VENICE FOR BEGINNERS: THE CITY
A PRIVATE TOUR
Clock Tower in Venice, Italy
2016 note 4 299
Campo San Giovanni e Paolo, Venice.
VENICE FOR BEGINNERS:
A PRIVATE TOUR
Highlights of this tour:
St. Mark’s Square with description of all main sites and historical intro
St. Mark’s Basilica – interior visit – with priority entrance
Back streets walk including Santa Maria Formosa ,
San Giovanni e Paolo areas (in the Castello district)
Rialto Bridge and surroundings
If you’re a first time visitor to Venice, the best approach is an introductory tour.
Our excursion begins with a selection of the “must-sees,” including St. Mark’s Square, the former political centre of the Venetian Republic.
The Square contains many famous buildings: the Doges’ Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the Marciana Library, the Bell Tower, the Clock Tower, and more.
Using our priority access line when available, we’ll enter St. Mark’s Basilica, a 900 year-old marvel of architecture.
The Church is unique in Italy for its golden Byzantine and Medieval mosaics, its intricate stone and marble traceries and exuberant Middle Eastern domes.
After our visit to St. Mark’s, staying away from the crowds, we’ll walk through the backstreets and the squares to explore the city’s layout: you’ll be cocooned by the silence and intimacy that only a car-free city built to human scale can provide.
You will learn to get oriented in this maze-like city, how it feels to live in a place like this, and how today’s administrators deal with the maintenance of their huge and fragile heritage.
We’ll end our visit in the busy neighborhood of Rialto, once the trade centre of Venice.
We’ll cross the famous Bridge, the oldest over the Grand Canal, and explore the bustling surroundings of the best fresh produce market in the city.
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Embraced by the waters of its meandering canals, mirrored in a kaleidoscope of reflections, the palaces, houses, and churches of Venice are everpresent witnesses to the once-powerful town’s uniqueness, which continues to haunt the collective imagination of the entire world.
Venice is located in Northeast Italy, set in the middle of a 212 square miles salt lagoon adjacent to the Adriatic Sea.
The city’s foundation was laid on several flat mud islands by refugees fleeing the barbarian invasions approximately 1300 years ago.
Altough still officially under the rule of the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire), Venice, at the time still called Rialto, very soon enjoyed a
considerable political independence from Constantinople, with the right of electing its own rulers since the 8th century.
The Venetians based their economy on boat and ship building, on salt trade and in general on import and export of goods.
Defended by the shallow and perilous waters of its Lagoon, they never felt the necessity of building walls around their city.
As a liquid wall, the Lagoon was to protect it for more than 900 years!
The form of government that went consolidating during the early centuries was that of Republic.
Venice, Genoa, Pisa and Amalfi are known in history books as the four Maritime Republica, frequently at war one against the other for the control on major Mediterranean commercial routes.
The ruler was named ‘doge’ (from Latin ‘dux’, as to say ‘the Leader’, and was elected by a large assembly formed exclusively by men.
By the late 13th century the right of sitting in this assembly was restricted only to some 200 wealthy families that self proclaimed “noble”; at the same time the doge’s powers were gradually restricted.
He slowly became a figure head, while the actual power was more and more handed over to a series of minor councils (the Senate, the Collegio, the Quarantie and many others) with the intent of preventing any possible attempt to transform the Republic into a Signoria, as it happened in most parts of the Italian peninsula, where one family managed to obtain the absolute power.
A series of rules were settled to prevent any single individual from acquiring excessive personal power or profiting by his political position to become richer.
Venice greatly developed during the Middle Ages and reached its peak as a maritime commercial hub between the 1200 and 1400s.
The period of maximum expansion starts in 1204 when Venice managed to exploit the organisaion of 4th Crusade to acquire strategic territories overseas.
Venice went through some deep crises in the 14th century because of the Black Death and the difficult War of Chioggia against its archrival Genoa.
After recovery, at the beginning of the 15th century the Serenissima Republic engaged a series of military campaigns to conquer large territories in Northeastern Italy: Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Brescia, Bergamo to mention the most important towns, thet were to remain under Venetian rule until 1797.
By this time the symbol of Venice, St Mark’s winged lion, is often represented with two pawns on land and two on water, as Venice owned both a sea and a land empire !
The decline of the glorious Republic was mostly due to the new geographic discoveries of the late 15h century.
Vasco de Gama found out you could circumnavigate Africa to reach India, and the consequence was that by the 1520es Venice began to loose the monopoly over spice trade.
Also, the Ottoman expansion in the Mediterranean, that followed the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 was to create huge problems to Venice’s maritime economy.
During the course of the 16th century a great impulse was given to deluxe manifacturing (textiles, glass, books, perfumes, leather goods) and to the agricultural development of the recently conquered land dominions.
The city was one of the most populated European towns until the 1600s, with almost 180,000 residents in 1561.
Today’s Venice (2017) has only 55,000 inhabitants , but it is estimated that in 2016 the number of visitors was about 25 million!
By the 17th century the economical situation started to get worse. The plague in 1630-1631 was terrible, and the war of Crete against the Turks tremendously expensive.
However many magnificent palaces and churches were built in 17th and 18th century Venice, and most of them can be still admired to day next to the older Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance architectures.
The fanciest ‘street’, the Grand Canal boasts a huge number of private residences dating from the 13th to the 18th century, nowadays a good part of them are elegant hotels.
By the mid-17th century Venice became one of the unmissable stops of the Grand Tour, visited every year by several thousands wealthy Europeans, attracted by its already legendary beauty, its theaters, casinos, music halls, and by the relative tolerance of its governors.
The Carnival grew longer and longer and tourism was already a major source of income for the once glorious maritime Republic!
Notwithstanding the evident decadence it was still a stable, well-ruled, aristocratic Republic when, in 1797, it was conquered by Napoleon, who proved to be a veritable disaster for Venice’s enormous artistic patrimony.
After 1815 it was definitely acquired by the Austro Hungarian Empire.
The Habsburg made a great deal of innovations, the most important being the construction of a train causeway connecting it for the first time to the mainland.
After an upheaval against the Austrians in 1848 the independence was proclaimed again, but soon the city had to surrender.
It was finally annexed by Italy in 1866. Venice was little touched by bombardments during World War I and almost not damaged during World War II. You can still admire good part of its unique architectures, its canals and bridges as they were built centuries ago.
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