Venice was the most picturesque city I have ever been to. Every couple of steps that I took, I was in front of some quaint little building or on a cute little bridge. The city has many styles and a lot of things going on but somehow it all works perfectly together. Venice definitely lives up to the hype!
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City Tour Frari Church
Saint Mark's Square is covered with buildings with various types of architecture. The building on the left houses old offices built in early 16th century in column-and-arch Renaissance style. The building on right was built a century later in High Renaissance style. The building under which we are standing was built by Napoleon in Neoclassical style. The campanile is build with simple brick due to the soft and spongy Venetian land. It fell in 1902 and was rebuilt ten years later. The golden angel on top always faces the wind.
Finally, the St. Mark's Basilica is built in 1063 in a mix a various international styles. Venice was settled in the 5th and 6th centuries as Italians were trying to flee the mainland, which was being taken over by barbarian tribes. In order to make money and sustain themselves, the citizens made Venice a popular trading post. Being the middleman between the East and the West, Venice was exposed to a lot of different cultures. As a result, the Basilica features Roman arches on top of Greek columns, a handful of different spires and typical Muslim domes and mosaics. The four horses above the main entrance were taken from the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, in 1204. Legend has it that Saint Mark's remains are under the main altar of the church.
A closer look at the arches, columns and mosaics.
To the right of the old offices and next to the Basilica stands the first ever digital clock, which updates the time every five minutes, built in 1500. Under the digital clock is a circular clock that not only tells the time but also the zodiac sign and the moon cycle. At the very top of the clock is the bell that is rung every hour by the two giants on the top (not visible from this angle). Finally, between the digital clock and the bell is the symbol of the city and of Saint Mark: the alert winged lion. This winged lion is a motif present throughout the city.
To the right of the Basilica is the Doge's Palace, in yet another architectural style. This architectural style if Venetian Gothic, unique to the city. The elements of Venetian Gothic architecture are the three-leaf clover points topped with four-leaf clover medallions. Buildings in this style are also typically top heavy.
The Doge's Palace was the home of the Venetian ruler from 1150 to 1550. Unlike any other city in Europe at the time, the Doge was elected by a council of nobles. As a result, he did not fear his people and did not need to build fortifications to protect against them.
The ceiling of the grand staircase that leads visitors to the second floor of the palace.
Another ornate ceiling within the palace. This one is in the
Sala delle Quattro Porte (or the Room with the Four Doors in English). The name for this room comes from the importance given to the four doors made from imported eastern marble, again showing the cities proximity to various international cultures.
This ornate ceiling is part of the Council Chamber. After a fire in 1574, the entire room was redone in this style. The wood paneling was done by Francesco Bello and Andrea da Faenza. The paintings were done by Paolo Veroneze. The three main paintings are
Good Government of the Republic, Triumph of Faith and Venice with Justice and Peace. The remaining paintings depict the virtues of the government.
The ceilings are not the only things completely decorated. Each room has a theme that is completely carried out around the room.
Yet another room over-flowing with decorations
The inner courtyard of the Doge's Palace.
The Palace is connected to the prisons of the city.
The link between the Doge's Palace and the prisons is nicknamed the "Bridge of Sighs." It is said that whenever a prisoner is tried and sentenced, they have to pass by this bridge where they pause and sign contemplating their future.
The barely visible Lido island between two closer islands is a natural breakwater. As a result, Venice is found in a lagoon and is protected from winds and waves. The lagoon is also very shallow which protects the city from attacks by enemies, as large ships cannot cross the lagoon. It is for this reason that flat-bottomed gondolas are the preferred method of transportation. At the peak of Venice's economic power, it had 10,000 gondolas navigating the waters. Now, that number is down to 500 and is exclusively used for tourists.
Each island in this lagoon has their own church. The white building on the island across the Grand Canal is the Church of Saint Giorgio Maggiore. This architecture has inspired that of buildings all over the world, most notably government and bank buildings. The bell tower on this church mirrors that on Saint Mark's Square.
Moreover, each island is known for their particular skill. I took a trip out to Morano, the island of glass blowing, and had the opportunity to see a colorful vase being made right in front of me.
Travelling by boat is a part of daily life in Venice. In fact, until the city was taken over by the Austrians, Venice had no bridges. This merchant is selling his produce straight from his boat.
