Venice-The Adriatic Mirage

An   island?   Try   118   separate   islands, dredged  out  of  a  marshy  lagoon,  shored up  on  wooden  pylons,  and  linked  by  a devilishly intricate tapestry of bridges and boats.  Other  cities  may  have  canals,  but  Venice makes an even bolder statement: It has  no  streets  at  all,  only  canals,  more than 150 of them. Every time I visit Venice, I’m  struck  by  the  constant  murmur  of water  lapping  against  stone;  the  very  air feels  magically  moist  against  your  skin. Then  there’s  that  faint  scent  of  decay,  a blend  of  rotting  foundations,  crumbling plaster, and sediment slushing around the canal floors. The sensory impact is unforgettable,  and  magical;  it  perfectly  evokes the watery essence of the city.

Given  its  strategic  position  at  the  head of the Adriatic Sea, medieval Venice was a natural  candidate  to  become  a  maritime power,  Europe’s  gateway  to  the  riches  of Asia  (it  was  no  accident  that  Marco  Polo came from a family of Venetian traders). In what   is   essentially   still   a   Renaissance cityscape, you’ll note exotic accents every-where, from the glittering gold mosaics of the  Byzantine-style  St.  Mark’s  Basilica,   to   the   Moorish facade of the Doge’s Palace next door, to the fantastical decorations of the Venetian Gothic palazzi you glide past on a boat ride down the Grand Canal. Add to that a host of distinctly Venetian details—the dragon-prowed   black   gondolas   navigating   its canals, the candy-striped poles for docking them, the winged lion symbol that materializes  everywhere—and  it’s  like  an  art director’s fever dream.

Its  centerpiece,  Piazza  San  Marco,  is arguably  the  loveliest  public  space  in  the world, with subtly tapering loggias on either side framing the gold dome of St. Mark’s at the  upper  end.  Symmetry  is  beside  the point—just  off  to  the  side,  like  an  after-thought, is a perfect russet-brick bell tower; to the other side is a baroque clock tower where  two  mechanical  Moors  chime  the hour.  Most  tourists  are  so  dazzled  by  the place, they don’t get much farther. But getting  beyond  San  Marco  is  essential  to understand Venice, even if that means get-ting lost in a maze of narrow stone passage-ways and high-arched bridges. Venice’s art isn’t just in the art museum—the Galleria dell’Accademia   for  the  old  Venetian  masters,  the  Collezione  Peggy  Guggenheim  for modern art—it’s all over the place, in historic  houses  and  especially  in  the  city’s churches,  even  the  most  obscure  ones where you may be the only visitors. At the seaward tip of Castello you’ll find the Arsenale ,  the  old  naval arsenal,  now  a  fascinating  naval  history museum; turn a corner in the middle of the San Marco district and you’ll stumble upon the cramped white portico of La Fenice,   the world-class  opera  house.  Browse  through street  markets;  encounter  stray  cats;  buy  a cone  of  gelato  and  stroll  along  the  broad Giudecca Canal; peer through iron gates into back gardens; take a boat out to the Islands of the Venetian Lagoon. In the end, it’s  the  sheer  Veniceness  of  Venice  you’ll find—and remember forever.