Follow us on :

Tell a friend :

Posted on : February 21st, by
Venice Venice

Last weekend I was talking to Vandana – about this and that….she was expecting a delegation from Italy with regards to her Architecture work and the conversation steered to our memories of Italy – Rome, Florence, and that Queen of the cities -Venice.

Venice, ” La Serenissima”, the queen of the Adriatic – a city like no other. At once it mellows you, yet conjures an imposing and seemingly impossible feat, like a magician playing a favoured trick; you remain in awe, you still want to see more, it is tantalising but the secrets are never quite revealed … a magical illusion.

I went to Venice in September 2000 with my wife and our daughter who was but 6 months old and then again with Vandana and our parents in April 2009, almost a decade later. For those who have been to the city will have their own special memories but for those who have not been it is a city on water – with a meandering central “Grand Canal” of water

Grand canal of Venice Grand canal of Venice

with palaces, gondola, monuments, art and even the simple streets seem lulling you into a idyllic charm …

Venice is a good place to unwind. Of course there is the bustle of commerce and trade all around you and yet if you walk from place to place, the streets have charming names that sit well on the tongue and somehow almost make sense and yet remain curiously confusing – Ruga (street), Fondimenta (quayside), Salizzada (paved alley), Calle (lane), Rio (river) and so on and so on and so forth …..

A street in Venice A street in Venice

I have so many memories of Venice – the palaces at water’s edge (the image taken in September 2000 is of Fondaco dei Turchi built in 13th century and now houses the Natural History museum,

Venetian palace Venetian palace

the gondolas waiting in the shimmering lagoon,

Gondolas waiting Gondolas waiting and so is Vandana A Gondola in shimmering waters
A Gondola in shimmering waters of Venice


the slow ride of a gondola, with the gondolier’s striped vest and a full brimmed hat, and

Gondolier and Vasu


the Grand Canal. When I went at the turn of the millennium, I took quite a few turns on a Vaporetto – a water bus (I forget which route lane it was) – from one end of the Grand Canal to the other with the evening sun shining and then not having had my touristic appetite quenched, took the same taxi back two more times and then slowly walked along the edge of the canal through its many side branches once the moonlight had come in.

I remember the faded colours of the walls and windows and yet majestic hotels on the inside as if Venice was determined to preserve the exterior but modernise the interior so one lived in comfort but looked to the glories of the serene past (Serenissima means serene one).

Venetian colours Venetian colours

I remember my astonishment that the entire buildings are on pikes of timber and learning that the timber does not rot as it never is exposed to oxygen and so decay by bacteria needing oxygen does not set in. A curious scientific nugget! And what beautiful buildings.

Over the days we walked and I turned the corner to find myself looking at the wondrous church of Santa Maria della Salute and the beauty of a sunny day, astounding, especially with turquoise waters below and shimmering skies above… or was it the other way round.

Santa Maria della Salute Santa Maria della Salute

And when the tourist blurb tells you that this is built on one million pillions of timber jammed into the lagoon floor to provide the foundation and that it was built as a thanks giving after the plague (Salute meaning salvation) and that was all done in 1630, I sit there in quiet contemplation.

I do enjoy paintings of Venice by Canaletto of the Grand Canal and there is a charm to a curious mixture of slow paced taxis called Traghettos in the middle of motorised water taxis – the charm still remains.

Venetian taxis Venetian taxis


I had come to Venice with Vandana after having been to the Vatican. When I was at the Vatican, the basilica of St Peter’s was magnificent, and ornate, beautiful and grand. I had thought no church could surpass this and yet I remember walking into San Marco’s basilica and thinking – gosh it looks so beautiful – very different to the Vatican and yet equally enthralling.

San Marco Basilica, April 2009 San Marco Basilica, April 2009 St Mark Basilica mosaics St Mark Basilica mosaics


The Byzantine art influence, the golden mosaic tessellations of Christ in Glory on the central ascension dome was stunning in its aureate splendour. I walked up the narrow stairs up to a viewing gallery to watch it from close and encouraged my dad who was worried about his heart to walk with me because this was indeed special. On the floor, too, were beautiful mosaics with repeated patterns that brought the illusion of a 3D image. I was struck by that.

Outside the church was the large piazza of San Marco – which Napoleon called the most beautiful drawing room in Europe. I can sometimes see what he means. It is possible to get beguiled watching pigeons whilst sipping hot chocolate and listening to classical music. Sitting in old opulent coffee houses of Florians or Quadri’s thinking of rich patrons taking this into their Grand tour itinerary made me feel the history around me. And I remember paying happily a lot of euros for a coffee and chocolate (with cream for a little extra!) in the piazza telling myself it was for the memory of sitting there with my mother that I was paying! And guess what? Indeed years later, my mum and I reminisce and talk about it laughing about a shared experience which has remained special for us.

Venice is full of idiosyncrasies. Where else would you find a showroom of Formula 1 cars in a city without roads to drive them in?

Fast cars and dreams Fast cars and dreams


Or these extraordinary masks which hint at a decadent practice but you wonder whether the stalls in the here and now are there to encourage tourists to part with their money? I came away with a mask of a medieval plague doctor which my daughter used years later in a Halloween costume walkabout. It gave her enjoyment and for me the memory of where I bought it gave me a tingle well worth the souvenir hunt …

Venetian masks Venetian masks


Then there is the Doge’s palace with the Campanile that is truly breathtaking.

Doge's palace Doge’s palace


As you walk along, you do feel uneasy about how long and vast the influences have been – from the Roman tetrarchs of Diocletian to the litany of doges on the walls with their curious and complex checks and balances.

Tetrarchs of Diocletian Tetrarchs of Diocletian


You feel the air has something but then you are uncertain if it is the melancholy disposition in the air of the forgotten “Serenissima”, missing the past grandeur, or it is the condescending look of the Doges, revelling in the success of the ostentatious display of monopoly of the spice trade routes. Either way, the secret passages, the walk to the dungeons across the bridge of sighs, the extraordinarily complex system of electoral leader’s power are fascinating . The word Doge comes from “Dux” which in Latin means leader. I have a friend, Meike Dux, and often when I talk to her I think of the Doges of the past. She is such a gentle erudite lady with the name “Leader”.

Venice is a discovery at every corner. Despite walking on lanes of water you suddenly come across unexpected Piazzas or Scuolas (Schools) of art. I walked into the Scuola Grande de San Roco and found paintings of Tintoretto – dark, bombastic and demanding to be impressed by the sale of the art and its virtuosity.

I fondly remember going to Peggy Guggenheim’s collection in the ‘Palazzo Unfinito’ (Unfinished Palace) with a garden opening on to the canal. This museum deals with modern art which I sometimes connect to but not very often. I think I am more of a traditionalist. But it was at Guggenheim’s in Venice that I first saw a large painting by Jackson Pollock that transfixed me. I had seen small reproductions of Pollock but only then did the strange drawing of a forest of lines and spluttering of paint seemed almost to raise a fear of the atavistic darkness into which the painting seemed to beckon. I also saw a painting of a red horse and a tower. I had not heard of the artist called Chirico before and still do not know much about him but the image had a sense of stillness and foreboding danger of a hot dusty day which I have remembered so well over the years!

And so much more. But still the overwhelming image for me of Venice are the palaces along the waters,

A view of a Venetian Palace A view of a Venetian Palace


the bustle of people, the gondolas, the shimmering Grand Canal

Rakish Gondolier Rakish Gondolier


and an occasional unassuming surprise like this Wisteria at a water front ….

Wisteria in Venice Wisteria in Venice


This painting is a composite of all those memories …. for both Vandana and me.


Venice Venice