Thursday, August 25, 2016

Venice and Lido Island

Photo: Wikipedia Vladimir Shelialin
Giudecca Island seen from the Campanile
The 100-mile road to Venice took three hours in bumper to bumper traffic due to sheer volume on such a narrow two-lane highway 309, with cars joining the endless line of traffic, returning home from the weekend fishing trip or beach picnic to their villages that dotted the landscape. I felt like we were in rush hour in northern Virginia. Everything was closed, with no possibility to go to any bathroom along the way, not even nature’s secluded woods.

We arrived at dusk at the tronchetto (the ferry) which we boarded for the island of Lido where our hotel was located. I had been under mistaken notion that we were staying in Lido di Jesolo, a summer resort that is actually on mainland, not an island in the middle of the archipelago. I had stayed in Lido di Jesolo on previous trips and I was not impressed with the hotels but the beach was beautiful even during cold spring break explorations. I took a few students to the beach on such a cold mid-March afternoon and we dipped our feet in the cold waters of the Gulf of Venice.

As we were purchasing our ferry tickets, the windshield wipers came on, spraying the agent in the booth who, understandably, was not very happy about it and let us know in vociferous Italian fashion. We had no idea how to turn them off in the rented BMW that did not come with an operator’s manual, and were struggling to do so to the exasperation of the angry Italian who kept cursing at us.

We finally turned it off and bought three-day passes for us and one ferry crossing for the car, for a total of 101 euros, not bad considering that, from then on, we could board any water bus to the many islands around Venice, as many times as we wanted. Such a general ticket must have been a blessing for the locals who often traveled to faraway islands in order to get their groceries and necessities. I struck up a conversation with an elderly Italian lady who was carrying two large grocery bags of food and toilet paper. She told me that life was hard but she would not have any other way.

It was very cold over the water in late April and I could not stop shaking even with a flimsy cashmere sweater. I took pictures in the dark of a couple of cruise ship blazing with lights like a Christmas tree. I was surprised how dark the night line of Venice was. Piazza San Marco and the Campanile were totally dark.  Ambient light was coming from the ferries and from the numerous cruise ships, but not from street lights. Venice was pretty much in muted darkness.

Before we boarded the ferry, everyone lined up in seven or so lanes, very un-Italian like. Traffic was directed by a tronchetto employee. But when we got off, nobody was directing traffic and it was a free for all – all the three lanes of cars on the ferry became a race of who had more guts to push ahead of the person next to them without causing a crash, ending in the water below.

After a 30 minute ferry ride, we made it to the Panorama hotel, facing Piazza San Marco across the bay. Dave had to park in the courtyard, a very narrow, cobble-stoned driveway, surrounded by iron fencing and a gate.  Parking in reverse next to the only other car there required skill and daring. The tall receptionist, Marco, was jovial and pleasant, speaking English well, which he insisted we use because he wanted to practice his American English. He was so tall, he could climb a flight of stairs with two large steps. The room was passable, a three-star hotel pretending to be a four-star hotel. We slept well in spite of everything, that’s how tired we were.

Motoscafi from Lido di Jesolo to San Marco
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2005
This was my 22nd visit to the Serenissima and yet there were still places left to be explored. Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia existed as a state from the late 7th century A.D. until 1797, with a long history of war and conquest, a powerful economic and trading power.

The cupolas of San Marco's
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2005
We woke up to pitch blackness thanks to the wooden shutters opening into a narrow vine-covered terrace. The tiny shower barely accommodated Dave’s wide shoulders and did not drain well, typical Italian plumbing problem. They press and starch anything made of cloth but they don’t use bleach in the bathroom.

Breakfast was in a well-appointed and cozy restaurant with sweet and smiling staff who was glad that I spoke Italian. However, we had to suffer the indignity of listening to four loud Brits bashing the United States, totally overlooking their own problem in the U.K., the takeover of their beloved Londonistan.

All we had to do was cross the street to take a water bus to San Marco’s Square. Around 11 a.m., it was already a zoo everywhere and the lines to the historical sites were extremely long, the Campanile, Palazzo Ducale, the San Marco Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs, the Correr Museum, and the medieval prison. It did not matter to us since we had seen them all numerous times.

