Venetian Delights

Venice Italy - Creative Commons by gnuckx stock photo

Venice is an unusual city by any standards. Famously created in a lagoon on a series of shallow mud banks, it became one of the provinces of the fabulous Byzantine Empire and by 12th century had become an independent city state, its power and prestige resting on the control of silks and spices from the East. Always seeming on the point of slipping back into the lagoon it first emerged from, its romantic canals are lined with sumptuous and often decaying palaces, frozen in time since the power ebbed away in the late 18th century. Today, you can take advantage of some great deals on car hire in Italy to stop off and explore this wonderful city and its environs during a road trip along the peninsula.

There are excellent roads along the coast north from Ancona and Ravenna, or you can arrive at Turin airport to the west and cross the top part of Italy passing Milan and Mantua. Whichever way you choose to come to Venice, you’re assured of an adventurous and scenic drive through some of the most famous and varied landscapes in the world, with almost every town and city you pass through full of interest. Most visitors to Italy find that their best bet is to concentrate on a particular region, because the country is so elongated that travelling can be time-consuming.

Apart from St Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace is one of Venice’s most iconic symbols. It was founded in the 9th century as seat of the ruler or Doge, and its ornate present appearance is the result of renovation work carried out in the 14th and 15th centuries, when Venice was at the height of its power and eager to show off. It’s a late Gothic masterpiece with a pink sheen owing to the Veronese marble. You can take a guided tour around the palace through a series of richly decorated halls and chambers, ending at the poignant Bridge of Sighs and palatial prisons.

Doges’ Palace, Venice Photo by Kieran Lynam, Creative Commons

The Grand Canal is best experienced on board a water bus or vaporetto, as several of the lines go right along this main artery of the city. The grand palaces which line this famous water route were built by local aristocrats over a period of five hundred years and they all bear the names of some once great but now generally forgotten Venetian family.

The Piazza San Marco is the largest square in Venice and its main meeting place for locals and tourists alike. There are several museums here as well as a lot of cafes and bars, so it’s the ideal spot for starting or ending a day’s sightseeing of the city.

The most famous bridge in Venice is the Rialto Bridge, an ornamental masterpiece spanning the Grand Canal and lined with shops and a market. Don’t miss the Bridge of Sighs either, connecting the state prisons with the Doge’s Palace. This is a good spot for watching gondolas pass below. They’re all painted black since a state decree in 1562 to stop ostentatious displays of wealth.

After a few days exploring Venice, drive up to Lake Como or Lake Maggiore for some relaxation in majestic surroundings, or alternatively head southwest to Genoa, which was once Venice’s main trading rival for the hugely profitable markets of the East.

David Elliott is a freelance writer who loves to travel, especially in Europe and Turkey. He’s spent most of his adult life in a state of restless excitement but recently decided to settle in North London. He gets away whenever he can to immerse himself in foreign cultures and lap up the history of great cities.

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