Venice is a historical treasure, a living breathing city that changed very little over the centuries and that boasts an extensive and impressive history. Beyond that, it is a very curious place, the only one of its kind, built entirely on the water, which creates myths and legends, and brings to mind many questions. While tourists from around the world flock to the city to admire the beautiful architecture, the breathtaking canals, and the amazing art-packed churches- few visit the city with any historical insight at hand. For this reason, we’ve compiled answers to questions that you’ve probably had about Venice, or perhaps will have during your visit- in an effort to equip you with information that will help enhance your cultural trip.
The Venice of today is, above all, a brief glimpse into an opulent and elegant time where the economy of the Western world relied on shipping and merchants. The city remains as authentic as possible, and buildings are preserved with the intention of leaving the city in its original glory. As you explore the city, the answers we provide below may help you understand certain conventions, and shed light on certain characteristics of Venice.
1. How and why was Venice founded?
Venice was officially founded, according to historical records, on March 25th of year 421 AD with the opening of its first church, San Giacomo, in the area called Rialto (from Venetian “Rivoalto”, or high shore). The Northeastern corner of Italy was, at the time, suffering from a series of barbarian invasions. The Barbarian invasion was a particularly brutal time for local residents, as the invading clans besieged entire cities and terrorized the population, who had previously lived peacefully under the lawful and orderly Roman Empire.
In fear, these people fled to the practically inaccessible marshlands in the Adriatic part of the modern Veneto region, that in Roman times were populated by people called Veneti. The place became known as Venexia in local Venetian dialect, or Venetiae, in Latin, and eventually transformed into Venice in the English language. These marshlands in shallow Venetian lagoon were impossible for barbarians to navigate and thus provided a reliable shelter for the refugees albeit in a very inhospitable environment. Originally a community of fisherman whose main trade besides fishing was salt, Venice grew as new arrivals from the mainland kept coming uprooted by the new waves of barbarians sweeping Italian lands. Venice was, therefore, a haven for refugees. It was, in time, built with understanding of the necessity of the rule of law, the desire to develop commerce, and the drive to succeed typical for immigrant communities. This eventually led to the well-established legal system, the elected government headed by the Doge, and checks and balances built into the system to avoid corruption. The lack of land further helped Venice avoid the destiny of other European states with their backward feudal systems and ascent of the landed nobility. It was above all a commercial society that flourished on trade and friendly foreign relations. In other words, its political and economic systems were far more advanced than of any of other Western European states at the time, and were even studied carefully by the founding fathers in the U.S. as one of the very few examples of a working democracy, even if imperfect.
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Venice is a wonderfully scenic city, rich with dramatic architecture and a unique culture, a favorite of famous artists and writers, and a place that is unbelievably picturesque and photogenic. For this reason, since the advent of cinema many production companies have chosen the city as a stunning backdrop for a variety of films, and audiences worldwide are able to enjoy the beauty of Venice unfolding alongside dynamic story lines from the comfort of their homes.
Ranging from Hollywood blockbusters such as The Tourist, to cinematic renditions of literary classics such as the Merchant Of Venice, there is no shortage of Venetian-themed movies for you to enjoy. For your convenience, we have compiled a thorough selection of great movies, that beautifully depict Venice and take full advantage of its diverse setting. If you have not seen them all, we highly recommend that you watch them soon.
‘The Tourist’ is a thrilling movie, a mix of romance, suspense, and thriller, starring both Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp. The film revolves around an American tourist wonderfully portrayed by Johnny Depp, who meets gorgeous Elise played by Angelina Jolie, on a trip to Venice. Frank is heartbroken, and his misery starkly contrasts the beauty of Venice. Meanwhile, Elise deliberately crosses paths with Frank in a mysterious turn of events, that plays out across the narrow alleyways and dark corners of this unique city that is romantic and hauntingly dramatic at once.
The Tourist takes full advantage of all that Venice has to offer. Audiences will grab onto their seats during high-energy boat chases across the canals, delight in the gorgeous actors playing characters crisscrossing the streets of the small city, and enjoy the rare inside looks the interior of Venetian palaces that shine in all their former glory. The movie is set in modern times, but the elegant complexity of the storyline pays tribute to an opulent Venice of the past. This is a must see for movie fans, lovers of Venice and those who value beautiful backdrops to excellent stories.
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The Murano Glass Museum is a major tourist attraction on Venetian island of Murano, and one that uniquely represents the rich history of glassmaking present on the small Venetian island. Many tourists wish to visit the museum, and rightly so, as the large venue houses historical artifacts and beautiful displays that are unique to Murano.
There are both permanent and temporary exhibitions open to tourists, and those who purchase tickets are granted admission to the majority of the museum, including any special or seasonal shows. The museum was renovated recently, and the building itself is almost as beautiful as the treasures kept within it. Below, we detail some of the highlights of the Murano Glass Museum, that stand out amongst all of the stunning exhibitions.
