If you are coming to Venice from within Italy, the best way to travel is by train. There are few parking spaces in Piazzale Roma, and these are normally costly and almost always occupied. If you decide to drive to Tronchetto, you will find that the situation there is not much better. It makes sense to leave your car in Mestre in a supervised car park and take a train into the center of Venice. When you arrive in Venice, make sure you are wearing comfortable shoes, as you will walk a lot—not because the city is large, but because the numerous bridges all have stairs.
A few words about the layout of the city: Venice is divided into six zones, and the addresses have consecutive numbers, e.g. Cannaregio 1, 2. As well as having popolare addresses, each building has an official address, e.g. Calle delle Vele. The popular address and the official address are always written together e.g. Cannaregio 1234, Calle delle Vele. The tricky thing is that each zone has the same street name, so postmen have a very difficult (and highly respected) job since the official address (in this case Calle delle Vele) is never enough to make sure the post goes to the right place.
The six zones or sestiere are as follows: San Marco, San Polo, Cannaregio, Dorsoduro, Castello and Santa Croce. Although there are six zones, it is possible to cross the city on foot in under an hour. The zones do not really have strict divisions, but they are characterized in different ways: Dursoduro is the university district; Cannaregio is home to the historic
Venice is the only European city (and one of the few in the world) to have its public transport entirely on the water. Run by ACTV, the timetable constantly changes, depending on the tide. The main waterway in Venice (il Canal Grande) is shaped like an "S"; this means that if you want to travel from San Marco to
The main ACTV lines are: no. 1, which sails from Piazzale Roma to Lido with several stops on the Grand Canal; it is very slow (it takes half an hour from start to finish) and should be used if you want to go sightseeing. There are two circular routes, no. 41 (anticlockwise) and no. 42 (clockwise) which travel around the whole of the city from San Zaccaria to Piazzale Roma via Giudecca, Cimitero and Murano. No. 51 and no. 52 travel as far as Lido with fewer stops. The no. 82 goes from Lido to Rialto, stopping at Giudecca, Piazzale Roma, Tronchetto and Ferrovia, with San Zaccaria as its final destination.
If you prefer taxis, be prepared to pay far more for a water taxi compared to one on the mainland. You should always tell the driver your destination and find out the price before stepping aboard. Gondolas are also subject to additional charges. They will charge you for an hour even if your trip only lasts 50 minutes.
A visit to Venice can last a few hours, many months, a few years or the rest of your life; it all depends on what you want to do. It's also possible to take tours to Venice that dwell more on the surrounding area, since the actual city is not that large.
Tour One: San Marco
The Basilica di San Marco at the heart of the city is a must see. There is little else that illustrates the relationship between Venice and Byzantium so perfectly. The central plan of the basilica is a Greek cross with five large domes, one of which is at the extremity of the cross, and one at the crossing of the transept. The main façade looks out over the Piazza San Marco, with four portals that lead into the body of the church. There were originally five portals, but one, facing towards the Piazzetta, has been transformed into a large window. Immediately next to the church, and in perfect harmony with its neighbor is the Palazzo Ducale. Built as a simple castle, this has evolved into a symbol of Italian architecture and engineering from the proto-modern period. It is home to art works of exceptional importance, but unfortunately has also lost many pieces to fire at different times. On the other side of the Piazzetta is the National Marciana Library, which contains treasures of Renaissance wisdom that emerged in Venice when the city was relatively free of censorship. Many texts are marked as published in Argentina, but in reality they were the work of thousands of Venetian printers, who produced them in secret. In the Counter-Reformation, the activity of these printers helped to maintain a situation of free communication between different groups. The Museo Correr, which is part of the circuit of city museums, is also in Piazza San Marco. This museum is dedicated to the history and culture of the city, but also contains other exhibits. Under the Procuratie, and above the historic Caffè Florian, is the Museo Archeologico. The Greek community meets right behind San Marco, in the Chiesa di San Giorgio dei Greci church, which is adjacent to the museum of Byzantine Icons. In the Fondaco dei Tedeschi at the foot of the Rialto Bridge you will find the Post Office, while the National History Museum is located in the Fondaco dei Turchi.
Tour Two: Castello and Dorsoduro
The Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni was started in the secular tradition of the city by the Dalmati, who defended it strenuously until the fall of the Republic. It now holds the Carpaccio cycle, which is of exceptional importance.
Art lovers shouldn't miss the Gallerie dell'Accademia, by the bridge of the same name, which houses some treasures of Venetian painting dating from the height of its splendor in the 16th Century.
Tour Three: Cannaregio
Slightly off the traditional tourist route are sites belonging to ethnic and religious minorities. The secular tolerance of the Republic allowed the persecuted a place to live peacefully in Venice. The Island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni is the center of Armenian Diaspora culture, and there is the Moorat Raphael Palace, near San Sebastian. Venice can also boast the first ghetto in history. "Ghetto" is a Venetian word, derived from "getto," referring to the cast of foundries originally in the area, who moved away for security reasons. The word "getto" became "ghetto" since Jewish immigrants from Germany had difficulty pronouncing the Italian "g." A museum and synagogues can be visited here.
Tour Four: The Islands
Don't miss out on a visit to the islands, which are an integral part of the city's history. Torcello was one of the first to be settled; it was then abandoned as it became unhealthy. There is also Murano, home of blown glass, and Burano, an island of colour and lace. Venice is not just a city of stone, if you hire a boat (although you need to be very specific about the boat you want in a city surrounded by water!) you can cruise through areas of nature for hours in the northern lagoon near Burano. Sights to see include the Convento di San Francesco del Deserto and the valleys. Travelling southwards, you will come across Chioggia and the lagoon of Cason dei sette morti (Lagoon of the Seven Dead). Enjoy oases of fauna, archaeological areas, and hidden islands.