As a result, given the lack of bridges up until a period and the multitudes of small islands, gondola making was a very important skill for the Venetians. Each gondola comprises of 280 pieces or wood and 13 different types of wood. It takes eight to ten months to complete and costs 35 to 60 thousand euros each. The ore alone, made from peach or apricot wood, costs three to five thousand euros. All of the gondolas are painted in black as a result of a law back in the day that aimed to prevent the nobles from showing each other up. Finally, each gondola has an iron prow shaped as an S to symbolize the Grand Canal, with six large teeth to symbolize the six districts and three smaller teeth to symbolize the three islands.
This bridge was built by the Austrians in 37 days without an architect. It was meant to be temporary but it was never changed. It is named the Academia bridge due to its location next to the largest museum in Venice.
Additionally, Venice has several churches on each island because the Austrians filled in some of the canals making multiple islands into one larger island.
In addition to a church, each island also has a cistern and a crops field. The cisterns were closed off in order to prevent their enemies from poisoning their only source of drinkable water.
The Church of San Barnaba was the backdrop of a scene for the 1989 film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The Church is deconsecrated and used for various exhibitions. When I was here, there was an interactive exhibition of Leonardo da Vinci's inventions.
Speaking of movies, it is important to note that while this water may seem very inviting it is actually very filthy. During one of her movies, Marilyn Monroe had to jump into the water for one of the scenes. She ended up getting pink eye on this trip, likely due to the water. For one, while most of the houses have modern plumbing, that is not the case for all. Some of the houses have plumbing that simply ends in the canals.
The Gondola ride at sunset is one of my most memorable experiences.
The Frari Church was built by the international Franciscan order from 1250 to 1443. It is different from most of the churches in Venice in that it is a Gothic church and that it features a T-shaped floor plan instead of a cross-shaped floor plan. In the distance, the colorful altarpiece is visible through an arch in the distance.
The altarpiece in the Frari Church is Titian's
Assumption of Mary
(1518). This painting was very progressive for its time. Featuring a teenage Mary and many colorful and active figures, it contrasted with the more solemn paintings with statue-like figures. The Church was uneasy about purchasing such a modern painting and it wasn't until the Holy Roman Emperor offered to buy it that the Church accepted to buy the painting from Titian.
Wealthy Venetians, like other Christians around the world, often made significant donations to the church to ensure safe passage for their soul. Some of the largest donations even earned a tomb inside the church. This one on the wall is of Doge Foscari.
Donatello's John the Baptist, pictured here in the center, shows the contrast between Florentine and Venetian art. While Venetian art was beautiful and pure, Florentine art featured realism, true human emotions and harsher lines. Here, John the Baptist is either announcing the arrival of Christ or the Renaissance.
Elaborate reliquary altar
The tomb of Titian was built in 1852 to remember the great painter of Venetian origin. Titian is pictured sitting in the middle of the tomb, with a crown of laurels on his head, symbolizing the fact that he was a great artist. Some of his famous paintings are carved into the background of his tomb, including his
Assumption of Mary
, which is directly behind his statue.
Titian loved his city and always came back to it even if his contemporaries all flocked to Rome. When he got older, he arranged to be buried in the Frari Church. He even started painting a somber Pietà for his grave. The Pietà was incomplete at the time of his death and finished by Palma Giovane. An engraving of it is located in the top right corner of this tomb.
This monument honors Antonio Canova (1757 -1822), a great Italian sculptor. It was initially intended as Titian's tomb and the design was instead used for that of an Austrian princess. Canova's pupils evidently chose to use it for him as well. The triangle shaped is reminiscent of the pharaoh tombs in Egypt and could also be a symbol for the Holy Trinity. What is obvious is that all the figures are shaken up with grief as they make their way to pay their respects. Another interesting aspect of the design is that even the winged lion here is depressed, whereas he was standing tall and proud on Titian's tomb. Canova's tomb doesn't contain his body though, only his heart.
Giovanni Pesaro’s Memorial
Another one of Titian's paintings caused controversy in the Frari Church:
Madonna di Ca'Pesaro. For one, this painting broke the tradition of having Madonna and Child in the middle of the painting to allow Titian to create motion. The painting was commissioned by the Pesaro family, pictured kneeling in the bottom right. On the left, the head of the Pesaro family kneels in front of the Virgin to thank her for his victory (signaled by the laurel on the flag) over the Turks (signaled by the two Turkish prisoners). Meanwhile, two angels are playing with a cross above.
A wall of the Amsterdam Museum proudly displays gable stones that were used to identify homes and businesses during the Middle Ages. It wasn't until Napoleon came along that these gable stones were replaced with street names.