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Lord Byron called Venice (Venezia) "a fairy city of the heart." La Serenissima, "The Most Serene," is an improbable cityscape of stone palaces that seem to float on water, a place where cats nap on Oriental marble windowsills set in colorful plaster walls. Candy-striped pylons stand sentry outside the tiny stone docks of palazzi whose front steps descend into the gently lapping waters of the canals that lace the city.
In Venice, cars are banned -- every form of transportation floats, from water taxis and vaporetti (the public "bus" ferries) to ambulance speedboats and garbage scows. Venice is a place where locals stop at the bacaro (wine bar) to take un ombra (literally "a little bit of shade," in practice, a glass of wine) and munch on cicchetti (tapaslike snacks) or linger over exquisite restaurant seafood dinners.
It is also a city of great art and grand old masters. Venetian painting featured early masters such as the Bellini clan -- Jacopo from the 1420s, sons Giovanni and Gentile from the 1460s. By the early 1500s, Venice had taken the Renaissance torch from Florence and made it its own, lending the movement the new color and lighting schemes of such giants as Giorgione, Tiziano (Titian), Paolo Veronese, and Tintoretto.
So much for Venice the Serenissima. There's also Venice the insanely popular and overcrowded. Certainly, the tourists can seem inescapable, and prices can be double or triple here what they are elsewhere in Italy.
But visitors flock to this canalled wonder for very good reason: Venice is extraordinary, it is magical, and it is worth every cent. Its existence defies logic, but underneath its otherworldly beauty and sometimes-stifling tourism, Venice is a living, breathing, singular city that seems almost too exquisite to be genuine, too fragile to survive the never-ending stream of visitors who have been making the pilgrimage here for 1,500 years.
As barbarian hordes washed back and forth across the Alps during the decline of the Roman Empire (starting in the 4th c.), inhabitants of the Veneto flatlands grew tired of being routinely sacked and pillaged along the way. By the 6th century, many had begun moving out onto the mud-flat islands of the marshy lagoon, created by what was in ancient times the Po River delta, to take up fishermen's lines or trading ships. When they saw that one barbarian horde, the Lombards, had stayed to settle the upper Po valley (still called Lombardy), these Veneti decided to remain on their new island homes and ally themselves instead with the eastern remnant of the old Roman Empire, Byzantium.
Oddly, what we now consider central Venice was the last area settled. After Attila the Hun rampaged through, citizens of the Roman town of Altino moved out onto Torcello and founded a tidy commercial empire under the control of the Byzantine emperor -- ironic, since Torcello's star has long since fallen and it is now the least built-up of all of greater Venice's major inhabited islands. Townsfolk from Oderzo moved to Malamocco and made it the lagoon's political capital (the original site is now underwater, and the Malamocco that survives nearby is a fishing village on the southern stretch of the Lido, near the golf course). After barely defeating Charlemagne's son Pepin there in 810, the capital was moved to the more protected Rialto islands -- now central Venice.
Greater Venice's oldest surviving structure is the cathedral on Torcello, founded in 639, but today's site is largely from the 9th and 10th centuries. In fact, sparsely populated Torcello is one of the best glimpses into what early Venice must have looked like -- scattered buildings and canals banked by waving rushes and reeds, everything outlined by the dotted lines of wooden piles hammered down into the mud. This construction is what underlies all those stone palazzi of central Venice: a framework foundation of sunken tree trunks, hammered down into the caranto (a solid clay layer under the surface of mud and sand) and preserved in the anaerobic atmosphere of their muddy tomb, overlain with Istrian stone.
As its power began to peak in the early 13th century, Venice led the fourth and most successful Crusade, capturing Constantinople itself. It went on to conquer territories across what are today Turkey, the Greek Isles, and Crete -- and eventually became the capital of Italy's inland provinces, now the Veneto, Trentino, and Friuli. By 1300, it was one of the largest cities and the leading maritime republic of Europe and the Mediterranean. Although the Black Death carried off over half the population from 1347 to 1350, Venice bounced back and remained a maritime power until the 18th century, when trade through the new American colonies would increasingly steal much of the city's thunder.
By the end of the 18th century, Venice had run out of steam commercially, not to mention militarily, after centuries spent fighting the Turks (who slowly regained most of Venice's Aegean and Greek territories). By the time Napoleon came along in 1797, the Venetian Republic offered little resistance. Napoleon gave control of Venice to Austria, under whose rule it remained for almost 70 years. Daniele Manin did stage an unsuccessful minirevolution in 1848 and 1849, during which Venice was privileged to become the first city attacked from the air -- by a fleet of hot-air balloons armed with long-fused time bombs. The Risorgimento (unification) movement and its king, Vittorio Emanuele II, defeated the Austrians, gained control of the Veneto, and made it a part of the newly minted state of Italy in 1866.
