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A GUIDE TO VENICE

Venice has six sestieri - or ‘quarters’ all with their individual characters and attractions. These are San Marco, San Polo, Santa Croce, Dorsodoro, Cannaregio and Castello.

We have listed below attractions that are amongst the most popular. Of these, our special favourites include the fabulous paintings by Titian and Bellini hanging where they were commissioned in The Frari; the colourful markets of the Rialto, an ideal place to pick up your fresh fish and vegetables and Carpaccio’s brilliant depictions of the lives of the Saints George, Tryphone and Jerome in the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni.

We also enjoy our visits to the outlying islands, especially Burano and Torcello with excellent restaurants for Sunday lunch. Perhaps the best thing of all is just to wander the streets at random, stopping off at the many typical Venetian bars for an ombra (small glass of wine) and some cicheti (the Venetian equivalent of tapas)… 

Grand Canal – Venice’s renowned main waterway, its banks lined with exquisite palaces.  One of the best ways to see this is from front seats on the circular vaporetto line no. 1.

Piazza San Marco – Venice’s most famous square, where one can fully appreciate the splendour that was ‘La Serenissima’. See it in early morning,  or late at night, when all but deserted.

Basilica San Marco – dominating the Piazza, this breathtaking Byzantine cathedral is famed for its sumptuous mosaics.

Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace) – a magnificent combination of Byzantine, Gothic and Renaissance architecture which was home to the Doge and seat of the government, law courts, prisons and offices for the civil service – the hub of the Venetian Republic. The palace contains many fine paintings and sculpture. Try the ‘Secret’ tour.

Gallerie dell'Accademia – Venice’s top museum is home to a superb collection of Venetian art, displaying the complete spectrum of the Venetian school, which spans five centuries from the medieval Byzantine period through the Renaissance to the Baroque.

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari – the huge 15thc Gothic church of the Lesser Friars of the Franciscan Order, known as Frari. The inevitable focus of the church is Titian’s soaring ‘Assumption of the Virgin’, while the sacristy houses Bellini’s beautiful ‘Madonna and Child with SS Nicholas, Peter, Mark and Benedict.

Rialto Markets – fruit and vegetable market and the Pescaria (fish market), from around 7 a.m. until 1p.m.  Nearby specialist cheese and meat shops too.

Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni – Carpaccio’s beguiling cycle of pictures depicting the lives of the Saints George, Tryphone and Jerome make this tiny building an essential sight.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection – wonderful cross-section of art of the most famous artists of the first half of the 20th century, set in what was once her private villa facing the Grand Canal.

Torcello – an almost deserted island in the northern lagoon and Venice’s ancient ancestor.  The serene cathedral with its Byzantine mosaics and the view from the campanile are unforgettable.

 

But perhaps the best thing of all is just to wander the streets at random……

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Main Annual Festivals and Events:

Carnevale - ten days leading up to Shrove Tuesday
Carnival, or Carnevale, takes place before Lent each winter, finishing on Shrove Tuesday. Events include pageants, commedia dell'arte, concerts and masked balls. Many people wear fancy dress for the duration of the festivities.

La Sensa - Marriage to the Sea - first Sunday after Ascension
This is an annual ceremony which reaffirms the "marriage" of Venice and the Adriatic. The mayor travels with his party by boat to the Lido, and drops a gold ring into the sea before attending a service at the San Nicolò church. Anyone who manages to dive in and retrieve the ring may keep it, and is free from all state taxes for the following year.

Vogalonga - first Sunday after Ascension
A rowing race over a 32km course, from Bacina di San Marco to Burano and back. The ‘Long Row’ is a great experience for both participants and on-lookers, who cheer on the final stretch down the Grand Canal.

Biennale - June to October
The Biennale is a modern-art exposition featuring painters, sculptors, and performance artists from around the world, which takes place in odd-numbered years. Most events are located in the Giardini Pubblici and at the nearby Corderie dell'Arsenale.

Festa della Redentore - third Sunday in July
Religious ceremonies are held every year in the Redentore church on the Giudecca to commemorate the end of the plague of 1577. Visitors can reach the church by crossing the Giudecca Canal over a pontoon bridge specially built for the weekend. Decorated boats fill the lagoon to watch the spectacular firework display on the previous evening. A huge feast of traditional Venetian dishes is held along the Giudecca waterfront, followed by dancing on the Lido. On the Sunday a regatta is held in the Giudecca Canal.

Film Festival
Centred on the Lido, this takes place during late August and or early September, is second only in importance to the Cannes festival.

Regatta Storica - first Sunday in September
A procession of decorated craft along the Grand Canal is followed by a race for city gondoliers and other expert rowers. Spectators are expected to cheer on the teams and are often given appropriate colours to wave.

Venice marathon - second Sunday in October
A 26 mile marathon beginning at Villa Pisani on the Brenta waterway, crossing the causeway to Venice and finishing in front of the Salute church.

Festa della Salute - 21 November
On November 21st each year, city workers lay a pontoon bridge over the Grand Canal from the San Marco district to the Salute church. Citizens walk across the bridge to give thanks to the Virgin Mary for delivering them from a plague in the 16th century.

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"White swan of cities slumbering in thy nest . . . White phantom city, whose untrodden streets are rivers, and whose pavements are the shifting shadows of the palaces and strips of sky."
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

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