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Venice’s longstanding tradition of glassmaking has continued throughout generations, and to this day, the Venetian island of Murano is still internationally renowned for its active involvement in the glassmaking industry. For this reason, artists with an interest in all things glass, will typically flock to Venice- and observe the work of famed Italian artisans who still reside in the stunning city in the Venetian lagoon.
Dale Chihuly is no exception. The American artist, who studied in prestigious institutions across the United States, embarked on a glass art pilgrimage in the late 1960s. After graduating from the Rhode Island Institute of Art, he traveled to Venice, in an effort to explore different glassmaking techniques. During this trip, he worked for the renowned Murano glass company Venini, in their world-renown Venetian factory.
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Venice is a small yet mighty island, detached from mainland Italy, and widely regarded by Italians as an entity of its own. Venetians have their own dialect, their own traditions and their own unique recipes that differ significantly from other regions in Northern Italy.
The main difference between Venetian cuisine and foods from other Italian regions is ingredients. As Venice is an island, with a history of isolation and conflict, the city was often deprived of certain ingredients that mainland Italy had easy access to. For this reason, Venice began their traditions by perusing local ingredients, readily available to humble families. These included fish, seafood, rice, and vegetables.
However, as Venice grew increasingly more wealthy, the city began to incorporate more luxurious ingredients into their recipes. Suddenly, humble and meager meals began to feature exotic ingredients. Venice began to import foods from other regions of the country, as well as other countries entirely, as part of a concerted effort to display their wealth in all available outlets, including through their food. As a result, Venetian cuisine is now regarded as a set of recipes unique to the region, that feature wonderful combinations of flavors and textures.
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While Venice is a beautiful and wonderfully diverse city, it’s also rather small. After a number of days spent wondering through the stunning corridors that crisscross the the city and admiring art, you may feel inclined to visit one of the smaller islands that surround Venice, such as Murano, Burano, or Torcello.
Of course we can’t be impartial when it comes to choosing a Venetian island to visit, and we wholeheartedly recommend Murano – the home of the most beautiful glassware in the world and the place to experience true Venetian lifestyle of the bygone era. Murano is a tiny island in the Venetian lagoon, just north of Venice proper. Renowned for its glassmaking tradition, the island boasts a population of 5,000 people, many of whom are direct descendants of famous glassmaking families.
The island is rich with culture and tradition, and was once used as a refuge for Venetian glass-makers, who were forced by governmental officials to leave the city of Venice in the 1291 and establish their furnaces on Murano. For lovers of art, history, fine craftsmanship, or simply for breathtaking views- Murano is definitely a location to consider. here we give you the scoop on the top 5 things to do on Murano island. And, what’s great, you can actually do all of this in one day and still have time left for a nice dinner either right here on Murano or in Venice, a short vaporetto ride away.
1. Take a Walk Around Town
The island of Murano consists of 7 individual islands linked together by beautiful bridges. While this sounds overwhelming, the whole island actually measures a mere 1 mile, which is easily walkable in 20 minutes.
Much like the city of Venice, Murano has a ‘Canale Grande’ (Grand Canal) that runs down the centre, and separates rows of mirrored buildings. The main and arguably most impressive building on the island is the municipal building, called ‘Palazzo Da Mula’. This dates back to the 13th century, and features a characteristically gothic facade, popular in Venetian architecture. The canals, coupled with the island’s three remaining churches, in addition to the beautiful buildings- are reasons enough to take a walking tour of Murano.
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Murano’s history is made by hundreds of talented and ingenious glass masters. Many of them attained prominence centuries ago, while others are still stunning the world with dazzling creations. Others have collaborated together to evolve the glass-making industry and bring it global fame, which it is still enjoying today. Each and every one of them, however, has contributed invaluably to Murano’s history and beauty, surprising admirers and collectors with new ideas, artistic boldness, and alluring designs. Such is the case of the Barbini family, who has been an important presence in Murano’s history since ages ago, and is still present in today’s picture.
The Barbini family goes back a long way. Their story in the Murano Glass industry can be traced back to the XVI century, when the family name was added to Venice’s Golden Book, a book known for containing the crème de la crème of Venetian noble families and the best glass masters, whose guild received special permission to be in the Book. Members of the Barbini family played active roles in Venice’s history for a long time, be it in politics, commerce, or different areas of glass production. Many of them became famous thanks to their beautiful Venetian mirrors, others thanks to their enamel glass, others still for making majestic chandeliers. Some members of the Barbini family even moved to abroad in order to create decorative glass exclusively for royal houses and the wealthiest foreign families. During the following centuries the Barbini family started counseling other glass masters, such as Pietro Bigaglia, the Briati family, the Bertolini brothers and Benetto Barbaria. All of them in turn went on to make significant contributions to Murano’s glass-blowing innovations and history.