In its position at the crossroads of the Byzantine and Roman -- later Eastern and Western -- worlds, Venice, over many centuries, acquired a unique amalgamated heritage of art, architecture, and culture. And although hordes of traders and merchants no longer pass through as they once did, Venice nonetheless continues to find itself at a crossroads: an intersection in time between the uncontested period of maritime power that built it and the modern world that keeps it ever-so-gingerly afloat.
It is a great disservice to allot Venice the average stay of 2 nights and 3 days (it sometimes takes the better part of a day just to find your hotel). If you can, stay at least 3 nights and preferably longer -- Venice has the potential to be the highlight of your travels through Italy.
Leave your heels and excess luggage at home, and make sure to toss the map and this guide in your daypack for at least an afternoon, turn left when the signs to the sights point right, and get lost in the back calli (streets) and uncrowded campi (squares) where tourists seldom tread, and you will encounter the true, living, breathing, gloriously decaying side of this most serene city.
One of the world's most beautiful destinations can be yours to explore with American Airlines flights to Venice. The Floating City, located in northern Italy, is famous for its canals, and of course no trip here is complete without a gondola ride. It's certainly one of our favorite things to do in Venice, because it is the quintessential experience. You'll glide past churches, galleries, government buildings and universities at a pace slow enough to truly appreciate the architecture of each structure. A typical gondola ride lasts for about 40 minutes, and a gondola can usually hold six people. The Grand Canal is the most well-known place to take a gondola ride, but we also recommend a ride down a quiet back canal.
Another one of the most memorable activities in Venice is an exploration of the city's vast treasures of art. The Galleria dell'Accademia, a former church, is home to an impressive museum. Here you'll find the largest collection of paintings done by the great Venetian masters. See Venice through the eyes of artists through 500 years â works are displayed in chronological order from the 13th to the 18th centuries.
A visit to the Basilica di San Marco, or St. Mark's Basilica, is one of our other favorite things to do in Venice. In fact, it's a can't-miss highlight. Also known as the Golden Church (Chiesa d'Oro in Italian), this is one dazzling display. Step inside and you'll discover that nearly every floor, ceiling and wall features shimmering Byzantine mosaic tile. Be sure to take in the Pala d'Oro altarpiece, a panel of gold set with precious gems, which was commissioned in 976 but embellished over the years. Once you've taken in the main level, we suggest a visit to the upstairs Galleria. You'll have to pay for admission, but it's worth it, because it's the only way you'll be able to step out onto the Loggia de Cavalli, which overlooks the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square). While upstairs, be sure to also see the original life-size Horses of Saint Mark sculptures (which Napoleon once took to France).
Truthfully, it's hard to go wrong when choosing activities in Venice, because no matter where you go or what you see, you're in one of the world's most fascinating and gorgeous cities! Let American Airlines help you fly to Venice so you can discover this amazing destination for yourself.
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|Market of Miracles||Dec 2013 (various dates)||Campo Santa Maria Nova|
|New Year's Eve Concert||Dec 2013 (annual)||Scuola Grande San Teodoro|
|Capodanno in Maschera||Dec 2013 (annual)||St Mark's Square|
|New Year at the Lido||Jan 2014 (annual)||Lido di Venezia|
|Witches Regatta||Jan 2014 (annual)||Canal Grande|
|Natale di Vetro||Dec 2013 - Jan 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Gala Dinner and Ball||Feb 2014 (annual)||Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal|
|Venice Carnival||Jan - Feb 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|La Biennale - Children's Carnival||Feb 2014 (annual)||Palazzo delle Esposizioni|
|Cavalchina Grand Dance||Feb 2014 (annual)||Teatro La Fenice|
|Market of Miracles||Mar 2014 (various dates)||Campo Santa Maria Nova|
|Su e Zo per i Ponti||Apr 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Venice International Boat Show||Apr 2014; Fri, Sat, and Sun only (annual)||Parco San Giuliano|
|Rosebud Festival||Apr 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Market of Miracles||Apr 2014 (various dates)||Campo Santa Maria Nova|
|Venice in Music||Apr - May 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Mare Maggio||May 2014 (annual)||Arsenale|
|Market of Miracles||May 2014 (various dates)||Campo Santa Maria Nova|
|Feast of the Sensa||May 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Raid Pavia-Venezia||May 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Vogalonga||May 2014 (annual)||St Mark's Basin|
