Any amount of praise would not do the distinct charm of Venice justice, nor any introductory note ever become fulfilling enough to describe all the things that will take you by surprise in this amalgam of 120 short islands. Instead of singing praises, perhaps a good starting point would be some cursory information and figures on the ‘Queen of the Adiatric’ – or ‘The Floating City’, or ‘The City of Bridges’, or ‘La Dominante’ –Venice has an apparently endless array of titles dubbed to it. The Venetian cityscape is inarguably the most breathtaking among all cities of the world, and the tales of its beauty is sung in the lore and ancient travelogues from almost all European countries, but this is not to overlook the fact that Venice is just as gripping for any prosaic history buff.
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When one looks beyond the veil of beauty, Venice has a throbbing heart of cultural heritage and remnants of classical tradition, manifest both in the proud peaks of the St. Mark’s Square buildings to the dimly lit alleyways and its nooks and crannies. The exact foundation of the floating city is a matter of debate, but the most agreed upon opinion is that its creators were Concordian, Aquileian, and Paduan refugees who fled the onslaught of the Hun barbaric hoards. Built over a marshy lagoon, Venice was once the largest port city in the height of the renaissance world – paralleling and even overshadowing the likes of Istanbul. The mantle of this historical greatness still lingers in today’s Venice in its several landmarks, as does the ostentation of once the wealthiest city in Europe. Such a powerhouse of financial and maritime capacity, naturally, also became affiliated with wars, once assigned as a staging area and garrison for Crusaders as well as the scene of the Battle of Lepanto.
Despite its rich and eventful history, there is no denying that the primary intent for any tourist visiting Venice is the unmatched, unique beauty it offers, with sights both grandiose and serene. Too unmatched, in fact, that Venice is crowded and touristy all year round. There is so much to see in Venice that it can be baffling to decide where one should even begin. The best way to imbibe this city is to be immersed in it for weeks on end. However, returning to practicalities, if you find yourself short on time in a city that makes you feel like you should not miss any part of it, here our pick for top 5 places to see and things to do in Venice.
- Fondaco Dei Tedeschi
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Up close, the essence of the canal-divided city offers a fresh experience, but as we have discussed before, the most unique thing about Venice is its cityscape. The usual way to try and get a grasp of its scale is getting atop the tower at St. Mark’s Campanille, which boasts the highest point of the city. But because of a couple hundred feet of greater height, many overlook the gem that is Fondaco Dei Tedeschi. As the name may suggest, this building used to station the Tedeschi (German) merchant in Venice’s late middle age days. The 1200s building suffered a fire breakout later on, and was renovated in the early 1500s. The interiors of the city resemble that of Fondaco Dei Turchi, complete with a courtyard, and combines the functions of a warehouse and a palace along with residential quarters. Today, it is mostly turned into a market where you can buy all sorts of Italian souvenirs. The real charm, unexpectedly, comes from its rooftop view – which is possibly the most beautiful panoramic view of the cityscape you can get, located by the Rialto Bridge and the Grand Canal.
- St. Mark’s Basilica
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This is the monument that tops all lists made for ranking the tourist attractions of the city, without exceptions. Most buildings in the St. Mark’s Square is part of a grand project ordered by the Doge as early as 828. The basilica only became an ecclesiastical center for the Roman catholic archdiocese a thousands years later, in the early 1800s. Unlike much of the renaissance-era vibe of Venice, the cathedral exhibits the hijinks of Byzantine architecture. Its dome-shaped heads are discernible from a mile away, and it is a treat to the eye, no matter whether you look at it from the outside, or roam inside it on the ornate cold marble looking up to the gold-plated mosaics of the dome vaults. Also adjacent is the famous Doge’s Palace, which you must also visit.
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Burano’s speciality is hard to put in words. It is not a landmark as such, but a whole island. Burano can rival the opulent new Dubai skyline, or the nooks of Buenos Aires that are full of life. It is a 40 minute ride by a waterbus from St. Mark’s Square, and you should not under any circumstances skip it. Burano has colourful houses. Not the Buenos Aires sort that we have invoked earlier, but a very carefully orchestrated arrangement of colourful houses (as a matter of fact, every paintjob has to be sanctioned and approved by the government in the island) – every alleyway of it is special. The Terranova sestiere presents photographic opportunities that no other place on earth could offer. There is also a Lacemaking School and Museum, and the glamorous church of San Martino that features Giambattista Tiepolo’s work.
- Tietro La Fenice :
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The name of La Fenice (The Phoenix)refers to its literal reincarnation from the ashes. Curiously, history repeated itself thrice to keep to the legends – it was destroyed by fire not once but thrice, the latest a result of arson in 1994, after which it was again built up and opened in 2004. La Fience is not just any opera house, but one of the finest and most adored in the world – containing the history of Opera itself within it. If you get your hands on an inexpensive ticket, you can get yourself an audio guide too.
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The northernmost of the earliest sestieris, this place is all for the explorers among you. Near the Canal, find the place where all the gondolas congregate for the most authentic and joyous look into the most unique walk of life out of any destination Venice offers. Also close by is the Isola di San Michele, with its famous cemetery.