Venice: A pocket guide
It’s important to choose carefully when to visit Venice, since for much of the year the city is engulfed in tourists. But don’t be put off by stories of the crowds—even at peak visitor times, you are never more than a bridge or an alley away from a more secluded city, full of secret campi (squares), discreet Gothic palazzi, and little cafés and bars. Venice also has a vibrant contemporary art scene, even away from the Art Biennale, and no trip to Venice should be without a visit to the glassblowers of Murano and Burano and the fabulous Peggy Guggenheim museum.
For those who want to explore the area around Venice and Vicenza, the great Palladian villas of the Veneto are within easy reach. A truly fabulous one is the Villa dei Nani, nicknamed after the 17 statues of gnomes (ai Nani) around the perimeter walls, and inside are wonderful eighteenth-century frescoes by Tiepolo.
“I gaze on Venice with joy,” wrote Goethe, “on that great Being born from the womb of the sea.” Set resplendently in its lagoon at the head of the Adriatic Sea, Venice made its riches through trade. From the twelfth century until its fall at the end of the eighteenth century, the Venetian Republic was, apart from Rome, the first and longest-lived of the European overseas empires. The Venetians built their empire to protect their wealth, and so they were above all pragmatic. They were not ideologists, they weren’t missionaries or fanatics, nor were they great builders like the Romans. They were capitalists; the main thread of Venice’s imperial history is its long defensive action against the colossus of the Ottoman Turks, their main trading partners, and the republic’s vicious wars against neighboring Genoa. Pope Pius II wrote in the fifteenth century that “every Venetian was a slave to the sordid occupations of trade,” but these “slaves” were intensely proud of their republic and its institutions, and its elected doges were the wonder of nations.
This pride and wealth inspired the great medieval and Renaissance doges to celebrate the glory of the republic with architectural wonders, among them the iconic bridges and banks of the Grand Canal, the Piazza, the Basilica and the Doge’s Palace of San Marco, the Accademia, and the Salute. Titian, Tintoretto, Bellini, and Veronese were encouraged to paint to show the wealth and power of La Serenissima.
Those seeking to spend time in Venice and dig beneath the surface of this sublime city find it both cheaper and more pleasant to be in a casa. Alongside the great hotels on the Grand Canal there are several private palazzi that have been transformed into apartments and houses for rent. Several villas have been modernized, and these, like the palazzi in Venice, are now available to rent through UltraVilla specialists.