Venice, Italy is a fascinating and photogenic city. These are photos I took during a trip to in 2015.
Album 1: Venice (Main Album)
This is the main album that contains most of the photos.
The defining characteristic of Venice is its system of waterways. The main island sits in the middle of the Venetian lagoon, is bisected by the s-shaped Grand Canal and is criss-crossed with hundreds of small canals known as rii.
1.1 The Grand Canal
The view of the Grand Canal from a bridge called the Ponte dell’Accademia is especially stunning. There is the canal itself, the boats, the lovely buildings lined up on either side, the pale grey domes of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute in the background and the Venetian lagoon in the distance.
Rii are the smaller Venetian canals. A typical rio (‘rii’ is the plural form) looks like this:
Walking around in Venice is surprising disorienting. The alleyways twist and turn and many lead to dead ends (as there are only bridges over the rii (such as in the above photo in a few locations. Also, because the alleys are so narrow, you normally can’t see landmarks as the houses obscure them from view.
Venetians generally use small motorboats, water taxis or vaporetti to get around the waterways, with gondola rides being mainly for tourists. When taking a gondola ride, you can choose to explore the rii or focus on the larger canals.
1.4 Vaporetti and Water Taxis
Vaporetti are basically water buses; they follow fixed schedules and routes. Water taxis are just what the name implies. If you are trying to get from place to place on the main island of Venice, you basically have four choices: walking, private boat, vaporetto or water taxi.
There is a vaporetto (the white boat) and water taxi (the brown one) in the foreground of the following shot.
1.5 St Mark’s Square
The most popular tourist spot in Venice is the Piazza San Marco (St Mark’s Square), with its famous church—the Basilica di San Marco and the church’s accompanying red-brick bell tower—the Campanile di San Marco).
If you are going to visit the square, you might want to be there just before sunset. During the golden hour, the Basilica di San Marco has a beautiful glow and the many mosaics on its facade glint in the sunlight. Due to its opulent and shiny exterior, it has a centuries-old nickname—Chiesa d’Oro (Church of gold).
The mosaics and the overall design of the church were inspired by Byzantine architecture, while some of the other design features were inspired by Islamic architecture. For example, this depiction of the nativity is set within an Islamic-style arch and the next image shows a tile with an Islamic-inspired geometric pattern.
This blending of styles reflects Venice’s historical role as an economic and trading power.
You can go to the top of the St Mark’s Basilica to get a bird’s eye view of the St Mark’s square and get a closer look at the sculptures and other artwork at the top of the church.
At St Mark’s square, you can also find the Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale), with its cream and peach geometric marble patterns and arrays of arches and slender columns.
Scattered around the exterior of the palace are interesting sculptures. For example, here is a close-up of a statue of Adam and Eve, with this part showing the temptation of Eve.
The following photo shows some of the landmarks in the square as viewed from a vaporetto in the lagoon. At the right, you can see St. Mark’s Campanile and directly blow it is the Doge’s Palace. At the far right, you can see the domes of St. Mark’s Basilica.
The area around St Mark’s Square can be crowded during the day. However, the rest of Venice can be very quiet. Many of the visitors to Venice are day-trippers or are on a very brief cruise-shop stopover, and these visitors tend to just hang around this famous area. If you walk just a couple of blocks away, it becomes a lot less crowded.
1.6 Scultura Esterna
It can be fascinating to explore the side streets and soak up the atmosphere—the old brick buildings, the small bridges that cross the narrow rii, the occasional gondola or motorboat passing by—and enjoy the little details known as scultura esterna. These are outdoor artworks such as gargoyles and other statues, fountains, well-heads, crosses, reliefs, and decorative arches known as lunettes.
One common example of scultura esterna is the sculpted keystone. A keystone (or capstone) is the wedge-shaped stone at the apex of an arch that is the last piece put into place and that serves to keep the arch together. If you need to put a stone there, why not make it look unique with a sculpted head?
Above the gate of the Airbnb we were staying in, there is a decorative medallion. It depicts a Byzantine emperor and is estimated to be at least several hundred years old. Researchers speculate that it may have been loot brought back from Constantinople or the Holy Lands during the crusades.
