Thursday, 16 July 2015

Arriving in Venice

The last seventeen posts of this blog (starting with the February 2014 post, 'The Birth of the Piave') have related to the trip I made to Veneto in 1998.  
Canal Grande, Venezia  [© P.A.G. 1998] 

Una, my folding bike, and I together travelled the length of the Piave, before arriving in Castelfranco (see the last post).  

On the morning of Sunday 6th September Michele and I set off on our bikes for Castelfranco station, to catch the 9am train for Venice.  Michele parked his machine at the station; I folded up Una and put her in her travel bag as I wasn't returning to Castelfranco.  I needed to leave Venice that evening for Verona, prior to catching a plane home from Milan the next morning.  

At Venice we stored Una, together with my cool bag and other belongings, in a locker at the Santa Lucia railway station.  Venice (Venezia in Italian) is linked by road and rail nowadays to the mainland, though originally it was a defensive retreat built on a group of islands in the lagoon.

Venetian workmen hammering piles into the lagoon bed
[La Via del Fiume, Verona 1993, permission Cierre Edizioni]

Wooden piles were hammered into the silt of the bed of the lagoon which allowed the islands to be joined together, and so support the stone walkways and buildings of the remarkable city that we still see today.

We were joined for a day out in this magical place by another friend, Dario Masiero.  Being the first Sunday in September, it was Regatta Day in Venice, which made it all the more exciting -   and our trip also coincided with the 55th Venice Film Festival.  

The photograph at the top of this post was taken from the Ponte degli Scalzi, which we found by turning left out of the station and following the line of the Canal Grande.  The church on the left in the photo is San Simeone Piccolo, and the large building on the right is the Santa Lucia station.

Venice [Venezia, Carta della Provincia, Litografia Artistica Cartogarfica]

If we compare my touring map (above) with the  map of Venice (below) drawn by John Stockdale in 1800, we can see how little has changed during the passage of two centuries.

Map of Venice as drawn by John Stockdale in 1800

"Ponte degli Scalzi (Venice)" by Didier Descouens

But when I searched Stockdale's map for the Ponte degli Scalzi - which looks for all the world like an ancient stone bridge - I drew a blank.  

It was then that I discovered that the bridge, designed by the famous Italian civil engineer Eugenio Mozzi, wasn't built until 1934! 

Looking down the Canal Grande towards San Geremia [© P.A.G. 1998] 
The picture on the left is taken from the same bridge, but looking in the opposite direction, along the line of the canal leading river traffic into the city centre.

The dome towards the centre of the photo is of the 11th century church of San Geremia (St Jeremiah in English).  

The church is marked as '51' on Stockdale's map (see the enlarged section below).  

The church holds the relics of Santa Lucia (Saint Lucy to English-speakers).  The saint's bones were taken by thieves in 1981but returned later in that same year.  

But why is she interred in a church bearing the name of another saint?  

Because... in 1861 the church of Santa Lucia, which had previously held the relics, was demolished to allow the building of the railway terminal!  

That church is marked as 57 on Stockdale's map.  Yet, although the churches and cathedrals of Venice contain many wonderful treasures, on that beautiful sunny September morning Dario, Michele and I were content just  to stroll the streets of Venice, mingling with the tourists.  

Gondola moored near the Ponte degli Scalzi [© P.A.G. 1998]
A glance over the parapet of the bridge reminded me instantly that in Venice you're never far from a gondola...

The Ponte degli Scalzi leads tourists over the Canal Grande towards the district of Santa Croce, and over smaller bridges spanning lesser canals...

A cooler place in Venice?  [© P.A.G. 1998]
...each one with with more gondolas!  

After so many days frantically researching material for the Door of Perarolo since my arrival in Veneto, I'd decided that this was going to be a day off for me, so I'd left my little tape machine in my bags at the station.

Men - why not get your partner to boat you around Venice? [© P.A.G. 1998]

I became just another tourist for the day, snapping away with my camera at anything that caught my eye.

The narrow waterways offer shade from the heat of the sun for the Venetian boatmen.  

Not that the canals are entirely the domain of the menfolk...
It can be hard to believe that Venice is built on wood piles... [© P.A.G. 1998]  

We strolled through the Santa Croce and San Polo districts towards the Ponte di Rialto, Venice's oldest bridge.  

Ponte di Rialto in 1891 [courtesy Luigi Boatto]
The image above is taken from a very old postcard sent to me by Luigi Boatto, who has sent me so many wonderful images in the past for this blog.  Grazie, Luigi!

On the Ponte di Rialto  [© P.A.G. 1998]
The Ponte di Rialto is a busy place on Regatta Day... [© P.A.G. 1998] 

There has been a bridge here since the 12th century.

The current one is to the design of  Antonio da Ponte, and it has survived since 1591, despite a prophesy by a rival architect that it would collapse within a few years of its construction!

The bridge is built on a single stone arch topped with a row of graceful stone archways.

The arches are populated  nowadays with shops and stalls and... tourists! 

Between the Ponte degli Scalzi and the Ponte di Rialto on the canal lies another of Venice's many treasures - the Ca' d'Oro (in English, the golden house - the name deriving from the guilt decorations that once covered its walls).  The building is marked on my touring map at the top of this post.

The Ca' d'Oro [Courtesy Luigi Boatto]

The Ca' d'Oro was built by the Contarini family, who supplied Venice with eight Doges.  It has a gallery whose walls are lined with painting collected by the last private owner, Baron Giorgio Franchetti, who bequeathed the house and its contents to the Italian nation before his death in 1916.  I'm obliged once more to Luigi Boatto for the image above, taken from a postcard dated 1905 - I didn't have time to photograph the Ca' d'Oro on that trip.

View from the Ponte di Rialto looking down the Canal Grande in the direction of the San Marco district [© P.A.G. 1998] 

We were heading next for the Piazza di San Marco, which is essential viewing for for any tourist visiting Venice.  The San Marco district can be found by following the Canal Grande in the direction shown in the photograph above.  

Boats, houses and hotels along the waterfront of the San Polo district [© P.A.G. 1998] 
Would you fancy a night out in Venice?  A single room in the Hotel Marconi, seen in the centre of the picture above, will cost you around £100-£200 depending on the time in the season.

In the next post we shall visit San Marco and the Lido.  I shall split the visit to Venice over three blog posts, as a single post would be an insult to this majestic city - although a hundred such posts couldn't possibly do Venice justice!

I'd like to express my gratitude to Giancarlo Soravia for his advice relating to this blog, and to Luigi Boatto for the use of his lovely, nostalgic images.  Most appreciated in both cases!

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You can examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide. The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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