different color, as if the locals had competed to find the brightest color. A legend says that the inhabitants got the idea of painting the houses differently in order for each fisherman to recognize his house more easily when he returned from the sea.

In Burano you will find one of the few inclined towers in Venice. Completed in 1714, it really has a fairly high slope and was stabilized by constructing buildings on the opposite side of the slope. This way the weight of the new buildings balanced the tower which found a “new static” as the locals say.

Torcello is a largely deserted island. Only a few families live there permanently. The only attraction that can be visited here is Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, with its interior mosaics. Otherwise there are only a few shops and two taverns which are not so elegant.

Conclusions and recommendations

Venice is the most beautiful medieval city still inhabited on earth. So go there for the experience and not to check any exhaustive list of goals!

However, choose the right season for the visit! It is best during the May-June period, when it is warm, the number of tourists is not so high and the see tide is low.

In no case do I recommend visiting Venice in the autumn! The tides are high and the streets are usually flooded. In addition, most of the inhabitants leave the city starting from this period.

Search for accommodation in the city. It doesn’t matter much what zone. Everywhere is pretty clean, and you can arrive anywhere within 20 minutes.

Have a nice trip!

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Last modified: 6 February 2021

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