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When talking about Murano’s history in glassmaking, it is natural to find only the best of the best glass masters working on these precious and unique designs. Some of these stories are full of unexpected surprises, stunning beginnings, and eminent success. Such is the case of Venini, one of Italy’s oldest and most renowned glass masters of all times.
Born in a small town near Milan in 1895, Paolo Venini studied to become a lawyer but would soon change course when he crossed paths with fellow Italian Giacomo Cappellin. In 1921, the two Italian entrepreneurs opened their first glass factory in Murano, naming it Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappellin Venini & C. A third associate, Andrea Rioda, would later join the team. The idea was to reopen Rioda’s glass factory and summon back all of the company’s former glassblowers, taking advantage of the firm’s long history and know-how. Unfortunately, their plans did not go accordingly due to Rioda’s departing before the beginning of production. The partnership further dissolved after Cappellin decided to part ways in 1925 in order to launch another firm, taking many glass masters with him along the way. Venini, however, managed to reposition himself as one of Murano’s leading glass masters, renaming his company Venini & C.
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When it comes to organizing a trip to Venice, the itineraries are full of famous attractions that appear on every travel advice web-site and every must-see list you will ever come across. Among those are The Doge’s palace, and Basilica San Marco, Accademia Gallery and Ca’ Rezzonico, The Campanile and The Astronomical Clock. Hunting for those top attractions, you will stand in lines for hours and run into crowds of tourists who are all hungry to see the same things you came to see. This may leave you aggravated, distressed, and wondering what you may have done better to have more authentic venetian experience. You need not worry – we will let you in on the hidden secrets, the activities that many miss, the attractions that are still relatively quiet, not overrun with tourists, and promise a wonderful authentic experience.
1. Get To Know Venice’s Craftsmanship: Gondola Building Workshop
Get to know one of the few remaining gondola yards in Venice. Just a few steps down the canal near the Accademia Bridge, one can find Venice’s only remaining original gondola-building and maintainance yard, the Squero San Trovaso workshop. Nowadays it works mainly as a maintenance and repair point, but during the 1600’s it was Venice’s busiest production point for the ten thousand gondolas that once traveled along its canals and into the Lagoon. The squero is not open to the public but if you visit during the working hours you can see the work from the outside, and it is a fascinating experience. Each gondola is made out of eight different types of wood, exactly as it was hundreds of years ago, and includes lots of exclusively carved elements. Because gondolas are still crafted in a traditional way, it takes over a month to build one, and it usually can be in service for about 15 years, after which it must be refinished and can last another ten years. There are woodcarving workshops that create various wooden parts for gondolas and are very interesting to visit to see this ancient craft in action. The workshop of Paolo Brandolisio a few steps behind Piazza San Marco is a great one to visit. There are several guided tours for visitors, like the two hour Oltrex tour starting from Riva degli Schiavoni, or the one day experience Venice for Children, that encompasses a whole seminar on gondola making and a tour on vaporetto through the Arsenale and the Naval Museum. After getting to know this craft better, one will never see a gondola the same way again, for they are unique custom made vessels with centuries of history and craftsmanship, and not one is identical to another.
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Venice is so incredibly romantic under the rain. Yet it is also true that it can be more difficult to wander through its streets when bad weather ruins your plans. Rains are frequent in the Fall and Winter, weather can turn quite cold from time to time, and aqua alta, or flood, can always happen, but the good thing is there are many attractions one can visit when the weather in Venice gets wet. Plus, there is nothing better than a good cup of Italian hot chocolate, or “cioccolata calda” to make bad weather much more bearable.
First of all, it is necessary to pack with rain in mind. When it rains, the streets get crowded by merchants selling knee-high boots and umbrellas, yet it is always best to travel with proper clothes (and enough pairs of shoes to have a dry one on hand). Most moving around in Venice is done by foot, so it is recommended to pack water-resistant clothes that keep you warm and comfortable. A strong umbrella is also a good choice, because it can get quite windy in the Venetian Lagoon during the colder times of the year (you will definitely notice it on board of water bus).
Aqua Alta is what Italians refer to when speaking of high water that floods the Saint Marc’s Square and neighboring alleys. To some visitors it may seem like a true Venetian adventure, but to locals it is a nightmare. If you want to experience this phenomenon and wonder through Saint Marc’s Square, you will find it is impossible to cross it by foot since the water can reach knee level. In these situation the city puts out special wooden runways that rise above the water, allowing people to walk across the piazza and reach the Basilica San Marco and the Doge’s Palace. Most businesses, however, will not be operating as usual since their owners will be busy getting the water out of their shops, trying to avoid the damage caused by it. Continue reading »