Sightseeing Tours of Venice walking and boat

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Gondolas

Venice - Rialto Bridge - view

If there is one thing which clearly represents Venice, it is the gondola. This famous boat was originally a common means of transportation for all Venetians, whether they were rich or poor. That said, those who did not row their own gondola themselves had someone else to do it: the “gondolier”, who was essentially a personal driver. Each gondolier was dressed according to the colors of the family he was working for.

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The first mention of the name “Gondola” is dated from the 11th century. The boat’s name changed as the years passed; it was not until the 15th century that the term “gondola” was fully adopted. By the 16th century, there were no less than 10 000 gondolas navigating the canals of Venice. At first, gondolas were flatter and required two drivers but in the 19th century, they became asymmetrical in order to improve their navigation: both bow and stern were raised and the center of gravity was shifted to the right. The gondolier would then push from the left, which allows the gondola some measure of balance in order to go straight.

Composed of nearly 300 pieces from eight different types of wood, gondolas measure around 11 meters long and are only 1.38 in width at their largest point. These flat-bottom boats have on the bow a special piece made of metal named “fero de prova” (in Venetian) or “ferro di prua” in Italian. It represents many signs of the city: first, the hat of a doge, then the reversed S of the Grand Canal and third, the different islands of Venice that make up its six sestieri (districts): Canareggio Santa Croce, San Polo, Castello, San Marco, Dorsoduro and Island of Giudeca.

In the past, the gondolas were painted with beautiful colors and ornamented with precious stones. Noble families would compete with each other to have the most beautiful gondola in the city. This phenomenon became so big that in the 17th century, the Doge published a decree saying that all gondolas had to be completely black and undecorated. That is why today we can admire all these wonderful black gondolas. There are roughly 500 gondolas navigating the waters nowadays, most of which are in the business of taking tourists through the canals to explore Venice.

Rialto Bridge

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Venice - Rialto Bridge - detailVenice - Rialto Bridge - viewVenice - Rialto Bridge - view from the water

The Rialto district was one of the first areas of Venice where people settled. It developed quickly and became an important economic center in the city. Banks, shops and vendor stalls congregated here while merchants from all over the world came to trade charcoal, wines, seeds, jewels and many other things. This richness of activity convinced the government of the Republic of Venice to connect the business district to the political district, leading to the inception of the Rialto Bridge.

The very first Rialto Bridge was made of boats moored to each other. This system lasted until the 13th century as it was not very convenient; if the boats needed to move, it was a tedious process to remove the planks that connected one boat to the other. An actual wooden bridge was built but the wood quickly decomposed and the bridge collapsed. Many other wooden bridges were built over time with the same result –or worse, they were destroyed by fire. Unfortunately, at that time the construction of wooden bridges was easier and cheaper than the alternative.

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It was not until the 16th century that Venetians finally decided to build the bridge out of stone. Many famous architects such as Palladio, Sansovino and Michelangelo offered their designs for a new bridge with several arches. In the end it was the proposal of Antonio Da Ponte, with only one arch, that was chosen in 1588.

For a long time, the Rialto Bridge was the only bridge on the Grand Canal, however now there are four. The Ponte dell’Accademia and the Ponte Degli Scalzi were both built during the 19th century while the last bridge, the Constitution Bridge, is very recent –it was inaugurated in just 2008!

Very often criticized in its day, the Rialto Bridge has survived floods and thousand of tourists and Venetians alike crossing it every day. Today, the Rialto Bridge is one of the emblems of the city; it can be seen on nearly all advertisement for Venice and is often used to illustrate anything related to the city of Venice.

Bridge of Sighs

Venice - Bridge of Sighs - view
Venice - Bridge of Sighs - day view

Il Ponte dei Sospiri (“the Bridge of Sighs”) is one of the smallest and most famous bridges in the world, its mere 11 meters linking the courthouse to the jail. The bridge gets its name from the prisoners who were going to the courthouse or coming back to the jail –although prisoners were often convicted to death and would yell more than sigh. Stretching over the canal called Rio de Palazzo, it was built in 1600 out of white limestone.

The bridge is composed of two different corridors, one for prisoners coming to the courthouse and the second for those returning to jail. The corridors were convenient since they made it possible to move two different prisoners at the same time without allowing them to talk to each other. The bridge is completely closed so as to prevent the prisoners from jumping into the canal and escaping. At the same time, it prevented people from seeing prisoners being brought into the courthouse.

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As the years passed, the Bridge became one of the main attractions in Venice. It is now considered as a romantic bridge that people, particularly lovers, come to photographs. One of the ideas about why the bridge became a romantic place to see comes from a poem of Lord Byron in which he mentioned it. The poem is a song which comes from Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage and is named Canto the Fourth. It starts as following: “I stood in Venice, on the “Bridge of Sighs;” A Palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise”.

Doge’s Palace

Venice - Bridge of Sighs - view
Venice - Doges Palace - side viewVenice - Doges Palace  - view from the lagoonVenice - Bridge of Sighs - day view

A long time ago, Venetians built a castle to house their government and all their leaders in a single place. The first Doge’s Palace was a medieval castle composed of the Doge’s apartments, the government of the Republic of Venice, the courthouse and a jail. As time passed, the castle became too small for the government and finally it was destroyed by a fire. The Palace was rebuilt in pink marble between the 4th and 5th centuries, though it was made more spacious so as to contain a room for the Great Council. Over the years, several other fires partially destroyed the palace and many renovations and extensions were made, giving it the aspect it has today.