Tour Five: Outside the City
Once back on terra firma, you can visit Brenta and its river, or take in its beautiful villas. From Malcontenta up to Vicenza and the Villa Capra Valmarana, Padovan architectural influences are visible. Pop into Padua (10-30 minutes by train) if you want and visit the Specola observatory, which belonged to Galileo, who worked for Venice as a mathematician.
The restaurants in Venice offer a wide variety of cuisines, ranging from international fast food to five-star Italian dishes. Many of the specialties are seafood based, and there are excellent vegetables in-season from the gardens of the Isola di Sant'Erasmo. In autumn, look out for the Torbolino: an immature Pinot Nero whose arrival announces that winter is on its way.
For a light snack try an osteria or bar which serves cicchetti (meaning "a pick-me-up"), usually meatballs, fried vegetables, anchovies, olives and cured meats, or even a sandwich, whose delicious dough is made from the city water.
There are many bars and osterie close to the Rialto Market, which serve fresh food—they are subject to a quality control, which is carried out daily by the local residents. Places like Da Pinto offer high-quality Venetian dishes that cater to locals and tourists alike. Venice loves to have a good drink, as does the whole of the Veneto region. There are many popular wine bars that have become real institutions. Unnamed house wines of varying quality can be found everywhere; to be sure of a good bouquet try Do Mori. A few years ago the Da Fiore, also in this area, was named best restaurant in the world.
A lot of Venice's top-quality gourmet restaurants can be found in San Marco, the most prestigious area of the city. Harry's Bar is a name to remember, as are Do Forni and Antico Pignolo. One of the other cafes located in the piazza, famous for it's coffees, teas, desserts and light lunches, Caffè Florian looks out onto the piazza and offers an exquisite, unforgettable experience.
Cannaregio, Santa Croce & San Polo
Situated near Piazzale Roma and the University, off the tourist trail, Campo Santa Margherita is always reasonable. This area consists predominantly of pubs, bakeries, gelaterie (ice cream shops) and pizzerias, which cater for a mostly student clientèle. In summer it's the only area that stays open until late at night, much against the will of the elderly population in this district. This is also the "artistic" quarter, where actors, directors, architects, designers and a range of other artistic types hang out. Antico Dolo is one of the most popular eateries that can be found in these districts.
According to official historical accounts, one of the first important events in the history of Venice was the election of the first doge, a type of magistrate, by the Byzantines in 697. His name was Paoluccio Anafesto. The domination of Byzantium is much talked about but has little factual basis. However, the city was already established in 811 when it moved to the Rivoalto, which is now called Rialto, from the islands around Torcello and Malamocco. Agnello Partecipazio was the doge at this time. The remains of San Marco were brought to the city in 829, rescued by two fishermen.
The city had more or less taken on its current appearance by 1000, when it was governed by Pietro Tribun. The ordination of power took place in 1177, when Alessandro III met with the Emperor Federico, to negotiate relations between the papacy, the council and the empire. However, in 1204 the situation changed when, after providing ships and equipment for the fourth crusade, Venice first received help to re-conquer Zara. This unusual crusade started out to conquer Jerusalem, but ended up sharing out the remains of the Byzantine Empire; Venice won control of a huge part of the spoils. Thanks to a commercial policy that also set up a strict military stronghold, the territories became their rightful property.
The state evolved with the decree of the Great Council in 1297. This act only permitted citizens to participate in the Council if their ancestors had served on it. As a result the number of nobles in power increased which guaranteed, in theory, that they would continue to hold power even if a rival faction took over. As a result, political struggles were poisoned by many private feuds. According to Bartolo da Sassoferrato, although it is true that the nobility were not much respected by the people, they had more respect than in other cities which were governed in the same way. The population mostly accepted their government, and, as there was such a large population, there were few internal divisions. The majority were reasonably well off, which meant that society was fairly stable.
Struggles with the Ligurian city of Genoa were a problem until a century later, in 1380, after the war of Chioggia. At this point it was no longer a military obstacle, and even though they now had control of the eastern routes only commercial rivalry remained.
Events that took place around the middle of the 15th Century would change the fate of the Mediterranean forever. The expansion on the mainland, and the conquest of a great part of Lombardy was the driving force in successive alliances to overthrow an overwhelming power, the first of which was the definitive fall of Constantinople to the Turks. The trade routes, which were the basis of the Italian states, became insecure, and mercantile trade started to decline. The final straw was the discovery of the American continent. The Mediterranean was on the brink of becoming a kind of lake under the threat of the Ottoman Empire. For many, it was the beginning of the end.
Although Venice had a somewhat overrated victory at Lepanto, Cyprus fell and the loss of Crete in 1669 was the ultimate insult. Thirty years later, Venice regained possession of Morea for a period of twenty years. The Turkish wars ended in 1718 with the overwhelming victory of the Turks. Venice then enjoyed its last century of freedom under the rule of the nobility; in 1797, Napoleon handed it to Austria, after feigned negotiations. In 1805 he returned to Venice and completed the domination of the city. The industrial structures were knocked down and the city became a shadow of its former self. In 1848-9, it was invaded again by the Hapsburgs, and in 1866, it was united with the Kingdom of Italy.