Venice is many things to many people. It is often called The City of Love, as well as the City of Canals or The Queen of The Adriatic and is one of those special places that lives up to all the hype. It literally takes your breath away, as does something else, but more on that later.
This floating City consists of 118 submerged Islands built on by setting wood pilings then building upon these creating something quite like no other place on earth. As a Photographer, I had 24 hours to suss out Venice in advance for a wedding I’m shooting next Year.
My visit coincided with the world famous Carnival of Venice (Carnevale di Venezia) which is a Christian celebration of Lent. It finishes on Shrove Tuesday (Martedi Grasso), the day before Ash Wednesday and like its famous cousin, The Mardi Gras (which also means Shrove Tuesday) and occurs 40 days before Easter.
The Carnival is a sight to behold and sees people dressing up in costumes and masks, making you feel like your stepping into a Roman Polanski film set. Think Eyes Wide Shut but only on a monumental scale, and you get the picture. A small number of masks that can only be described as part sinister, part haunting made such a chilling impression that my curiosity was aroused. Later in the day we discovered that they were from the film “The Plague Doctor” by the Venetian film director Emanuele Mengotti. We discovered this by chance when visiting a museum near to the famous Bridge of Sighs known to locals as Ponte dei Sospiri.
This Bridge of Sighs built of Istrian stone was designed by Antonio Contino in 1600 and took 2 years to build. The baroque style arched bridge is the only covered bridge of all the reputed 409 bridges in Venice. It is suspended over the Rio di Palazzo (Place River) and has an air of notoriety connecting Doge’s Palace to a prison. Legend has it that prisoners crossed the bridge on route to jail and so sighed at their last view of the City before being locked up or executed; hence the name.
Perhaps the most famous prisoner to cross the bridge was the Latin lover Casanova in 1755, before escaping with the help of a monk 15 months later as he found that prison cramped his style. Nowadays, The Bridge is a symbol of romanticism. It is said that if a couple pass under the Bridge of Sighs on a Gondola that their love will last forever. Whatever the truth, the Bridge is a must on any itinerary and is one of the most iconic sights in all of Venice.
During the festival, The City is teeming with people dressed up in the most eye-catching costumes and intricate masks. Perhaps the anonymity encourages a degree of posing and no iconic landmark is sparred by sometimes as many as 20 -30 people snapping away. It left me wondering is this where the term paparazzi originated. The vibe is pleasant and friendly so when in Rome (or indeed Venice) we did what the locals did and within 30 minutes of arriving our family were busy buying their masks and walking around incognito.
No trip to Venice would be complete without the world-famous Gondola ride. 80 Euros for 25 minutes the was the next thing that took my breath away, but seeing Venice up close and personal from these iconic vessels was worth a punt. Just like a good old fashioned British seaside holiday would be incomplete without fish and chips, a walk along the prom, or an ice-cream, a ride on a Gondola should be on the to do list.
The Gondola ride took us under the iconic bridges of Rialoto and the Bridge of Sighs, the latter near to the famous St Mark’s Square. This square is very much the epi-centre of Venice containing the famous tower known as The Campanile di San Marco which apparently is the best vantage point to view The City. The que at both tourist attractions means that I will have to rely on the guide books word for this.
After the Gondola ride, we explored the back streets near to Rialto bridge which gave plenty of opportunity for some street photography. I love using the medium of black and white to convey a sense of a bye-gone era and to capture the mood of a place as the light fades and errie shadows come into play. Nightfall is often my favourite time to photograph as I like the simplicity of fading light enabling subtle textures, tones and atmosphere.
Working fast was the key to combing photography with a family holiday. Being a husband and a father to two young children meant saying yes to any request whether to buy an ice-cream, a gift, or to look into this shop or that. This all meant that I could stay outside and snap away until my hearts content.
In the morning, I had decided to get up at the crack of dawn and photograph some of the buildings, hopefully without the masses of people. I’m not sure whether lots of other people had the same idea, or that it was a very long night for others judging by the sheer number of people. There were still plenty of people dressed up in costumes and masks. Some resembled statues barely moving whilst others swanned around like a diva seeking an audience. People were still snapping away as the sun broke through the horizon at the western end of The Grand Canal. Talk about a City that never sleeps, perhaps its not only New York which can legitimately make that claim to fame.
Before we knew it we were making our way back to The Tronchetto where our car was parked, one minute shy of 24 hours. Our first-ever trip to Venice was truly memorable
and the impression made can’t easily be put into words.
Every journey has a beginning and an ending, but as Arnie rightly says… hasta la vista baby.
Venice, we will be back !!