It you like to travel, then Venice is probably on your bucket list. It is a beautiful and picturesque city that can take weeks to explore. Most of us stop in for a few days, perhaps only a few hours. If you arrive by cruise ship, it’s likely your tour will be limited to what the locals call the Bermuda (shorts) Triangle, consists roughly of three stops; the Rialto Bridge, the Galleria dell’Accademia and the Piazza San Marco. But there is more to the Floating City than the highlights. The peripheral canals and neighborhoods are where the local life exists.
Here is a sample of what you can see in a few hours by wandering off the beaten path.
What makes Venice, Venice is the canals. There are no cars in the old city. Essential services and transportation are provided by water taxis and barges.
In neighborhoods outside of the main tourist attractions daily life is more evident. There are roughly 58,000 residence in Venice. That is just a few thousand more than occupied the city after the Great Plague in 1438. High costs and infrastructure problems drive more Venetians out of town each year.
Rialto is the historic commercial district of Venice. In the sixteenth century an area west of the Rialto Bridge was set aside for a produce and fish market. The Rialto Market is still a vibrant part of the city today. Vendors bring their offerings in each morning by boat and barge. The names of the streets (Pescheria – fish, Erberia – vegetables, Speziali – spices) pay tribute to the different produce.
A local fruit vendor waits for his next customer.
Gondoliers, once the chauffeurs of Venice now ply their trade for visiting tourists for just a few months a year. At around two Euros a minute, they have a reputation for being expensive. However, a traditional hand-built gondola costs about the same as a car, the working season is between June and September, and a lot of time is spent waiting for the next customer. Being a gondolier is not the life of ease that it seems.
Of the 60,000 and 80,000 tourists that descend on Venice each day during the season, most only visit a small portion of the city. The locals call it the Bermuda (shorts) Triangle. It consists roughly of three stops: the Rialto Bridge, the Galleria dell Accademia and the Piazza San Marco. There is more to the city. Even if you arrive by cruise ship, step off the beaten path; follow a peripheral canal into a neighborhood, you’ll be closer to what Venice is today and the essence of what she used to be.
High tides (acqua alta in local parlance) are a fact of life for Venetians. The ground floor of many homes are flooded in the winter when seasonal high tides are pushed higher by prevailing winds. Cleaning the front steps in an ongoing chore.
Venice’s life has come from water and so may its death. It is sinking at a rate of about 2 millimeters a year due to ground water that was pumped out in the 50’s and 60’s. It is also tilting East due to natural tectonic movement. To add to these troubles the Adriatic is rising along with all the global oceans. Venice’s tides now flood many of the pathways and buildings that were historically out of harms’ way. There are ambitious plans to save the city, but at the moment she is still sinking and the oceans are still rising.
The erosion of building foundations and canal walls is a serious problem for Venice. Historically, the water in the canals was driven by the tides and stayed relatively calm. These days powerful propellers from ferries, barges, and speedboats churn the water deep into the crevices of the canal walls undermining the foundation of the city.
The peripheral canals and byways of Venice are where the daily life of Venice is reflected. The humidity during the summer can get very high and it is not uncommon to see laundry drying over the balcony.
A common sights in Venice are these palina poles typically used for mooring gondolas. Historically they were used to stake out mooring locations by established Venetian families. The colors used on the palina identified the specific family. The need for territorial markers has faded with history but the palina still brighten the city.
Venice’s bridges are one of its many charms. Those spanning the small peripheral canals that weave through the neighborhoods are less famous than those spanning the Grand Canal but they are functional and elegant structures. If you’re a traveler that likes to explore, they hold the promise of a new adventure just over the next canal.
As is the case all over the world, contractors take their dogs to work. In Venice that’s done by barge rather than trucks. Guarding the barge is the order of the day for Venetian dogs.
Venice is one of the most popular places in the world to get married. The romance of the city, gondola rides through the canals, and photographic settings make it tough to resist. Be sure to bring your wallet. While it costs 150 Euro to have a civil ceremony, the romantic experiences may cost a little more.
Watching the sun rise on the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute is one of the experiences not to be missed on your visit. The Basilica stands as a timeless welcome to all travelers who wish to sample the beauty and wealth of the City. The sunrise is best served with a good cup of coffee and a side of gratitude.
Visit our Venice Gallery in the Portfolio section for other images of the Floating City.