If you come to Venice by sea--and any other approach is like entering a palace through the back door--the most prominent of the myriad architectural marvels that greet you is the church of Santa Maria della Salute. As if riding at anchor at the entrance to the Grand Canal, with its balloon-like dome weighed down by great baroque scrolls, this fabulous building dominates the scene even more than the Palazzo Ducale or San Giogio Maggiore. It is the supreme masterpiece of the Venetian Baroque--and of its author Baldassare Longhena, one of the few Venetian architects whose personality is strong enough to glimmer through the mists of history. Contemporaries tell us that he was a short dapper man, always dressed in black, of quiet and gentle manners. He had the embarrassing habit of asking everyone he met their openion of whatever work he then had in hand. But this apparent lack of self-assurance finds no echo in the magnficently extrovert and ebullient buildings he designed, least of all in Santa Maria della Salute.
Overview and HistoryDo you know why you never like to get out of the bathtub? It's because you wish you were in Venice, that's why.Take one hundred and eighteen salt-marsh islands in the northern Adriatic. Combine them with Roman refugees and a liberal stinking of Visigoth invaders. Shake until well-mixed. Season with Crusaders, international silk trading and seamen of naval warfare. Glaze thickly with castrated Baroque sopranos and finish with a garnish of bridges. Serve on boats.Venice is divided into six districts called "Sistieri" in Italian; that word will come in handy when you're floating hither and yon. They are Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro, Santa Croce, San Marco, and Castello.Beyond these, there's Lido and Mestre. Lido is a sandbar to the east of Venice with 20,000 permanent residents and 65 tranzillion summer people. In the beginning of the 12th century, thousands of Crusaders were stuck here in Lido when they could not afford to pay transport rates for Venetian ships! See, location really IS everything.On the west side of the Lagoon is Mestre, which has the airport, the buses, the traffic and basically everything else from modern life that you come to Venice to ignore. To be fair, for centuries now Mestre has borne the brunt of the international shipping traffic coming into Porto Marghera, while "Venice" takes all the credit. Typical older sibling.How did it get here? Venice used its location at the top of the Adriatic to become a massive naval and commercial power. By the end of the thirteenth century, trading among the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim countries to the south had made Venice the wealthiest city in Europe.Venice declined in stature from the 15th century. First they lost a war against the Ottoman Empire and then lost a lot of business when a sea route to India bypassed their port. The Plague came in next and wiped out a third of the citizensBut nevermind that! Venice was the center of the musical universe during Opera season. Composers, musicians and mask makers would prepare all year for the orgy of productions that came to Venice during Carnival.Real quick -- opera was an Italian invention for combining Greek tragedies with music, theater and spectacle. It broke out of private royal courts and became a public event as of 1637, supported by a season of ticket sales before Lent. Hence opera season.Pow, zing, wow and instant popularity. Masks were permitted to be worn in public, European dignitaries arrived from everywhere, and this was THE PLACE to be. I mean, like, imagine Louis XIV getting up on stage to prance while the orchestra freaks out and plays the ritornello a few more times until he wants to sit down again. (Orchestras don't really improvise so well).Ever been to the movies? Thank Venice. In fact, to this day a vestige of the operatic tradition remains -- Lido hosts the Venice Film Festival in September of every year. Hint hint, late summer visit, hint hint.Getting ThereVenice is served by the The Marco Polo Airport. Here's an overview of where the airport is in relation to the city.Now it's time to look at that map and start cheering because you can take a BOAT to and from the airport!! Traffic jams do not exist on boats. Maybe some kind of docking delay once in a while, but who's going to complain about that?Thus Venice is yours for the taking (plus ten Euros to the boat operator).The airport is also connected to the city by buses, which regularly run to railway stations Venice-Santa Lucia and Mestre-Venice.You can buy bus tickets at the local tobacco shop or news stand.TransportationPublic transportation in Venice transcends all other people-moving devices on earth. This is how city life should be, enjoyable and relaxed during every instant of the day or night.Where on earth is the metro a primary reason for visiting? Nowhere. Usually it's the primary reason for LEAVING. Let me wipe the sweat of ugly metro-memories from my brow before we go on to this placid paradise.Buses cross the Lagoon Bridge (Ponte della Liberta) and connect to Piazzale Roma, Venice's bus terminal.Vaporetti are the crowded and cheap water buses that connect the canals of the city to the different islands and the lagoon. The Grand Canal is the main thoroughfare in Venice.The Number One vaporetto goes up and down the Grand Canal, making stops in all six Sestieri.Rialto Bridge is one of the three bridges that cross the Grand Canal - the others two are the Accademia Bridge and the Scalzi Bridge. It is dated 1591, a masterpiece of Antonio Da Ponte, after a long story of failures, disappointments, and falling wooden bridges... Calatrava Bridge will be the fourth one.It costs 6.5 Euro for a one hour ticket, so if you're planning to move around a bit it's probably better to get a travelcard. Ride unlimited distance for 12 hours and only pay 14Euros unless you're a dolphin.People and CultureVenice has a rich history and it's all slowly sinking into the sea. By pumping water for industrial uses, Venetians unintentionally removed some of the city's geological foundation. Soft mud, islands and tides did the rest.There are a few plans to remedy this problem, including floating pontoons, pumping water back into the soil around the lagoon, or "moving upstairs."Let's see a few details waiting to be found in Venice.Liuteria Veneziana, creates and repairs violins, guitars and the like.St. Giacometto one of the oldest churches in Venice.Floating fruit market at Ponte dei Pugni Rialto Side "narrow road means good food."Night in Venice is for lovers. Look at that sky!Things to do & RecommendationsVenice has restaurant night life but not disco and club night life. Young people go over to the mainland for that.Requirement: as always, get up as high as you can and have a look around. In Venice, you'll want to go up the San Marco tower.Text by Steve Smith.