Mistery and charm beauty and atmosphere
Venice is the only
city of its kind in the world because of the way it was developed: it was built on over 100 islands in a lagoon
four kilometers from terra firma and two kilometers from the Adriatic Sea. The entire historic center, crisscrossed
by canals connected by hundreds of bridges, is a treasure from the artistic and architectural point of view. It
takes on an exceptional atmosphere during the phenomenon of "high water," when the high tide exceeds
the level of dry land and floods the main streets and piazzas of Venice.
Despite its peculiar characteristics, nobody arrives in Venice and sees the city for the first time. Depicted and
described so often that its image has become part of the European collective consciousness, Venice can initially
create the slightly anticlimactic feeling that everything looks exactly as it should. The water-lapped palaces
along the Canal Grande are just as the brochure photographs made them out to be, Piazza San Marco does indeed look
as perfect as a film set, and the panorama across the water from the Palazzo Ducale is precisely as Canaletto painted
it. The sense of familiarity soon fades, however, as details of the scene begin to catch the attention - an ancient
carving high on a wall, a boat being manoeuvred round an impossible corner, a tiny shop in a dilapidated building,
a waterlogged basement. And the longer one looks, the stranger and more intriguing Venice becomes.
At the fall of the Roman Empire barbarian hordes descended from the north of Europe, bringing
death and destruction. The inhabitants of the Venetian cities, to escape from the ferocity of the Huns and Vandals,
took refuge in the islands of the Adriatic lagoon: thus it was that around 450 AD Venice was born, the "city
of islands," subjected to Byzantine influence and governed by a duke, or Doge, elected by a popular assembly.
Wise use of diplomacy and arms soon led to Venice taking control of the coasts of Istria, Dalmatia and Puglia and
to becoming a true power, increasingly independent of Byzantium. The splendor of what came to be called the "Serenissima"
Republic, however, only began in 1202, when the Doge Enrico Dandolo furnished important help to the knights of
the fourth Crusade in the conquest of Constantinople. From the division of the Byzantine spoils, the Serenissima
gained immense riches, allowing it to expand its own commercial horizons: its ships dominated the Mediterranean
as far as the Middle East and returned to the lagoons laden with precious merchandise not found in Europe.
Venice reached the heights of its power at the beginning of the fifteenth century, after having defeated the Duke
of Milan and having conquered many cities of northeastern Italy, becoming along with Milan and Florence one of
the principal powers of the Italian peninsula. From this time began the slow but inexorable descending spiral of
the Serenissima. From 1415 the Turks conquered the Venetian colonies in the Middle East one by one, while at the
end of the century the Portuguese, circumnavigating the Cape of Good Hope, opened a new route to the Indies, taking
from the Venetians commercial primacy in those areas.
The final blazing military victory was that of Lepanto, in 1571, against the Turkish fleet. Then the descent became
unstoppable. In 1797 Venice lost its independence. It was conquered by Napoleon Bonaparte who successively ceded
it to the Austrians. The Serenissima Republic didn't exist any more. Only seventy years later, in 1866, the Venetian
territories would become part of the emerging Kingdom of Italy.
Gothic and Renaissance are the principal reference points for the artistic development of Venice. The Byzantine
style characterized the first centuries of the city. Marbles and columns arrived from the Middle East at the lagoon
city, where projects for the construction of the first great buildings were directed by masters from the East and
from Ravenna. The Basilica of San Marco - the mausoleum of the city's patron saint - is a masterpiece of Romanesque-Byzantine
style, the center of Venetian life for all times. Today few buildings remain from that period and their locations
demonstrate clearly the early lines of the city’s development: from San Marco to Rialto and, along the borders
of the Grand Canal, from San Zan Degolà to San Polo. Beginning in the second half of the thirteenth century
the Gothic style affirmed itself in Venice, as it did in the rest of Italy's cities. Among its most vivid testimonies
are the Doge’s Palace and the Ca' d'Oro (House of Gold). In the sixteenth century the Renaissance style left a
strong imprint (Rialto Bridge), followed by Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassical. Throughout the city the testimonies
of great Venetian masters are revealed in paintings from the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Every
parish rewards exploration, though - a roll-call of the churches worth visiting would feature over fifty names,
and a list of the important paintings and sculptures they contain would be twice as long. Two of the distinctively
Venetian institutions known as the Scuole retain some of the outstanding examples of Italian Renaissance art -
the Scuola di San Rocco , with its dozens of pictures by Tintoretto, and the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni,
decorated with a gorgeous sequence by Carpaccio.
Although many of the city's treasures remain in the buildings for which they were created, a sizeable
number have been removed to one or other of Venice's museums. The one that should not be missed is the Accademia
, an assembly of Venetian painting that consists of virtually nothing but masterpieces; other prominent collections
include the museum of eighteenth-century art in the Ca' Rezzonico and the Museo Correr, the civic museum of Venice
- but again, a comprehensive list would fill a page.
© 2008 by Appianline