1.7 A Unique Bookshop
The Libreria Acqua Alta bookshop is quite interesting. The books are arranged chaotically and the store is famous for its cats.
At the back of the bookshop is a tiny courtyard where (presumably excess) books are piled up and left at the mercy of the elements. You can climb one the piles to get a view of the rio behind the store.
1.8 The Frari & Other Churches
The Basilica di San Marco is only one of many famous churches in the city. Another important church in Venice is the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, (more commonly known as ‘The Frari’). The Frari is located in the heart of the San Polo district.
The exterior is a lot less ornate than the Basilica di San Marco, but within the cavernous interior are famous artworks such as the Frari Triptych by Giovanni Bellini and two works by Titian: Assumption of the Virgin and Pesaro Madonna. I was in Venice with my sister, who is very knowledgeable about art history and she particularly enjoyed seeing famous works of art in the actual places they had been designed to occupy.
There is a nice Chinese restaurant near the Frari—Pearla d’Oriente. Of course, one doesn’t go to Venice to eat Chinese food, but as my daughter had lived in Hong Kong her entire life up till that point, she missed the local cuisine.
Venice is full of lovely churches, some simple and elegant and others showy and ornate. Here are just a few examples:
In most neighborhoods of Venice, there is a public square called a campo (literally meaning ‘field’). There is often a neighborhood church there, and many campi have a cafe or two where you can relax and enjoy a spritz (an aperitif consisting of of prosecco, a bitter liqueur such as Aperol, Campari, or Cynar, and sparkling soda water).
Album 2: Burano, Murano & Torcello
These are three outlying islands that are easily accessible by vaporetto. Burano and Torcello are furthest away from the main island of Venice—with trips taking 45 and 50 minutes, respectively. Often people take in all three islands in one day as Burano and Torcello are close to each other and Murano is on the way to those two islands.
Burano is famous for is vibrantly-colored houses (if you visit this island, try to visit on a sunny day so that the colors really pop out), Murano is famous for its glassware and Torcello is known for its relaxing environment and for the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta.
Album 3: Venice Biennale 2015 & The Arsenale
Every year, Venice plays host to a major exhibition, the Venice Biennale, with the exhibitions alternating between art and architecture. There are two main sites—the Arsenale and the Venice Giardini—with other displays dotted throughout the city.
My favorite artwork on display was an installation by Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota entitled The Key in the Hand.
My sister liked Joan Jonas’s multimedia installation They Come to Us Without a Word.
We only visited one of the satellite displays, but that was very interesting. A group of artists (Recycle Group) used recycled materials to present social media symbols as religious iconography within a 17th-century church, Sant’Antonin.
Here are photos of three more works that were on display:
In my art blog (Artjouer), I’ve posted a few articles on some of the works presented at the Biennale:
- Chiharu Shiota: The Key in the Hand
- Joan Jonas: They Come to Us Without a Word
- Tetsuya Ishida: Four Paintings
- Recycle Group: Conversion
- Irina Nakhova: The Green Pavilion
- Céleste Boursier-Mougenot: Rêvolutions
One of the main venues, the Arsenale, is the former ship-building centre of Venice and is a landmark in its own right.
Outside the Arsenale are a collection of statues of pagan gods and lions. A few of the lions look especially strange, making one wonder if the sculptors had ever actually seen a lion. The weirdest looking one (the one at right in the following photo) is the oldest; it dates back to the 6th century B.C. and is from the Greek island of Delos.
Album 4: Santi Giovanni e Paolo
Many of the more famous churches in Venice don’t allow photo-taking inside, but this one—Santi Giovanni e Paolo, which was completed in 1430—does. Let’s have a look at the interior.
I hop you enjoyed the photos. If you are interested in seeing them at higher resolution (e.g., 2048 x 1365), you can visit the online albums. When the skies are overcast, Venice can take on an interesting, mysterious aura. However, when I was there, it was clear and sunny most of the time, so I just went with the flow and tried to bring the sunlight and blue skies into the photos..