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Venice - The City of Canals

With a collection of 117 islands connected by 409 bridges, where cars are banned and everyone, including postmen and the police, goes by boat, Venice is a city you will never forget in a hurry.

If you've always wanted those picture perfect holiday snaps, the backdrop couldn't be better than Venice with the world's most artistic masterpieces per square kilometre.

For romanticism, the gothic and contemporary buildings,lazy gondola rides with gondoliers in soothing song will set the scene for you and your loved one perfectly.

One New York Times writer said of Venice that it is "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man".

Though its future is anything but assured, as Venice is physically sinking under the weight of its many buildings, hopefully it will be around for many many more decades for all to enjoy and wonder at.

Top 10 things to do in Venice

St Marks Square

Piazza San Marco (St Mark's Square), is the principal square of Venice. It's central landmark is an ideal gathering place and is extremely popular with tourists and photographers.

The Piazza originated in the 9th century as a small area in front of the original St Mark's Basilica. It was enlarged to its present size and shape in 1177.

Looking round, the square, it is dominated by the Basilica, the Doge's Palace and the Basilica's campanile, which stands apart from it.

The buildings around the Piazza are, anti-clockwise from the Grand Canal, the Doge's Palace, St Mark's Basilica, St Mark's Clocktower, the Procuratie Vecchie, the Napoleonic Wing of the Procuratie, the Procuratie Nuove, St Mark's Campanile and Loggetta and the Biblioteca Marciana. So you don't have to go very far to get a great days sight-seeing done.

The Piazza has always been seen as the centre of Venice. It was the location of all the important offices of the Venetian state, and has been the seat of the archbishopric since the 19th century. It was also the focus for many of Venice's festivals.

St Marks Basilica

The first St. Mark's church in Venice was a temporary building in the Doge’s Palace, constructed in 828, when Venetian merchants stole the supposed relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist from its original resting place in Alexandria, Egypt.

It is said the Venetians hid the relics in a barrel under layers of pork to get them past Muslim guards. The escapade is depicted in the 13th-century mosaic above the door farthest left of the front entrance of the Basilica.

The original St. Mark's church was replaced by a new one on the present site in 832.

Gradually, the exterior brickwork has been covered with various marbles and carvings, some much older than the building itself. A new frontage was constructed and the domes were covered with higher wooden domes in order to blend in with the Gothic architecture of the redesigned Doge's Palace.

St. Mark's Basilica is designed on a Greek cross floor plan and modeled after Constantine's Church of the Holy Apostles (now destroyed) and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Each arm of the Greek cross has a central nave with side aisle; a narthex in the west end provides the flat surface for the grand facade.

Over the high altar is a baldacchino on columns decorated with 11th-century reliefs. The altarpiece is the famous Pala d'Oro (Golden Pall), a panel of gold embedded with gems.

Overall the beauty and attention to detail in the mosaics, paintings and carvings is astonishing.

The basilica is free to enter and open all week, although opening times do vary. Photography is prohibited inside to preserve the delicate artwork.

Rialto Bridge

Rialto Bridge is the oldest bridge to span the Great Canal (one of four).

The present stone bridge, a single span designed by Antonio da Ponte, was finally completed in 1591 after the initial build was proposed in 1503.

It replaced the original wooden bridge that served as an important crossing to the then popular trading hub of Rialto market on the eastern bank.

Two inclined ramps lead up to a central portico. On either side of the portico the covered ramps carry rows of shops.

The design has made it one of the great icons of Venice.

Grand Canal

The Grand Canal forms one of the major water-traffic corridors in Venice.

Public transport is provided by water buses and private water taxis, but many tourists prefer to take a more leisurely gondola ride.

At one end the canal leads into the lagoon near Santa Lucia railway station and the other end leads into Saint Mark Basin: in between it makes a large S-shape through the central districts of the city.

The canal is 3800m long and varies between 30m - 90m in width and is only an average of 5m deep.

The banks of the canal are lined with more than 170 buildings, most of which date to 13th/18th century and demonstrate the welfare and art created by the people at the time.

The Grand Canal is an enchanted place, contributing to the magic of one of the most beloved cities in the world.

Doge Palace

This gothic palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice and was constructed between 1309 and 1424.

