A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Venice holds its own as one the most famous and beautiful cities in the world.
Over its 1500-year history, Venice’s priceless architectural, artistic and landscape heritage remains practically intact, in part due to its relative isolation from the mainland.
In fact, it is only since 1932 that Venice is connected to the mainland by the long Ponte della Libertà (Freedom Bridge), and it since then that the city become an important tourist attraction, with it now being the second most visited Italian city every year.
The magnificence of Venice primarily has its roots in medieval times, when the Maritime Republic of Venice, known as La Serenissima (The Most Serene Republic of Venice), extended its power and influence to the entire Mediterranean basin as far as Constantinople, now known as Instanbul.
Referred to as the Gateway to the East for its flourishing trade relations with the East, Venice amassed immense wealth, which it expressed in its thriving Art and Architecture.
One look at St. Mark’s Square, its Basilica and the treasures contained therein is sufficient to imagine the power of Venice between the 12th and 14th centuries.
St. Mark’s Square is still the heart of the city that for centuries has served as a stage for shows, parades, processions and political movements.. Every year thousands of tourists throng to this immense square wedged between the sea and the sky, surrounded by Venice’s main historic buildings.
St. Mark’s Basilica, with more than 4000 square metres of fine mosaics, marble, domes, storied arches and Romanesque friezes, stands witness with its oriental splendour to the wealth and treasures brought from the East.
In fact since 1075, all ships returning from abroad were obliged to bring gifts to adorn “the house of St. Mark”. The Basilica’s treasury still boasts some of the precious works of art that were kept there.
Around St. Mark’s Square are the Clock Tower, with its Renaissance mechanical figures, the Doges’ Palace, a true triumph of Gothic architecture, the Palazzo della Zecca (The Mint) designed by Sansovino, the Correr Museum and the suggestive Bridge of Sighs.
But these are only the better-known landmarks: beyond the square lie a multitude of churches, palazzi and historic buildings, such as the Accademia, the majestic church of Santa Maria dei Frari, the large Baroque Church of Santa Maria della Salute and the splendid Ca' Rezzonico and Ca'd'Oro palazzi.
Then there is the magnificent Arsenale, symbol of La Serenissima’s seafaring power, the charming and mysterious Jewish Ghetto and the Rialto district, with its famous bridge and historic market.
There are an incredible number of churches in Venice, from Palladio masterpieces such as the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Santissimo Redentore, to smaller churches such as Santa Maria dei Miracoli. Each holds its own treasures and is unique in its own way. Even in the smallest chapel, visitors will come across an unexpected fresco, a mosaic or an altar that takes their breath away.
Originating as confraternities of residents involved in social activities such as assisting the poor and the sick, Venice’s schools are particularly characteristic. Such schools include the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, now home to the largest exhibition of Tintoretto’s works and the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni, with its Carpaccio canvases.
Venice also has a wide range of museums that attest to the city’s two souls: on the one hand tied to the past, and on the other projected towards the future.
The Accademia’s Galleries house the major masterpieces of Venetian painting from its origins to the eighteenth century, while the Correr Museum, in addition to a collection of works by Venetian artists from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, also exhibits the costumes of the Doges, period arms and uniforms, maps, and coins.
Then there are the St. Mark’s Archaeological Museum, which conserves ancient Egyptian mummies, Greek and Roman statues, frescoes, ceramics and all types of artefacts; the Franchetti Gallery in Ca' d'Oro, houses works by Mantegna, Bellini, Carpaccio, and Titian; and the Querini Stampalia Foundation Picture Gallery, with its collection of Venetian paintings from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries.
Alongside these classic exhibitions, Venice hosts one of the most important collection of contemporary art in the world, the famous Peggy Guggenheim Collection, while the International Gallery of Modern Art of Ca' Pesaro presents an interesting overview of modern Italian art from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and certain works by international artists such as Klimt, Kandinsky, and Chagall.
Other places that are well worth a visit are the Glass Museum in Murano and the Lace Museum in Burano, which in addition to being two interesting tributes to the two most acclaimed traditional Venetian throughout the world, give visitors the perfect excuse for visiting the two evocative islands.
Byzantine art enthusiasts should also schedule a visit to the island of Torcello:
here, in a unique setting, stands the oldest building in the entire Lagoon - the Cathedral of Santa Fosca, founded in 639 A.D.
Inside visitors can admire the numerous mosaics, considered to be among the most beautiful in all Venice.