Week 6: Part 2: Day 37
17th January, 2017
Today we were determined to seek out Venice’s best kept secrets and luckily they also came with no expense…
Ssh let’s keep them to ourselves…
1. Venetian Glass
Roman experience, Byzantine period skills and trade with the Orient led to Venice being a glass-manufacturing centre. One of the earliest glass furnaces on the island, built in the 8th century, was re-discovered in 1960.
Living in a private Venetian apartment meant we were lucky to admire the everyday famous chandeliers, local glass art works and vases, it contained. In fact it can be argued that the locals really know and buy the best examples of everyday venetian glass. So you can view wonderful pieces in it’s hotels, guesthouses and in local homes.
Being true budget travellers, we decided to skip the expensive trip to Murano and it’s many tours conducted to pressure you to purchase.
Our first stop was one of the few remaining glass artists in Venice. A small family shop where you could watch the master craftsman at work, hand making fantastical insects, birds and local scenes from iridescent coloured glass. His intricate work was truely mesmerising.
Prunella was fascinated by the story of a largely unrestored 18th century casino in Venice. (One of her favourite films is the 1984 period drama “Amadeus”. She remembers the scene where Mozart goes to a party at a similar establishment). Then it was the fashion to meet in old casinos called, “ridottos“.
These were used by Venetian aristocracy as private clubs to demonstrate their power and wealth, discuss politics, art, literature, listen to musicians, flaunt their latest fashions and perhaps, a romantic tryst?
But after asking several shop owners about Casino (little house) Vernier and walking around the area, it’s location remained a mystery. We followed a French couple who showed us a push button which gave you automated entry to the correct building but still could not locate the rooms. We walked up the stairs only to find a locked door. Defeated, we left feeling disappointed but unaware that later today this mystery would be solved.
2. Scala Contarini del Bovolo (literally, “of the snail”)
The next mission was to find the rarely visited “Snail” Staircase. It was built by Giorgio Spavento in 1499 as a grand addition to the Contarini family residence. This multi-arch, spiral staircase is a hidden architectural jewel in the tiny Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. At first we were at a loss to find this too.
Venice is a labyrinth of small alleyways and squares. It is difficult to find street signs and sometimes there are many similar signs pointing in different directions. We were rescued by a friendly merchant, who did not reside in but worked in Venice. He was happy to lead our adventurous party to the correct alleyway, to behold this magnificent structure.
Afterwards we found ourselves crossing St Marks square, again admiring the St Mark’s Campanile (bell tower) and this time, entering the Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco to view it’s breathtaking interior – no photo’s allowed.
3. The Striking of St Mark’s Clock
We waited with bated breath for the single resonate ring of the famous St Mark’s Clock, as the mechanical statue struck the gigantic bell with his hammer. This clock is one of a number of large public astronomical clocks erected throughout Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries and dramatically featured in the 1979 James Bond film Moonraker.
4. Casino Venier
Whilst wandering back towards home, we found ourselves once again in the area of Casino Venier. This time Prunella was determined to unearth this mystery and explored the same stairwell. Suddenly another door came to her notice, almost as if it magically appeared. This door was not at the bottom or top of the stair but in the middle with no clear landing. Excitedly she called the others inside and we passed through this doorway to an opulent past.
This was our’s favourite Venice secret and we were amazed at the decaying loveliness of these faded rooms. You couldn’t help but step out onto the dangerously rotting balcony to overlook the canal. We could almost hear the rustle of long silk skirts on the marbled floor and the laughter of ages past…
Acquired in 1750 by the Procurator Venier and used by his wife Elena Priuli, the Venier Casino has remained intact with its lovely architectural decoration, marble floors and fireplaces, briarwood doors with bronze handles, stucco, mirrors and frescoes…
The language of the Venetian as well as European aristoracy was French. Since 1987 the Venier Casino has been the seat of the French-Italian cultural association Alliance française with the aim of promoting French culture in the city of Venice through language courses and cultural events. – Venice Tourism Association
5. Ospedale Civile Library
By now the boys and Pamela were ready for a rest, so Graham and Prunella dropped them at home before setting out again to yet another part of Venice.
Although neither of us were unwell, we were heading to Venice’s Hospital still operating today as a working hospital for it’s citizens. But this was no ordinary hospital, it had been operating since the time of Napoleon and is a Renaissance masterpiece.
Also pretty cool that it has a boat entrance and internal dock – as is sensible in Venice.
We came to see the library…
wonderful wooden ceilings of the Sala Consiliare and of the Sala dell’Albergo, ignoring the ancient and less ancient eight thousand volumes, which represent the historical core of the collection (starting from the sixteenth century). These ceilings are the finest example of the old craft of the “indorador” (gilder), an artisanship, which originated in Venice thanks to the precious technique of “battioro” (craftsmen who used to make very thin leaves out of gold bars, which were “spreadable” with a brush). – insidevenice.it
We managed to find a back staircase and door to view this magnificent spectacle.
6. Isle of the Dead
It is not surprising that in a place where people live on islands, they have also reserved one for their dead. The island of San Michele has been the “dead centre” for the cities deceased residence since the early nineteenth century.
As we walked and lunched in view of the Isola di San Michele (Isle of the dead) it was perhaps appropriate that we watched a coffin on a trolley wheeled past and juddered up the nearby, wind swept stairs.
6. Window Shopping: Carnivale
Who wouldn’t want to be here in Jan/Feb and enjoy the Venice Carnevale or go to the famous Mascheranda Grand masquerade ball? They announce a different theme every year. The Carnevale and the Venice Biennail are perhaps two of the premier events in Europe. Venitians would say “il migliore“.
These festivals have undoubtedly put Venice on the world map, but it would involve a ton of extravagant expense to do it right…
The Carnival of Venice (Italian: Carnevale di Venezia)… [originated in the year 1162 from a victory of the “Serenissima Repubblica” against Ulrico di Treven, the Patriach of Aquileia,]…is an annual festival held in Venice, Italy. The Carnival ends with the Christian celebration of Lent, forty days before Easter, on Shrove Tuesday (Martedì Grasso or Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday. The festival is world famous for its elaborate masks. – Wiki
Luckily for those, like us, who have to forgo this glorious occasion, there are shops filled with astonishing masks and enchanting costumes to explore, all year round with little pressure to buy in the off-season.
7. The Venetian Jewish Ghetto
This area is delightfully local in flavour and devoid of tourists. In the early evening we watched children playing and locals gossiping on the sidewalk.
The current area of the Jewish Ghetto is still the cultural centre of community life for Venice’s vibrant community of approx 450 Jews, even though very few still live in the compact ghetto buildings.
The Venetian Ghetto was the area of Venice in which Jews were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic… The Venetian Ghetto (incidentally, the first ghetto) was instituted on 29 March 1516, though political restrictions on Jewish rights and residences existed before that date. In 1797 the French army of Italy, commanded by the 28-year-old General Napoleon Bonaparte, conquered Venice, dissolved the Venetian republic, and ended the ghetto’s separation from the city. In the 19th century, the ghetto was renamed the Contrada dell’unione. – Wiki
A fascinating local area to explore filled with a wealth of history.
The final secret of Venice or true when travelling anywhere …
8. …it is who you travel with.
Back home to family and a home cooked dinner after a bewitching day in this intoxicating city of love. Priceless…