The palace was badly damaged by fire in 1574, however, a decision was taken to restore the building to it's original gothic style.

Its two most visible facades look towards the Venetian Lagoon and St Mark's Square and it's very distinctive arches make it stand out as you glide by in the gondola.

As well as being the ducal residence, the palace housed political institutions of the Republic of Venice until the Napoleonic occupation of the city.

The building today is preserved as a museum and inside there are displays of paintings by Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese, which glorify the Venetian state.

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Bridge of Sighs

Unlike the other four bridges that span the Grand Canal, this one is completely enclosed.

There are two, relatively small windows with stone bars, that let in a modicum of light inside.

The bridge, built in 1602 is made of white limestone. It passes over the Rio di Palazzo and connects the old prisons to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace.

The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment and the name of the bridge is apparently suggestive of the sigh from prisoners at their final sight of beautiful Venice before they were taken down to the cells.

St Marks Clocktower (Campanile)

The clock tower situated on St Mark's Square, houses the most important clock in the city, St Mark's Clock.

Construction of the tower started in 1496, and by December 1497 the great bell had been completed by Simone Camponato and installed on the top, with the two bronze figures of shepherds, each 2.5m high, who hit the bell with hammers.

The first clock housed in the tower was built and installed between 1496 and 1499, and was one of a number of large public astronomical clocks erected throughout Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries.

The clock displays the time of day, the dominant sign of Zodiac and the current phase of the moon and it's an extraordinarily elaborate timepiece.

It fulfilled a very practical role in what was a mighty maritime empire in centuries past. Seafarers setting out from the Grand Canal could rely on this faultless timepiece to decide the most favourable time for setting out to sea. So reliable is the clock, that in 1858 it was made the official timekeeper of Venice - to which every other clock should be set.

The clock's mechanism and tower were restored in the 1990's and the 500-year-old timepiece is still going strong ... and still keeping perfect time.

St Maria Della Salute

The Basilica of St Mary of Health is more commonly known simply as the Salute and is located in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice.

The Roman Catholic church sits on a very thin piece of land between the Grand Canal and the Bacino di San Marco, so the church is directly visible when entering the Piazza San Marco from the water.

The location was chosen partially due to its relationship to San Giorgio, San Marco and Il Redentore, with which it forms an arc.

The church was built in dedication to the Virgin Mary for deliverance (Salute) from the devastating outbreak of plague in 1630. Consequently, most of the art in the church bear references to the Black Death.

It's a vast octagonal building with two domes and a pair of picturesque bell-towers at the back. It's foundations consist of 100,000 wooden piles.

The interior is full of symbolism of the Virgin Mary from the large dome that represents her crown to the eight sides that depict the points on her symbolic star.


The island of Burano lies in the northern part of the Venetian Lagoon, about 40 minutes from Venice by motorboat

The area is very different from that of Venice's historic centre, thanks to the Buranese custom of painting houses in bright colours.

All around you will see small houses painted in a horde of varying colours, green, pink, blue red, orange and so on. Of course locals are only permitted to paint their houses from a very selective pallet range after first obtaining permission from the government. It really does look like a little model village.

Along with the traditional occupation of fishing, the Buranelli are also expert lace makers. You'll find plenty of small shops and street stall vendors selling their wears from table cloths to wedding dresses.

While here, you should make your way over to the Lace Museum in the old Scuola di Merletti or lace making school. From time to time the older women will gather here upstairs to practice lace making in a traditional sewing circle. Few practice the traditional way now though as it is very time-consuming and therefore expensive.


The island itself forms the main land barrier between Venice and the open sea, and is made up of an 12km-long sandy strip.

As well as being a popular holiday spot with the Italians during the summer months, this beach is famous for being featured in countless books, and even provided the setting for the film 'Death in Venice'.

The main street here is Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta. At approximately 700m long, it leads from the lagoon on one side to the sea on the other. All long the street you'll find hotels, shops, and tourist-centric restaurants.

At the lagoon end of the Gran Viale, you find the boats that connect to Venice, the mainland, the islands and the Marco Polo airport.

For things to see in Lido, you've got a couple of small churches and a Jewish cemetery which offers guided tours.

If you're looking to brush shoulders with some celebs, The Venice Film Festival takes place at the Lido every September.

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