San Marco Square under water 2007
Photo: Wikipedia
The large San Marco’s Square is covered with flocks of fat pigeons and generous tourists who love to feed them to the horror of others who are being pooped on. Outdoor restaurants and shops line the square, and souvenir vendors hawking feeding corn, Venetian masks, funny Carnevale hats, fake Murano glass trinkets, Venice t-shirts, calendars, and, the newest addition for the narcissistic tourists who want to make sure the world knows they are there, selfie-sticks. Behind the Clock’s arcades there is even a Murano glass factory which we visited several times.

Piazza San Marco, “the drawing room of Europe,” is dominated by the façade of San Marco’s Basilica. The beautiful arches with marble decorations and Romanesque carvings around the main doorway pale in comparison to the four horses which face the whole piazza as symbols of Venetian power. In 1379, Genoa said that “there could be no peace between the two cities until the horses had been bridled.” The horses were “bridled” by Napoleon after he conquered Venice 400 years later and had them shipped to Paris.

Clock Tower
Photo: Wikipedia
The 1499 Clock Tower to the left of the basilica arches over the Merceria street which eventually leads to Ponte Rialto through narrow and dark streets dotted with tiny but expensive leather shops, jewelry shops, gelatterias, pizzerias, cafes, stationery shops, silks scarves and ties boutiques. To the right of the Clock Tower is the church of San Basso, now closed.

Two bronze figures, a young and an old, allegedly shepherds (wearing sheepskins), representing the passage of time, adorn the top of the clock.  They are known as the “Moors” because of the dark patina of the bronze. The two figures strike the hours on a bell which was cast by Simeone in 1497. The bronze figures are huge – the intention was that they could be seen from far away in the lagoon.

Below is a winged lion of Venice with an open book in front of a blue background with gold stars. When the city surrendered to Napoleon in 1797, the statue of Doge Agostino Barbarigo (1486-1501), who was kneeling before the lion, was removed by the French because it was a symbol of the old regime. Conquerors around the world have removed statues and destroyed historical artifacts in the process of asserting their rule.

Below the winged lion of Venice there is a semi-circular gallery with statues of the Virgin and Child seated, cast in gilt beaten copper. The blue panels on either side show the hour in Roman numerals on the left and minutes, in five-minute intervals, in Arabic numerals on the right.

Twice a year, at Epiphany (6 January) and on Ascension Day (the Thursday 40 days after Easter) the three Magi, led by an angel with a trumpet, emerge from one of the doorways normally taken up by these numbers and pass in procession round the gallery, bowing to the Virgin and child, before disappearing through the other door.” (Archives)

The huge clock face in blue and gold below is engraved with 24 hours in Roman numerals. A golden pointer with the sun moves around the circle. Beneath the sun pointer, within the marble circle, there are signs of the zodiac in gold, originals dating from the 1490s. In the middle of the clock face are the sun and the moon which revolves to show its phases, surrounded by fixed stars. The entire background is blue enamel.

San Marco Basilica and the pigeons
Photo: Wikipedia
On the north side of San Marco’s basilica is Piazzetta dei Leoncini, named after the two marble lions. The Palazzo Patriarcale, the residence of the Patriarch of Venice, is a neo-classical building on the east side, connected to the Basilica.

Early 16th century former homes and offices of the Procurators of St. Mark, high officers of the state during the days of the Venetian Republic, are located above the arcades lining the Piazza. Restaurants and shops are located on the ground level of these buildings such as the famous Café Quadri, patronized by Austrians during their rule in the 19th century, while Venetians favored Café Florian on the opposite side of the Piazza.

At the end of the Piazza is a wing which was built by Napoleon in 1810 and is known as the Napoleonic Wing. There is a ceremonial staircase behind the shops which was meant to lead to the royal palace but it is now the entrance to the Correr Museum with its library, the imperial rooms, the Canova collection, the Correr Library, and the photographic archives.

