What a great day in Venice!
This morning, we took a fast and speedy train to Venice. Once there, we got on a taxi, except not a regular taxi. Since Venice is pretty much a city of small islands, there are very narrow roads and many canals. Instead of making room for wide streets and bridges for cars at the cost of living space, Venice has boats to navigate the natural canals and narrow streets and stepped bridges pedestrians only. Our water taxi took us through the grand canal and left us right by a plaza where we would meet our gondolas.
The gondola ride was incredible. Although it was a little chilly on the water, our gondolier sang and guided us under bridges and through the city. Lucky enough to be riding with Luca to translate, we also learned that gondoliers originally served as body guards for the city. We also learned that the water level in the city can fluctuate heavily. Besides the regular high and low tides that are observed when compared to a line of green algae on the walls of the canals, seasonal tides can flood most of the city up to a yard or more deep! There have been scuba divers and gondoliers who have taken advantage of these occurrences and taken interesting pictures of the main piazza underwater. While on the ride, I loved hearing the voices of the boat drivers as they communicated in whoops and calls what their intentions were. Since there are very few “rules of the road,” anyone navigating the narrow canals has to talk to other boats in order to avoid collisions and smooth out traffic jams.
It was over too soon, but after a lunch in the busy streets, we set off on a walking tour. With the impressive size and detail built into so many buildings packed together and stocked with all the amenities of everyday and vacation life, I was in awe when I considered that everything, each stone, brick, garment and parcel had to come in from someplace off the islands. When considering the history, it makes sense that the Venetians were a merchant people, fueled and fed through the trade and communication with the sea. People like Marco Polo came from Venice and made fortunes from the silk trade, though since he was the only one to dictate a book of his adventures, he is remembered for it.
Besides being a fluid and wealthy population, they were ahead of their time in many ways. Most obviously is the fact that in a time of kingdoms, this city-state was a republic with a parliament and elected leader. They were also a very tolerant people and accepted many foreigners into their communities, a topic I’ll go into a bit further soon. An interesting architectural modernity of the ancient Venetians is glass. As one of the first civilizations to perfect the process of creating and coloring glass, they could manipulate it and incorporate it into their building style. This is why the castles that are found along the canals have such large windows. Having glass to block the wind and weather while letting in light meant that large openings were not going to cost the families inside comfort on cold and rainy days.
Although the idea of the ghetto is something that gets its origin in Venice, the people were actually very tolerant and had a significant Jewish population, many of which were refugees from prosecution in neighboring territories. In order to regulate trade and taxes more effectively when dealing with such a large population of merchants and foreigners, they categorized immigrants into quarters with local markets and taxes. However, they gave the same rights to all in every quarter and, in fact, did not separate based on religion for most of its history. It was only after losing some fateful battles to other European powers that the Venetians created a neighborhood from an abandoned factory yard for the Jewish population as a way of appeasing the Pope. Even with this, most rights were maintained and laws that restricted them were not really regulated. This is why in the time of Napoleon and the removal of the ghetto regulations, the Jewish population spread out from the original neighborhood into properties they had illegally bought from their homes in the neighborhood called Getto (jet-o). It was actually a mispronounciation of this name that lead to the term ghetto today.
After learning so much during our tour, we were already pretty exhausted, but were given a few hours to explore the streets in the afternoon sun. I enjoyed wandering the disorganized streets that were so different from the organized and perpendicular streets of Verona, but by the time we got back onto the train back, I was ready for the rest. I hope to get a chance to come again, though I feel that the quantity of tourists makes it a bit less culturally Italian. The architecture is pretty much all that remains of the rich city – on the surface. I think it might take a bit more time to find those corners where the small population of locals still live their everyday lives.
Now I’m back in Verona and ready for bed.
I know I have yet to edit this post, but that’s for another day.