The Doge’s Palace has a very particular and fascinating structure, in that it was built differently from the other buildings in Venice: instead of having a strong base, its architects decided to put a first level made of galleries and thin arcades. Shockingly, the whole building stands on this elegant first level.

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The interiors of the Doge’s Palace were decorated by several famous Renaissance artists such as Veronese, Tintoretto and Titian. Tintoretto is the creator of “The Paradise” in the Great Council room. This giant canvas is considered one of the biggest masterpieces in the world, reaching nearly 25 meters in length.

Due to its location, each of the four sides of the Palace faces an interesting part of Venice. One side faces Saint Mark’s Square and where the courthouse once stood while another faces the lagoon and the Grand Canal. The view that the latter side offers was reserved for the government. The third side faces the canal called Rio de la Canonica, where the Bridge of Sighs can be admired.  This side is where the Doge had his apartments. The last side shares a wall in common with Saint Mark’s Basilica.

For several centuries, the Doge’s Palace was the only building in Venice allowed to be called “Palace”. The others palaces had to name themselves Ca’ which was the short form for “casa”, meaning “house” in Italian.

St Mark Square

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The Piazza San Marco is one of the most famous squares in the world. The elegant space has been used for the political, religious and commercial life of Venice for hundreds of years.

The square is composed of several buildings with different types of architecture, all of them boasting a rich past. First is the Basilica of Saint Mark, built in the Byzantine style in 828 to contain the mummy of Saint Mark. This basilica is a good example of the connections that existed between Venice and Constantinople. Next to the basilica is Saint Mark’s Campanile, one of the most symbolic monuments of Venice, its recognizable shape visible from quite a distance away. This huge tower of 96 meters collapsed in 1902 but was rebuilt exactly as it was. It is possible to reach its summit and enjoy a breathtaking view over the Piazza San Marco and the rest of Venice.

Near the entrance of the campanile is the Logetta, made by Sansovini in 1540. It was first a meeting room for the Venetian aristocracy then later became a room for the guards of the Doges’ Palace. The clock tower is an interesting early Renaissance building worth admiring while exploring the square.

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The Palazzo Ducale, facing both the piazzetta and the water, is a symbol of the power the Republic of Venice once held. It was the political center of the Doge as well as his living quarters. Interestingly, the Doge’s Palace is full of secret passages which allowed people to go between several bedrooms and offices.

The columns of San Marco and San Todaro on the quay frame the main entrance into the square for people coming from the sea. The two columns of granite were brought from Constantinople in 1172. The column of San Todaro honors the homonym figure, who was the first patron saint of Venice before the body of Saint Mark was stolen from Egypt by two Venetian merchants and brought to the city in the 9th century. These columns were once the place where people were executed; to this day, some Venetians refuse to walk between the two columns as they believe it would bring bad luck

Venice

Venice - Rialto Bridge - view
Venice - St Mark Square  -  piazzaVenice - Doges Palace - side viewVenice - Doges Palace  - view from the lagoonVenice - Canal Grande - viewVenice - Rialto Bridge - view from the waterVenice - Bridge of Sighs - viewVenice - Rialto Bridge - ponteVenice - Rialto Bridge - viewGrand Canal at night, Venice

Venice, sometimes referred to as the “Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia”, has always been a fascinating city. In fact, it is considered one of the most fabulous cities in the world, looking like no other with its canals and colored palaces built on the water. Its carnival in February is, of course, something not to be missed: each year the city maintains this traditional carnival that originates from the Middle Ages and during which people compete with the most beautiful of costumes and masks.

The original population came to Venice in the early 5th century in order to escape from the invading barbarians. Many refugees escaped the mainland and increased the preexisting population of fishermen, turning Venice into a thriving trade city. During the decline of the Roman Empire, Venice became the property of Byzantium. The first person to uphold the traditional role of Doge was Paolo Lucio Anafesto, nominated in 697, but he was considered more of a Byzantine official. It was not until 727 that a real Doge, Orso Ipato, was elected. The decline of Venice started during the Renaissance period when the rival city of Genoa became more powerful thanks to the discovery of the North America. In 1797, the territories of Venice were shared between Austria and France then in 1866, Venice joined the Italian Unification, leading it to where it is now.

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Venice is composed of six different districts: Cannaregio, San Marco, Castello, Santa Croce, Dorsoduro and San Polo. The city is built on more than 100 hundred islets made of mud, with more than 400 bridges to allow people a cross the different canals that run through the city. The three most famous Venetian bridges are: the Accademia Bridge, the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs.

Nowadays, Venice attracts thousands of tourists each year and organizes many events and festivals such as the International Architecture Exhibition between June and September, the Carnival of Venice in February, or the International Venice Film Festival in September. Unfortunately, the fate of this legendary city is in great question: many plans have been made to save it from the rising waters and pollution but its future is still uncertain.