March 17, 2022. 59°F/15°C
14,000 steps. 14 bridges crossed. 3 course light lunch. 2 glasses of wine. 2 shots of grappa. 0 shopping. 100% happy.
We took a full day tour today (“Venetian Jewels”) which took us to wonderful places we would never have found on our own with just a single day to explore.
As was the case yesterday, we needed to take both a traditional bus and a water bus to get us into the city, but this time we were headed for the San Marco district.
There really is something quite magical about a city that is built on a petrified forest: the thousands and thousands of wooden poles standing upright in the clay below the lagoon that have been preserved for centuries by the salt water and lack of oxygen until the wood has become as hard as concrete. They’re what holds everything up.
The city itself has been sinking at the fairly constant rate of about 2.5 cm/1 inch per century, with the exception of the 20th century when drilling for fresh water by oil refineries needing it in their processes caused the city to sink 20 inches in just one century. That has stopped; climate change will be the next big concern.
Our guide talked about the way the city is set up. Originally 118 small islands separated by over 150 canals, each needed to have a church and a campo or campanillo (a square, although only St.Mark’s is called by that word). The islands were later connected by bridges (now over 300 of them), and are now organized into 6 districts (“sestiere”, from the Italian word for six). Almost every church has a bell tower (campanile), and almost every bell tower leans, since its weight settles until it has found firm footing in the clay layer below the lagoon mud.
Our guide Daniella commented, “Pisa is famous for ONE leaning tower. It makes Venetians laugh.”
We learned about the 13th century concept of “co-fraternities”, or Scuole, which were groups of non-nobles who met in the name of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a patron saint to worship and offer mutual aid. Since members were middle class, tradesmen and professionals, these co-fraternities gave them economic and social benefits, and a role in a society dominated by noblemen. By the 15th century the Scuole had developed a reputation for providing “welfare” to the poor, diseased, or ostracised people within Venice. Of course, they happily accepted donations, and built beautiful buildings.
At the absolutely magnificent Scuola Grande di San Rocco we toured two floors of massive Tintoretto paintings covering the walls and ceilings: 53 of them in total. The paintings were a donation by Tintoretto in return for a modest annual stipend. The Scuola also houses a Tiepolo, a Giorgione, a Zanchi, a Negri, and a Titian.
Our guided tour of the Scuola amounted to a lesson in sacred art.
Our guide took us to see one of her favourite palaces, with its outer spiral staircase designed to save inner space.
On our way to lunch we crossed the Rialto Bridge and walked through a fish market full of fresh seafood of every kind.
While we didn’t get to tour the interiors of St. Mark’s Basilica or the Doge’s Palace (we’ll try to do that when we’re back in the region in August), we certainly got a sense of the majesty of St. Mark’s Square.
One last bridge picture: Venice’s only covered bridge, the famous Bridge of Sighs, connecting the Doge’s Palace to the Prison.
We leave Venice tonight, heaving a sigh of our own.