As we were getting closer to shore, we could glimpse some of the famous landmarks. such as the Campanile, and the Church of Santa Maria della Salute. Built in 1630, after the plague had killed about 150,000 citizens, it's a prime example of how diseases played a role in architecture. Venetians made an offer to God saying "stop the plague and we will build a church to honor the Virgin Mary". He did, and they kept their promise.
As we were approaching the Gran Canal, we had a chance to observe a myriad of smaller canals radiating from it, and populated by Venetians and tourists going about their daily tasks, using gondolas instead of cars, and vaporettos in lieu of buses.
One of our first stops was the famous Piazza di San Marco, site of the re-known Basilica di San Marco, the Doge's Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, the Campanile, and the Clock Tower. We also photographed the famed Lion of Venice and its companion, the statue of Santodoro, St. Theodore of Amasea at the edge of the Piazza.
St. Mark's Cathedral is the principal church in Venice. It was destroyed by fire in 976 AD. Work for a new church started the same year but was not completed until 1094 AD. Its design is based on the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. Its laid out in the from of a Greek cross with five domes.
The Doge's Palace or Palazzo Ducale di Venezia, was the residence of the Doge (Duke)of Venice, a lifetime title. Until 1807, the Basilica was regarded as the Doge's private chapel. Its two most visible facades look towards the Venetian lagoon and St. Mark's Square. We went in and took some pictures of the myriad rooms and ornate staircases and ceilings. The walls and ceilings of the principal rooms were decorated by the Venetian Masters, including Veronese, Titian, Carpacio, and Tintoretto. We saw the Porta della Carta, where the Doge's edicts were posted, as well as the Scala di Giganti, or Stairway of the Giants, scene of the doge's lavish inaugurations and never used by mere mortals. The last photo above shows the Four Tetrarchs, a 4th Century porphyry statue from Syria, placed by the Porta della Carta, which abandons the traditional representation of the roman rulers as majestic, godlike creatures, and represents the Four Tetrarchs as mere mortals.
The famous Ponte dei Suspiri, (Bridge of Sighs), was under repairs, so we couldn't see much of it. it's said that its name derives from the sighs that prisoners exhaled when taken to prison. It connects the old prisons to the interrogation room in the Doge's Palace. A local legend says that lovers will be assured eternal love if they kiss on a gondola at sunset, under the bridge.
Another landmark within St. Mark's Square is the Campanile, Italian word for "Bell Tower". The term applies to bell towers that are part of a larger building, usually a church, or civil administration building, or free standing. It was super crowded, so we declined going up.
The last landmark we saw was the Clock Tower (Torre dell'Orologio) situated on St. Mark's Square, next to the Procuratie-Vecchie, a two story structure built in the 12th century to house the ofices and apartments of the procurators. It is the most important clock in the city. It dates from 1499; the main clock face consists of several concentric dials, depicting the hours, the zodiac signs, and the phases of the sun and the moon.
A gondola ride is de rigueur when in Venice, so we did just that, and navigated along the Gran Canal and the smaller canaletti radiating from it. The gondolier positions are inherited within the families, and one can wait for years until there's an opening. I found the side canals to be smelly and dirty, and I could see the signs of the devastating flood of 1966 in many of the buildings' walls.
After the gondola ride we decided to take the local transportation, the vaporetto, to go to the Rialto Bridge. Until 1854, when the Accademia Bridge was built, it was the only way to cross the Gran Canal. Its 7.5 meters (24 feet) arch, was designed to allow safe passage of galleys, and the massive structure was built on 12,000 wooden pilings that still support the bridge, more than 400 years later. It was built in three years, between 1588 and 1591. Antonio da Ponte (Anthony of the Bridge, appropriately enough) competed against Michelangelo and Palladio for the contract. The bridge has three walkways: two along the outer balustrades, and a wider central walkway leading between two rows of small shops. It consists primarily of steps, making it a challenge for people with strollers and wheelchairs.
The vaporetto ride took us by the railroad station and by the Accademia bridge. We finally embarked on another vaporetto to where our boat was docked, and sadly said arrivederci Venice!. We spent the night anchored in the city, and very early in the morning we boarded buses that took us to the airport for the flight home. Thus ended another wonderful holiday!