Venice: A city by the sea

Venice was a long time dream as I grew up watching Venice in 007 movies besides reading ‘Merchants of Venice’ and yes Rialto cinema in Rawalpindi always intrigued me with its name. So here I was dropping of from a bus after a three hours journey from Slovenia. Though I always knew of Venice, its canals and water taxis, what I didn’t know was that central Venice or San Marcos precinct is completely water locked and so no cars can get to even the fringes of central Venice. Even if you arrive by train, you need to take a water bus or taxi to reach central Venice. Soon I found myself boarding a water bus to Venice, the water bus was slow as compared to faster and expensive water taxis but it lets you absorb Venetian culture and heritage in a more substantial way.

Venice is a centuries old trading port on the Mediterranean and one of the main cities of Italy. It was originally built in a lagoon by the locals constructing their homes and shops on wooden planks. Slowly these houses and shops coalesced to form bigger mansions separated by small canals which are essentially used as normal streets except with boats or gondolas in place of cars and taxis.

Venetians were smart people and they controlled the trade from Western Europe to the east and over time became quite rich. They were the cunning observers in the crusades in medieval times avoiding conflict at home while funding the crusaders to attack Byzantine Christian empire for pure economic reasons. The 13th century fourth crusade was unique in the sense that it was fought by Christians against Christians and brought down the Byzantine Empire with the plunders from Constantinople finding its way to Venice. One of the mementos was 4th century Triumphal Quadriga, a set of four bronze or copper horses sculpture which was then set up in front balcony of Saint Mark’s basilica. The bronze horses guarded the Basilica for centuries before looted by Napoleon in 1797 however Venice got them back in 1815. Wary of another loot, Venetians put replicas outside the cathedral and took the originals inside the cathedral.

San Marcos square is the central square of Venice and gets its name from the grand Saint Mark’s cathedral and tower. The cathedral was built in 11th century and was originally part of the same era Doge’s palace, the seat of Doge or ruler of Venice. In front of the cathedral is this expansive square with handicraft shops and cafes.  The historic 1720 Caffe Florian is right in the square offering coffee for almost three centuries in ornate tea sets and plush antique furniture. The U- shaped central Venice is spread like a maze of narrow streets and canals with typical bridges connecting churches, shops and courtyards spread all over. A typical city tour takes you on an elegant gondola ride through these narrow canals and one is amazed by the navigating skills of the boatmen. Now these boatmen look like coming straight out of Hollywood movies wearing their Ray bans and flaunting chiseled bodies.  If you can cough some more money, you can actually have a personal orchestra singing for you in your chartered gondola. These gondolas are very tastefully decorated with golden railings and velvet sofas and a trip to Venice is not complete without a gondola ride.

There are several bridges that connect San Marcos to other precincts of Venice over the Grand Canal however the most legendary of these is Rialto Bridge. Rialto Bridge connects San Marcos with San Polo precinct. Rialto Bridge has been featured in many Hollywood movies like ‘From Russia with love’ or ‘The Tourist’. You can actually visualize James Bond speeding up a water taxi through the canals being chased by gangsters. Both Roger Moore and Daniel Craig have played 007 here in Moon Raker or Casino Royale however if you are a Julia Roberts fan, then you would be happy to know that ‘Everyone say I love you’ was also filmed close to Saint Mark’s cathedral. It is always nice to stand on the Rialto Bridge and watch the lights of Venice as the sun goes down. Just next to Rialto Bridge are the famous fish market and the San Giacomo church with some nice antique musical instruments.

Venice is known for its masks shops, ice cream and coffee joints and gondola rides. The best time to visit is of course summers as the winters can be quite cold. However winters also provide the luxury of less crowds, more serenity and romance. As someone said, ‘Nothing ever seems straight forward in Venice, least of all its romances’.

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