Behind the Venetian Mask

Behind the Venetian Mask

With the approach of the 74th Venice Film Festival and the city nearing the end of the Biennale, Musement takes a look at the historical sites and hidden treasures of the Floating City.

I have a confession to make: I’ve only been to Venice once in my life, and all I remember about that experience is that I was so tired that I fell asleep at the table in a restaurant next to my plate of ravioli. I don’t remember it  firsthand because I was seven years-old, but there is a photo to prove it.

From that moment, I would use my imagination to re-create a fictitious Venice of sorts, a collage of film scenes or scenarios from books, photographs and tales. To remedy this, I decided to revisit Venice and discover the magic of St. Mark’s Square, the excitement of the Grand Canal, and the beauty of the Rialto Bridge observed from an often overlooked point of view of the city-one of the most touristy places in the world-stated as such by the people who live there. For this reason, I decided to drag Lucia and Francesco around with me, a couple of dear friends who have known and fallen in love with Venice while studying and living there.

“How wonderful, you went to Venice! What did you see?” – Vintage photos from the author’s archive

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco is one of the world’s most famous squares, thanks to the presence of the majestic Palazzo Ducale and the bell tower from which you can admire a sweeping view of the whole city. We are all used to seeing this square crowded with tourists from all over the world, but late in the evening after the crowds leave, St. Mark’s Square feels quite magical. Gran Caffè Quadri and Caffè Florian revive their historic vitality to the sound of sviolinate, a live and passionate violin performance.  Passers-by start dancing to the music, transforming San Marco into a dance floor illuminated by the lights that filter out from the piazza’s procuratie  (interconnected buildings).

Moreover, the Island of San Giorgio is the ideal place to admire St. Mark’s Square undisturbed, and to make new discoveries, such as the beautiful, well-stocked Biblioteca della Fondazione Cini (Library of the Cini Foundation) that holds volumes of books that tell the story of Venice, from history to literature to theater to melodrama to historical relations between Venice and the East to everything in between.

Visit St. Mark’s Square in the evening

Canal Grande

The Grand Canal is one Venice’s most distinct sights,  bordered by marvelous palaces that together with the branches of small canals create spectacular views that recall the adventures and forbidden meetings of Casanova. To break away from the tourist route–without sacrificing the ideal of dinner on the Grand Canal–have dinner at La Zucca, a vegetarian-friendly restaurant, or you can nosh on a cicchetti while you sip an aperitivo at Bottegon a Zattere then take a stroll along the canal as you enjoy a gelato from, Gelateria Lo Squero, which takes its name from the nearby squero (boatyard) where gondolas were once built. Alternatively, in Calle Lunga San Barnaba, you can discover the city’s artisan excellence, such as Venetian lace by Annelie Pizzi e Ricami (Annelie Pizzi and Embroidery). In the Rialto area, however, the fish market provides passers-by with a n authentic glimpse of the city’s everyday life.

Gondolas on Canal Grande

The Venetian bridges

More than 400 bridges cross the 177 canals of postcard-perfect Venice, and these are among the city’s most beloved and photographed subjects.The most famous are the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) and the Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge).  Lord Byron named the first such because prisoners would pass through here on their way to their cells, and would sigh as they admired La Serenissima for the last time; the Rialto is one of the world’s most famous stone bridges and should be admired sans selfie stick. Also, Al Remer offers a gorgeous view of the bridge so stop by for an aperitivo.

Il Ponte di Rialto

La Giudecca

Located south of Venice proper, Giudecca is an island filled with character that is often spared the hordes of  ourism crowds. It has been said that the island owes its name to the fact that it was the home of the first Jewish quarter of the city, however this is derived from an oral tradition, so it’s not certain. At the end of the fifteenth century the Chiesa del Redentore (Church of the Redeemer) was built, and in mid-July, Giudecca becomes the heart of the Redeemer’s Feast that unites Venetians with music, fireworks and dancing.

View of Giudecca

La Biennale and other exhibitions

Venice is one of the world’s most special cities, filled with art and history and for this reason, it is quite a hospitable place for every form of culture. The celebrated film festival starts at the end of August, while the Biennale, created in 1895, takes place from May through November, which includes shows, dance, theater workshops, installations and exhibitions as well as the Mostra del Cinema. This year there are 120 artists who exhibit their works in the gardens of the Biennale and in the city center. After visiting the Biennale Exhibitions, relax and take a ride around Isola di San Pietro (St. Peter’s Island) that  is filled with artisanal l stalls and local bites such as sarde in saor (sweet and sour sardinesand bigoli (pasta made with duck eggs) during the summer festival. Or have an aperitivo at Caffè La Serra in the gardens of the Biennale, a beautiful greenhouse with a bar and live music. Moreover, Palazzo Grassi and Punta Dogana are hosting Damien Hirst’s highly buzzed “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” exhibition, which runs through 3 December. The British artist reworked the objects found on board a two-thousand-year-old shipwreck discovered off the African coast!

One of Damien Hirst’s “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” exhibition at the Biennale in Venice until December 2017

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