Venice is a city known worldwide for its canals, beauty, churches and its history. The Venetian Empire of the Middle Ages didn’t just include that small island off mainland Italy – at one point, it encompassed a lot of the Eastern Mediterranean and even rivalled the Ottomans. As with Rome, the majesty of the old Empire’s heart is hard to beat. Nowadays, Venice’s main income comes from tourism, a far cry from the trading nation of old.
The most famous St Mark’s campanile, or bell tower, is possibly the city’s most recognisable landmark. It’s actually not as old as you might think – the original tower (randomly) fell down in 1902, and the tower you see today was built in 1912. As with many Italian landmarks that have been destroyed, it was rebuilt exactly as it was before. It’s a very good idea – it means that people can enjoy the place as it once was, but with the benefit of things like electricity and lifts.
Back to Venice, and the view from the top of the campanile is beautiful. It’s literally picture-perfect. With panoramic views all around the city, you can spot the Grand Canal, look down at the Doge’s Palace, or even squint your eyes and see the mainland on the horizon. At under ten Euros, it’s a must do. But make sure you get there either really early to beat the crowds, or later in the evening at 7/8pm so many other tourists have gone home.
This tip applies to the city in general. As well as beating the heat of the day, going earlier or in the evening means many of the people staying on cruise ships, or the mainland, will have gone home. If you look hard enough, you’ll find somewhere good and cheap to stay on the mainland. We stayed in the Hotel Canada, which I would absolutely recommend if you’re looking to go. Another advantage is that you have a good excuse to sleep or read a book, as you can go back any time you want, with minimal hassle!
In St Mark’s square, you’ll find the church/basilica, which apparently contains the remains of the church’s namesake apostle. The story of how the Venetians managed to get these remains is very typical of the old Empire, but to find out what it is you’ll just have to visit! Across the square are lots of old-world cafes, including the famous Café Florian, where live bands sometimes play in the evenings.
Take a stroll a little further towards the Grand Canal and you’ll see the real power hub of the Venetian Empire – the Doge’s palace. The Doge was similar to an Emperor, and he had many different advisors and councillors to help (and sometimes hinder) his rule. Inside the palace are hundreds of grand rooms, one of the biggest rooms in Europe, and if you cross the famous Bridge of Sighs you can enter into the dungeons. This is where prisoners were kept right under the nose of the rulers, but it’s not where important or dangerous prisoners were held.
As with many cities, it’s impossible to squeeze everything about Venice into just 500 words. Join me in the next part of our Venetian adventure, where we discover some of Venice’s smaller islands and revel in the atmosphere in this great city.
Photo credit: Alice Barnes-Brown