Café Florian, with its rich red velvet benches and very pricey espresso for expensive and famous tastes, located below the new procurators building, was opened in 1720 by Floriano Francesconi for Venetian patrons who hated the Austrians who were hanging out at Café Quadri, which was opened in 1775 in the old procurators building.

Photo: Wikipedia
Standing freely in the Piazza, the Campanile (bell tower) of St. Marco’s Basilica, has been repaired repeatedly since 1514 and rebuilt in 1912 after it collapsed in 1902. An elevator can take visitors to the top, offering a fantastic 360 degree view of the Venetian lagoon.

Next to the Campanile is Loggetta del Sansovino built in 1537-46 as a lobby for patricians waiting to go into meetings of the Great Council in the Doge’s Palace across the street and by guards when the Great Council was in session.

The Doge’s Palace (the ducal palace) with the Doge’s apartments, courtyard, the old prison (Piombi), the new prison, and the Bridge of Sighs (1614) are located on the same side as San Marco’s Basilica. Between the Doge’s Palace and Loggetta del Sansovino are three flagpoles with bronze bases in high relief decorated by Alessandro Leopardi in 1505.

Ponte dei Sospiri (The Bridge of Sighs)
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2004
The Bridge of Sighs, built in 1614, was a corridor linking the Doge’s Palace to the house of the New Prisons. As the condemned crossed from the Court in the Doge’s Palace to the New Prisons, he took one last look at the Venetian lagoon and Giudecca Island, at freedom, and sighed.

The ground floor of the southern wing was occupied by prison spaces built before the 12th century. More cells were added during the 13th and 14th centuries. Around 1540 the eastern wing was built with dark, damp, and isolated cells called Pozzi (wells).  In 1591 more cells were built in the upper eastern wing, under the lead roof, thus called Piombi. One of the more famous inmates was Giacomo Casanova.

He describes in his biography how he escaped through the roof, re-entered the palace, and exited through the Porta della Carta. There is a carving of Casanova’s portrait and a date on one of the prison’s window sills; it is not clear if he carved it himself or if it was done much later.

Life in these cells was very dark, cold, and damp. Water and food was provided by the citizens of Venice whose benevolence kept them alive.  Old buckets are testimony to the sanitation methods in these granite prison cells. Contents were dumped into the lagoon waters.

Palazzo dei Dogi (Doge's Palace)
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2005
One interesting room in the Doge’s Palace was the Compass Room where justice was served. A large wooden compass in a corner is overseen by the statue of Justice, hiding the entrance to the offices of the Three Heads of the Council of Ten and the State Inquisitors. It was an antechamber where those called in front of the magistrates waited patiently the disposition of their fate. The beautiful ceilings were painted by Veronese and the fireplace was designed by Sansovino. Beyond this room, there are two ways to exit, either pass the Armory and the New Prisons on the other side of the Bridge of Sighs, or go down the Censors’ Staircase to pass into the Council of Justice rooms on the first floor.

Doge's Palace Interior Courtyard
Photo: Ileana Johnson 2005
The magnificent Chamber of the Great Council represents the power of the Venetian Republic. It is the largest room in the Doge’s Palace and one of the largest rooms in Europe (53 m long and 25 m wide). The most important political body in the Venetian Republic, the Council was made up of male members of Venetian patrician families, at least 25 years old, regardless of merit, wealth, or personal status. A fire destroyed this room in 1577 and was restored in 1579-80 by artists such as Veronese, Jacopo, and Tintoretto.

The walls display Venetian history, tumultuous relationships with Popes and the Holy Roman Empire. The ceiling displays the Virtues and Venetian history. Portraits of the first 76 Doges are painted below the ceiling in a frieze. The rest of the Doges’ portraits are found in the Scrutinio Room. Each Doge is depicted holding a scroll which tells about his reign’s most important achievements. One Doge, Marin Faliero, who attempted a coup d’état in 1355, is pictured by a black cloth, a traitor to the Venetian Republic. The largest canvass painting in the world, il Paradiso, the work of Tintoretto and his shop, adorns the wall behind the Doge’s throne.


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