13 April 2016
It would be tempting to take a quick vaporetto to my first museum of the day, but the short walk between Sant Elena and the Arsenale is far too pretty to pass up, even if the weather isn’t overly lovely. Besides, the clouds don’t bother you when you get your first glance at one of the best views of Venetian landmarks. A black and white filter doesn’t hurt either…
It seems fitting to start my explorations of Venice itself with a stroll to the Arsenale. It’s a place that turned Venice from a small town in the middle of a lagoon into an empire.
In true Venetian fashion, the Arsenale Land Gate (Porta di Terra,) is decorated with lions and statues plundered from elsewhere (including lions from Piraeus and Delos.) As a first impression to the area, this gate tells a visitor an awful lot about Venetian history. It was built in 1460, seven years after Venice sacked Constantinople and stirred up Ottoman wrath. Beyond are the greatest shipyards the world has ever seen. The Arsenale produced ships at astonishing rates. Almost 16,000 workers made ships in an assembly line fashion with teams of workers specialising in each stage. By the 17th century the Arsenale could produce and rig one ship each day, a feat that would take other European cities months to achieve. This was aided by the ‘flat pack’ nature of Venetian boat building, with pre-produced elements made in large quantities and kept in storage. There was room and equipment to ensure that 100 galleys could be in production at any one time, with 25 completed warships moored and ready to go immediately. The Arsenale, after several expansions, takes up 45 hectares (15% of Venice.)
The building was constructed as a workshop producing oars and provides an atmospheric backdrop to the many vessels on display.
From merchant ships to a merchant’s house. Halfway up the Grand Canal is Ca D’Oro – the Golden House.
This palazzo dates from 1428 and belonged to the influential Contarini family, who could count eight Doges in their lineage. It was built in an architectural style unique to the city known as Venetian Gothic. It’s a style that seamlessly blends Western Gothic architecture with Eastern flourishes that echo the Moorish and Byzantine designs seen by Venetians traders on their travels.
Ca D’Oro, (Palazzo Santa Sofia is the official name,) is a wonderful example of Grand Canal building. The waterside facade is ornate and was once covered in golden detailing as well as deep red and vivid blue details.
The ground floor is consists of a loggia and entrance hall and is particularly spectacular.
Detailed flooring at the Ca d'Oro. The ground floor was used as a warehouse and showroom for trading. In order to impress customers (and annoy rival traders) it has been decorated even more beautifully than the living and entertaining areas of the palazzo on the upper levels. #venezia #Venice #igersvenezia #ig_venice #visitveneto
In 1894 the Palazzo was bought by an avid art collector called Giorgio Franchetti. He bequeathed the house and his collection to the city in 1916 and it is now open to the public.
Once finished at the Golden House I pop over to Palazzo Mocenigo, which now houses a costume museum. The Mocenigo family were also a prominent fixture in Venice with seven Doges in their family tree.
The museum is a window to the clothing of Venetian nobles in the 17th and 18th centuries as well as the beautiful decoration of their living spaces.
Having viewed some palaces, it was time to turn my attention to sacred architecture. There are 139 churches in Venice and each have their merits, but there are few quite as grand as Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. Built by the Franciscans in 1250 on the site of an older church, work continued until 1338. Almost immediately work resumed to enlarge the building, construction continuing for another century. Monks lived here until 1810 when Napoleon Bonaparte expelled them. His soldiers used the convent building as a barracks.
The exterior of the church is misleadingly plain.
Inside the church houses a selection of ornate tombs and memorials.
Behind the Basilica is the Scuola Grande di San Rocco
The Brothers of San Rocco founded the school in 1478 after a particularly deadly spate of plague within the city, San Rocco being the patron of plague victims. The name is misleading as this isn’t a school at all, the term in this case being used to describe a brotherhood of laymen dedicated to providing charitable aid. In subsequent plague years the Scuola would be inundated with donations by those hoping to avert the plague from their homes. This allowed for the exquisite decorations of the hall as well as charity works.
The Upper Hall is the jewel in the San Rocco crown…
Next door is the Chiesa of San Rocco.
Time for another Palazzo turned museum, this time Ca’ Rezzonico which houses the Museum of Venice in the 18th Century.
The poet Robert Browning died here in 1889.
I had booked on a tour of murders and scandals that was sadly cancelled. I decided to instead spend my evening searching for a famous staircase that was apparently going to feature. I’ll never know if a murder took place here, but the Scala Contarini del Bovolo (‘snail shell’) is definitely worth a look.
Recently opened up after restoration when I visited, I was delighted to be able to climb up to the top. External staircases were a way of saving space inside houses. No external staircase is quite as flamboyant as this, dating to 1500.
I decided to take a slow stroll down the Riva degli Schiavoni as the sun sets. This is a walk that gives some of the most iconic views of Venetian landmarks and is characteristically bustling.