|Palazzetto Bru Zane Concert Season||Sep 2013 - Jun 2014 (annual)||Palazzetto Bru Zane|
|La Regata delle Antiche Repubbliche Marinare||Jun 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Venezia Suona||Jun 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|San Pellegrino Cooking Cup||Jun 2014 (annual)||Lido di Venezia|
|Art Night Venezia||Jun 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Murano Regatta||Jul 2014 (annual)||Murano|
|Venice Spirit of Music||Jul 2014 (annual)||St Mark's Square|
|Festa del Redentore||Jul 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Contemporary Dance Festival||Jun - Jul 2014 (annual)||Piccolo Teatro Arsenale|
|Venezia Jazz Festival||Jul - Aug 2014 (annual)||Teatro La Fenice|
|Pellestrina Regatta||Aug 2014 (annual)||Pellestrina|
|Arts Under the Stars||Jul - Aug 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Beach on Fire!||Aug 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|Outdoor Cinema||Jul - Aug 2014 (annual)||Campo San Polo|
|The Burano Regatta||Sep 2014 (annual)||Burano Island|
|Historic Regatta||Sep 2014 (annual)||Canal Grande|
|Venice International Film Festival||Aug - Sep 2014 (annual)||Lido di Venezia|
|Market of Miracles||Sep 2014 (various dates)||Campo Santa Maria Nova|
|Air Festival||Sep 2014 (annual)||Lido di Venezia|
|OPEN||Aug - Sep 2014 (annual)||Lido di Venezia|
|International Calligraphy Workshop||Sep - Oct 2014 (annual)||Ca' Pesaro|
|International Festival of Contemporary Music||Oct 2014 (annual)||Teatro La Fenice|
|Premio Venezia||Oct 2014 (various dates)||Teatro La Fenice|
|Viaggiandum Est||Oct 2014 (annual)||Villa Venier|
|Market of Miracles||Oct 2014 (various dates)||Campo Santa Maria Nova|
|Festival of Venetian Gardens||Oct 2014 (annual)||Venice|
|FeniceDay||Nov 2014 (annual)||Teatro La Fenice|
|Feast of Good Health||Nov 2014 (annual)||Chiesa della Salute|
|Architecture Biennale of Venice||Aug - Nov 2014; not Mon (biennial)||Corderie dell'Arsenale|
|Music at the Palace||Jun - Nov 2014 (annual)||Palazzo Barbarigo|
|Palazzetto Bru Zane Concert Season||Sep 2014 - Jun 2015 (annual)||Palazzetto Bru Zane|
|Ai Tre Spiedi||Italian||In Cannaregio||2||3|
|Al Covo||Italian||Castello/Riva Degli Schiavoni||3||4|
|Alla Madonna||Italian||In San Polo||2||1|
|Antico Martini||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||4||3|
|Cantina do Mori||Light Fare/Fast Food||In San Polo||1||4|
|Da Aciugheta||Italian||Castello/Riva Degli Schiavoni||3||2|
|Da Sandro||Italian||In San Polo||2||2|
|Do Forni||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||4||3|
|Do Spade||Italian||In San Polo||3||2|
|Fiaschetteria Toscana||Italian||In Cannaregio||4||3|
|La Cusina||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||4||3|
|Le Bistrot de Venise||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||3||4|
|Osteria alle Botteghe||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||2||1|
|Osteria alle Testiere||Italian||Castello/Riva Degli Schiavoni||3||3|
|Osteria da Robia||Italian||Venice||2||3|
|Pizzeria ae Oche||Pizza||In Santa Croce||1||3|
|Pizzeria/Trattoria al Vecio Canton||Pizza||Castello/Riva Degli Schiavoni||2||1|
|Ristorante Corte Sconta||Italian||Castello/Riva Degli Schiavoni||3||3|
|Ristorante Quadri||International||Near Piazza San Marco||4||2|
|Rosticceria San Bartolomeo||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||2||2|
|Rosticceria Teatro Goldoni||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||2||1|
|Taverna San Trovaso||Italian||In Dorsoduro||2||2|
|Trattoria alla Rivetta||Seafood||Castello/Riva Degli Schiavoni||2||3|
|Trattoria da Fiore||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||3||3|
|Trattoria da Remigio||Italian||Castello/Riva Degli Schiavoni||1||3|
|Vini da Arturo||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||4||3|
|Vino Vino||Italian||Near Piazza San Marco||1||4|
|Basilica di San Marco||Religious Site||4|
|Ca' Rezzonico (Museo del '700 Veneziano; Museum of 18th-Century Venice)||Museum||3|
|Ca' d'Oro||Historic Site||3|
|Campanile di San Marco||Landmark||3|
|Chiesa Santa Maria dei Miracoli||Religious Site||1|
|Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore||Religious Site||3|
|Chiesa di San Salvador||Religious Site||2|
|Chiesa di San Zaccaria||Religious Site||2|
|Collezione Peggy Guggenheim||Gallery||4|
|Dogana da Mar||Landmark||3|
|I Gesuati||Religious Site||2|
|Il Ghetto||Religious Site||3|
|Il Redentore||Religious Site||2|
|Museo Communità Ebraica||Religious Site||2|
|Museo Storico Navale and Arsenale||Museum||3|
|Palazzo Ducale and Ponte dei Sospiri||Historic Site||4|
|SS. Giovanni e Paolo||Religious Site||2|
|San Sebastiano||Religious Site||1|
|Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari||Religious Site||3|
|Santa Maria della Salute||Religious Site||2|
|Scuola Grande di San Rocco||Museum||4|
|Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni||Historic Site||2|
|Squero di San Trovaso||Landmark||3|
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