The Venice Trilogy – I: The Grand Canal

Venice needs no introduction. If it did, the Grand Canal would have been the logical introduction par excellence to the Serenissima Repubblica. The 4 km long Canal is the world’s most impressive ‘water promenade’, lined on both sides with a mosaic of facades showing Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance and neoclassical inspirations, a wealth of styles matched only by the wealth of the maritime republic during its golden age, and a diversity reminiscent of Venice’s cosmopolitan past and the ‘reach’ of its trading activities. The whole city is one big postcard, a sequence of Canaletto landscapes.

A vaporetto (water bus) is the most practical way to admire the luxuries that Venice has to offer. I don’t think any means of public transportation in the whole world could offer a comparable spectacle. Among the most impressive buildings along the Canal are three XV century gothic palaces, all the work of Bartolomeo Bon. First there is Ca’d’Or with its filigree façade, dominated by quatrefoil windows and ogival arches typical of the Venetian Gothic style. Then comes the Palazzo Giustinian and, next to it, the Ca’Foscari, which once housed Henry III of France.

Palazzo Labio is another palace that -unlike the others, was not built directly on the Canal. The original owners were Catalan merchants that paid part of Venice’s debts and were allowed the privilege of building on the Canal. Two ‘fondacos’ (similar to some extent to caravanserai, with the triple function of warehouse, market and residence for merchants) stand as vivid reminder of how the daily life of Venice revolved around commerce. The first is the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, where German, Hungarian and Austrian merchants had their base, and the second, Fondaco de Turchi, was once the center of the city’s Turkish community.

Other marvels along the Canal include the Sagredo Palace, Palazzo Cavalli Franchetti, the Gallerie dell’Accademia, Santa Maria della Salute, and obviously, San Marco…but that is another story.

Reluctantly leaving the vaporetto, we started squirreling our way up and down the over 400 bridges that cross the infinity of small canals that form the tissue of the city. In a city of some 117 islands, you cross tens of mini-bridges every day. A walk around some of the city’s charming neighbourhoods, we sleepwalked back to the vaporetto again. As we approached the emblematic Rialto Bridge, we could hear a man singing in one of the gondolas, entertaining his ‘customers’. A beautiful gondola followed by many others, all brilliantly black as if polished with some magic shoeshine! It takes a year to build one such gondola, and the cost is around 30,000 euros, in case you are wondering why it is so expensive to have a cruise in one of these!

Lunch time at the Pescheria (fish market): a traditional, filling dish of spaghetti al nero di seppia (black squid ink), then off for some rest before heading to the ‘showpiece’ of Venice: San Marco! Enjoy the photos (click any to enlarge) and stay tuned.

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