Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Venice - unbelievable!

On the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy lies a large saltwater lagoon formed out of marshlands. About 2 miles off the mainland is a series of small islands, 122 of which are linked by 400 bridges to make up the city of Venice. But, you ask, if these are marshlands, how come there are large masonry structures all over the place - St Marks Bell Tower for example, a brick structure more than 300 feet high - and these don't sink into the bog? The basic answer is, they are supported on pilings. The phenomenal facts are that the entire city is built on millions of wooden pilings, pounded deep into the layers of clay and sand and, more remarkably, that the majority of them have been there for more than 1,000 years! The "sticks" were harvested from places as far away as modern day Slovenia and Croatia and, after being hammered into the bog, regular masonry buildings were constructed right on top.
Venice has been slowly subsiding for centuries but, following the drilling of numerous water wells in the 20th century, the sinking
feeling is believed to have greatly accelerated. Currently, St Marks square is flooded, on average, about once a month and in many residences with canal portals, the inhabitants have had to abandon the ground floor and move their lives upstairs. Fortunately, dry land was the order of the day for our visit.
There is no way to do justice to Venice in a brief blog entry - we walked more than 10 miles around the various districts and, between us, took about 500 pictures and believe we did a pretty skimpy job at that. Following are some snapshots attempting to provide a flavor of the place but, the logistics of providing service and supplies to the 60 plus thousand inhabitants and as many again tourists with no motor vehicles or roads, have to be seen to be believed.

Getting there
Wacky campers at the Fusina Camp Site
What the campers could see -
Venice, two miles out in the lagoon

The campsite from the ferryVenice infrastructure on the mainland at Padua

Leaving Venice on the ferry

The main attraction - St Marks Basilica
St Marks Square - the one that goes underwaterSt Marks Basilica and Bell TowerThe Bell Tower Base. The bell tower itself, is any-number-
you-like-up-to-1200 years old, depending on how connected
with reality you are. Built originally in the 10th century, it
was also used as a military lookout. Badly damaged by
an earthquake in 1500 CE, it was hugely refurbished and
subsequently put back into service a few years later.
On July 14, 1902, it suddenly collapsed into a heap of rubble
shortly after it had been repaired. Rebuilt from scratch
as a "replica" of the original, the brand new bell tower
opened in 1912, complete with an electric elevator!
And a detail from same
The Basilica - quite exotic lookingThe next pictures are details of the Basilica
facade - pretty outrageous stuff

The clock tower to the left of the Basilica
Animated bell ringersThe Guardian Lion
The strangely modern clock
There are also canals in Venice...
With about 150 canals and more than 400 bridges,
there's no escaping a few snapshots of same.
The first few pictures are of the Grand Canal -
the Super Aquatic Highway through town -
crossed by five large, but traffic free bridges
The large houses lining the Grand Canal are mainly "palaces"
and usually have another entrace on a pedestrian street

More palaces...
A busy morning for traffic
There are "canal" signs, just like regular
road signs, to control the traffic flow

Minor canals
The rest of the canals are interconnected with the Grand Canal
as well as the surrounding lagoon and are much narrower
Residential Parking
Commercial parking and Water Taxis
One of the 400 plus bridges
What's not to like?
Pedestrian walkways are secondary to the
canals which are usually fairly straight

Walkways may end abruptly at a canal
and make a 90 degree turn

"Trucks" in a commercial area
My porter on the bridge
Yes, they even have narrow "streets"
Another boring bridge...
Cool, no bridge in sight!

Infrastructure, Transportation, etc.
A delivery truckGarbage collection
The mail man
Restaurant produce delivery
Rush hour on Grand Canal
A waterfront market - tourist fare only
Geraniums were still in vogue

What would Venice be with Gondolas?
Preparing for another day of piracyA gondola trip was going for 120 Euros - nearly
$200.00 - for forty minutes. We declined

Supply outstripped demand at this location
Romantic, isn't it?
A Gondola jam?
These things are 37 feet long, 4 feet six inches
wide and weigh nearly 1400#. The assymetry
is by design and counterbalances the
gondolier at the rear. The oarlock is made
from walnut tree root and there seems
to be quite a bit of "eye of newt and
toe of frog" in their manufacture

The Ferro, at the bow, is also endowed with
mystical meanings but actually serves as a
counterweight to the gondolier to stop the
bow from pointing skyward
Apparently, Venetian law requires that
gondoliers are born in Venice

Other buildings and features
The Doge's Palace. Right next to St Mark's
Basilica, this is where the big cheese lived

This curious carving of Adam and Eve
adorns one corner of the palace...

...while this carving, "The Drunken
Noah", graces an adjacent corner
The back of the building is connected, to what
was the prison, by the famous Bridge of Sighs,
so called since many of those crossing it were
bound for incarceration, sodomy, decapitation
or all three, and were wont to sigh a lot
Some more palace thingies
Historical Palace on the Grand Canal
Not strictly Venice, this is the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore
complex on the island of San Giorgio just to the south

Also not really Venice, this is Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore
(Church of the Most Holy Redeemer)
on the island of Giudecca
Off the beaten track there are some tired old places
More genteel decay - The Metropole Hotel on the waterfront
Scuola Grande di San Marco, this actual version built
in the 15th century. Naughty Napolean shut down
the religious and cultural schools when he bagged
Venice in 1797 and this building has operated
as a hospital since that time

Details of Scuola facadeMore detail - isn't this a yawn?Campo Santo Stefano - St Stefano Square

Churches, Churches, Churches
There are numerous churches scattered around
Venice with a staggering array of architecture.
Some of them are shown here

Santi Giovanni e Paolo facade
Santi Giovanni e Paolo, exposed sideSanti Giovanni e Paolo detail
Santi Giovanni e Paolo detail
Santi Giovanni e Paolo detail
Santa Maria di Nazareth
Santa Maria di Nazareth detail
Santa Fosca
Santa Maddalena
Santa Maria dei Miracoli
San Giovanni in Bragora
San Lorenzo - another entire section of town about
to be renovated by the look of things
San Salvador
San ZaccariaSan Zaccaria interior
Basilica Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
Santa Maria Gloriosa
Santa Maria Gloriosa detail
Madonna dell'Orto
Madonna dell'Orto detail
Madonna dell'Orto detail
Basilica di Madonna della Salute -
undergoing substantial repairs
Madonna della Salute detail

Seen about town...
Beggars are not an uncommon site in the large cities
This guy worked hard for his coin - we
passed by at 9:00 am to "I did it my way"
and at 5 pm when we walked back he
was playing "I did it my way"

Every city had its complement of mimesNot too sure who these are supposed to be however...
A Venetian copMy senior sherpa - and I mean senior!
Thought this bell push was cute
Taking five...That work ethic shining through again!

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