City trip to Venice
Despite its mass tourism, Venice is my favourite place in Italy. The city is breathtakingly beautiful. The many hidden corners, alluring waterways, gondolas, elegant palaces, the Grand Canal, the haunting Bridge of Sighs, the magnificent Rialto Bridge, and the beautiful St. Mark’s Square draw me in.
Of course, you have to see these world-famous attractions for yourself.
The Venetian carnival
Let me start with one of the most unlikely quiet places and times. That is the Venetian Carnival in the city centre. A magical celebration in a magical place. During the carnival week, Venetians and tourists flock to the city in droves.
Photographing the carnival
However, St Mark’s Square in the week before carnival is surprisingly quiet. This is the ideal time for photographers interested in the human species as the hardcore carnival revellers will celebrate en masse next week.
Right now – the week before carnival – one can quietly enjoy the costumed people populating the city centre. The Venetians are dressed in costumes that would not have been out of place for a 16th-century doge. By the looks of it, the suits cost a few pennies, but I am sure it is all worth it for those 15 minutes of fame.
Everyone famous in Venice
The nobleman leans quasi-nonchalantly against a pole. His shining little eyes peep through the mask. He waves at me. Yes, of course, I can photograph him.
This must be what it feels like to be a movie star. To be surrounded by paparazzi who twist and turn in the strangest ways to shoot the perfect picture of him. No, nobody will take that away from him anymore.
It is then somewhat disconcerting when such a Venetian doge opens his mouth and comes out unadulterated Texan. Indeed, most of the costumed extras turn out to be Americans. So do the photographers, who, in American fashion, organise things ‘properly’ and tell the crowds where they are allowed to stand and when they can shoot. So, no, those Yankees don’t precisely spark joy.
Oh well, earplugs in, and you have an authentic Venetian experience.
The Jewish Ghetto
In the middle of Venice’s tourist madness lies an oasis of calm, the Jewish ghetto in the Cannaregio district. This Venetian neighbourhood is the namesake of Jewish areas worldwide, the mother of all ghettos.
The first refugees settled here in the ninth century. Then in the 16th century, when the Spanish Catholic Kings Isabel and Fernando started the persecution of the Jews, the number of inhabitants multiplied.
In their newfound home in Venice, the refugees enjoyed relative protection in an increasingly hostile world, even though that meant living in a walled neighbourhood with only one entrance gate, which was locked at night.
History of the Walled Quarter
In its heyday, thousands of Jews lived in an area of two hectares, as fresh blood was in continuous supply due to pogroms in Morocco and various European countries. However, due to population pressure, buildings have become higher and higher, and many of the houses are six storeys or more.
But it was not all bad news. During the plague, the disease spread among the Jews more slowly than the rest of the population due to the community’s relative isolation. The Jewish victims of the epidemic lay buried in the Jewish cemetery on an island, the Lido.
Finally, Napoleon ended segregation and gave Venice’s Jewish citizens equal rights.
The Jewish Quarter has five synagogues, one for almost every religious niche. Today, two serve as prayer rooms; the rest are now museums.
After the ghetto, head back to Fondamente Nove to get the Vaporetto, the city bus (boat). Skip the line and buy your ticket online. The first stop of the Vaporetto is San Michele, the cemetery of Venice.
San Michele cemetery in Venice
San Michele, an island, is the Venice cemetery. The oldest Renaissance church in Italy is on the island, the Chiesa di San Michele (1469). Various funerary monuments surround the church and monastery. Several gates from the monastery garden lead to the multiple cemeteries classified according to religious denominations.
The cemetery is unique because it is tucked away on an island. The Venetians turned the island into a graveyard after the French emperor, Napoleon, passed a law stating that city dwellers could no longer bury their dead in the centre of a community for hygienic reasons.
Transport of the deceased was and still is by gondolas.
The ecumenical community may inhabit this city of the dead together. Still, each Christian church has its neighbourhood. The Jews have their ghetto, or rather their island. Of course, most of the cemetery is for the Catholics, the dominant religion in Italy. Uncharacteristically for the Italians, the graves are neatly arranged in rows. But even in death, there is still a class difference. The wealthier Venetians have their family immortalized by having them carved in marble. Commoners inhabit a plain grave.
Celebrities buried in San Michele
Among the graves are several foreign celebrities, like the shrine of scientist Christian Doppler (the Doppler effect).
Orthodox part and Protestant Cemetery
The orthodox part of the cemetery holds the shrines of famous Russians, like the princess Catherine Bagration, the writer Joseph Brodsky, the founder of Russian ballet Sergei Diaghilev and the modest graves of composer Igor Stravinsky and his wife, Vera. There are various writers among the Protestants, such as Ezra Pound.
Burano Island in Venice
Burano is an island in the Venetian Lagoon, near Torcello on the north side of the lagoon, known for its lacework and brightly coloured houses. The Vaporetto (water bus) takes you to the island in 45 minutes. Burano is connected to Mazzorbo by a bridge. In theory, the brightly painted houses, lacework and leaning tower (like the one of Pisa) of San Martino are the island’s attractions.
The bright colours are indeed dazzling, especially on a sunny day. However, the island is best known for its (expensive) lacework — a treat for the aficionados. But as far as I’m concerned, the most extraordinary thing about the island is its tranquillity. You hardly hear any motorized traffic except for the Vaporetto, which mostly docks once an hour.
Vaporetto Venice (water boat)
To reach the island of San Michele, take the Vaporetto (the bus boat). It costs no less than seven euros to bridge the 400 meters that separate the main Venetian island (Cannaregio) from the cemetery. Yes, crossing a few minutes costs just as much as the one-and-a-half-hour journey from San Michele to Venice train station unless you buy a day ticket.
With this day ticket, continue your journey on the Vaporetto to Burano.
Venice City trip tips
- Take the train in Italy and get out at Santa Lucia, then walk the rest to the city centre or take the Vaporetto.
- Book a ticket with unlimited use of public transport in Venice, Lido and Murano, and Brano and Torcello’s islands. The ticket is also valid for the buses in Mestre and Marghera.
- At the boat stop on Fondamenta Nuove (Cannareggio) opposite the cemetery is the Algiubagiò restaurant, with a fantastic view from the terrace and excellent food.
- Book your express bus tickets from Venice Airport to the city centre. Duration: To train station Mestre: Approx. 20 minutes. To Piazzale Roma: Approx. 17 minutes.
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