Friday, 19 January 2007

Venice Sightseeing

Venice is a quite a sight to behold, built around 1,500 years ago on a series of mudflats in the middle of a quiet lagoon; it is one of the most visually stunning cities in the world. Lord Byron referred to it as a “fairy city of the heart”. And in a place that contains so much art and history and where there are so many grand buildings and palaces he may just be right.

In Venice the roads are actually waterways and everything from the “lovers ponderous gondola” to high speed ambulances are afloat.

These islands in the middle of the Po river delta were probably first settled by the peoples of the Vento plains around the 6th century AD. They originally made a living by trading with the merchants and helping with fishing boats who used to frequent the waters. From these humble beginnings rose a great city that grew to be a major power, both economically and politically to rival many much bigger centers in the western world.

Venice became a city-state and international power in its own right after the 4th crusade when the troops succeeded in capturing the previously hugely powerful Constantinople. After this, the city wielded a huge influence across both the west and parts of east Europe and the Mediterranean, where it acquired territories in the Greek isles and Turkey.

Venice today is a very different place. Although still busy, sometimes to the point of distraction, it is now tourists rather than artists, politicians and merchants who crowd the squares and palaces of this ancient and beautiful city. And the main sound is of a thousand cameras clicking as they take pictures of some of the most fascinating cityscapes anywhere in the world.

The city these days is easily accessible by road, rail and air and is one of the busiest tourist destinations in Europe. But don't let this put you off. It is a sight not to be missed. And there are still quiet corners to be discovered and areas of calm in the middle of this frantic city. You can also avoid the main crowds by going in spring or fall when it is much quieter.

Venice Sightseeing:

· Ponte di Rialto: Originally built in the 16th century, this is the main, and possibly the most picturesque bridge across the main canal (the Canal Grande). There are also many shops on the bridge mostly selling tourist souvenirs. A good place to stand and watch the people and water taxis going by and a great place to take a photo.

· St Marks Square: Probably one of the best known landmarks in Venice. A large square, it is surrounded by beautiful buildings including the Doges Palace. There are many cafes and pizza places, some of which are quite good, all of which are a little highly priced though. But it may be worth it, if you can get a pavement table.

· Basilica di San Marco: A wonderful place to get a good overall view of Venice. It is a replica of the original that was built in the 15th century and the place where Galileo first showed off his telescope. There is a lift to the top. Go in the morning or evening as it can get a little crowed.

· Collezione Peggy Guggenheim: The gallery is owned and run by the Guggenheim Foundation and is a wonderful collection of work by some very well known artists. It contains the best assembly of early 20th century work in Italy including, Picasso, Kandinsky, and Pollock.

· Venice Film Festival: The home of one of the top film festivals in the world and also the oldest surviving film festival in the world. Usually staged around the end of August and the beginning of September it is a great place for star spotting, if you can get past the paparazzi.

· Museo Correr: A beautiful museum dedicated to art and the history of Venice. Principally based on the collection of Teodoro Correr it now contains a large and varied collection. The neo-classical rooms have sculptures by Antonio Canova. The museum is at the western corner of St.Mark’s Square.

· Chiesa di S. Stefano: hermits reputedly built this lovely little church in the 13th century. There is a beautiful bell tower and a painting by the artist Tintoretto. The church still holds regular services every Saturday and Sunday.

Although a beautiful city, Venice can be very crowded in the high season. If you can go in spring or fall then so much the better. In a town so tourist focused, language is never really going to be a barrier. There will always be someone who can help.

The food is generally pricey, but is of a high standard. Even near the main attractions the food is good, though you will pay a premium. It is possible, as in any city, to find the back street cafes, where the locals eat. But you may have to look a little harder than in other cities. The ice cream has to be tasted to be believed; well it is Italy after all!

Although it is busy, the locals are generally friendly, used as they are to dealing with holidaymakers (the tourists themselves can be another matter!). And you should have no trouble in finding your way around the city. The vapporetto’s, or waterbuses can be useful and a good way to see the city from another angle, but can also get crowded.

There is a great deal to see and do in Venice, and it is definitely a great place to go. Whether as part of a full European tour, or a holiday in its own right will be a vacation to remember.

Find out more about Venice Sightseeing

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