By Goya Verity
Part of my soul will always be running wild in one of the countless canals of Venice. A year on since my visit, I still find myself waxing lyrical about the magic and beauty of La Serenissima, the city of bridges.
A nation situated between East and West, Muslim and Christian, Rome and Constantinople, Venice was a nation of immense power – the glittering and unfathomable ‘eldest daughter’ of the Byzantine Empire. While she lost her power in the 16th century, the city is still remarkably alluring, with more than 20 million tourists visiting the city every year.
I began to understand the magic of Venice when I allowed myself to become lost in folly and amazement in the maze of her nameless alleys. One dark alley opened to face the dazzling Doge’s Palace of the 12th century, and the Venetian Gothic architecture snatched my soul into the lofty heights of Saint Marc’s bell tower. The lion of St Mark has now become the symbol of Venice, and majestic flags with the golden lion flap in the saline breeze of the Adriatic. San Marco is the only piazza in the city, and now also in my heart (the other squares are called campi).
Strolling through the sunny streets, I realised I too had fallen under Venice’s spell. I meandered along the city’s main artery, the Grand Canal, taking in the beautiful Rialto Bridge and Ponte dell’ Accademia. On foot, I crossed beautiful bridges bending over water — I felt like time itself had stopped.
Merry from Aperol spritz, we then visited the Peggy Gugenheim Museum. Here we were entranced by the abstract shapes of Picasso and the vibrant strokes of Pollock. Being the weekend of carnival, the locals were adorned with costumes with similar bursts of colour and elaborate masks which make this annual celebration so famous. In 1162 the Republic won military glory against their enemy, Patriarch of Aquileia. But it was clear that this year, the city had won my heart.
The afternoon continued with a giro in gondola — a typical ride in a gondola where the gliding spirits of masked Venetian figures breathed through the canals as the water rippled under the bridges. The gondola passed under il ponte dei sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs), which connects the Doge’s palace to the prison, where prisoners would savour their last glimpse of Venice before entering their cells. This shadowy part provoked an abundance of contrasting emotions, and unsurprisingly, I had a shock when I was greeted by a Venetian masked figure.
I was struck too by the absolute silence which reigns over Venice and its canals as we twisted and turned every corner. The complete tranquillity and stillness were only broken by the slow-moving, muffled current of the water; it was mildly disturbing and entrancing in equal measure.
I am jealous of all Venetians: artisans, gondoliers, everyday people, who live in this eternal city and experience its unique presence and history with every ripple. Yet while this water is the city’s strength, it is also its kryptonite. More than 650 cruise ships visit the city every year, the scale of some putting even the Titanic to shame. Quite possibly, we are loving Venice to death.
While Venice may not last, its influence will. The trip completely changed the direction and rhythm of my life. Every time I look down at my Murano glass ring, a souvenir from my short but special trip, I feel so close to a place so far away.
If I ever go missing, perhaps you will find me staring into Venice’s murky waters trying to decode the city’s eternal mysteries.
Image credit: Pietrofotographie via pixabay