October 16, 2006

Venice

Apologies it’s been so long since I last updated this, but I’ve been busy with work and getting to know Venice-I haven’t got lost that often, but there is nothing in the world quite like coming to the end of a street and realising there’s only a canal in front of you. Venice is beautiful, and very quiet away from the main thoroughfares. I’m living in Castello, which is the eastern part of the city, not far from the old Arsenal, or shipyard, and a short stroll along the waterfront, past all the souvenir stalls to San Marco.

We arrived on Saturday 30th September, half an hour late, but having passed some beautiful mountains. The left hand side of the train is certainly the best for coming over the causeway, as it doesn’t have a view of the cruise ship berths! My landlady met me at the station and took me down the Grand Canal on the vaporetto, or water bus, to my flat. It was fantastic to come down the canal and get my first view of the roofs of San Marco appearing over the Doge’s Palace

My flat is very nice, a bedsit with a ‘kitchen in a cupboard’-sink, fridge and two hobs. It’s in a residential street but there are lots of shops at the end of the road. In the evening I went for a quick explore of the surrounding area to get my bearings, and locate the supermarket, before heading over to the bright lights of Campo Santa Margherita, where the students from the Venice university hang out.

Sunday 1st October I went to the English church in Venice, St Georges, which is near the Academia, and does BCP Holy Communion at 10:30 on a Sunday. I had a slight surprise when the History of Art lecturer turned up, and turned out to be Sub-Deacon, but it was a lovely service, and as it was harvest festival, I was able to purchase a lot of fruit for a small donation to the 400th anniversary repair fund-the roof is in serious need of attention. It was a bit misty first thing, but cleared when the sun came out. Afterwards I headed to the Lido, stopping on the way to the beach at the supermarket to get some bread and one or two other food essentials, and had a picnic on the beach before going for a quick paddle in the Mediterranean. In the evening I went to the local trattoria for a meal, as it was the last night of the holidays, avoiding pasta, as I’d had a surfeit of that in Rome.

Monday dawned bright and warm, and I headed for the Palazzo Pesaro Papafava for the start of term, taking the boat round the outside of the city for a view of the Arsenal. The Palazzo is on a narrow street, and like most houses in Venice, the decoration is reserved for the canal façade, although there is a triangular pediment over the door. The university is renting the first floor, and the main lecture room has two impressive chandeliers and a balcony overlooking the canal, and the Scuola della Misericordia. One of the seminar rooms, where we had our Italian lessons in the first week, has a lovely painted ceiling.

Tuesday afternoon I was fortunate to see a Volga boat race on the Grand Canal whilst waiting at a vaporetto stop-this involves six men standing up in a boat and rowing it.

On the Wednesday, having discovered that tourists and the duckboards in the Piazza San Marco do not make for ease of movement, I visited the church of San Giovanni Chrisotomo on my way to the Palazzo, this is a little church facing onto the main street, from the Rialto to Strada Nova, with paintings by Bellini and del Piombo, and made a little detour into a courtyard with a lion on the banister of the stairs. I then used my lunch hour to go and visit the church of the Gesuiti near to the Palazzo. This church was built by the Jesuits, on the same floor plan as the Gesú in Rome, and has fantastically painted walls and carved marble to look like white and green damask draperies-it has to be seen to be believed. In the afternoon our Italian teacher, Margaret, took us across the Grand Canal to the site of the Rialto market, then I walked back across the bridge, and on my way home, walked through the Corte de Milion, where Marco Polo’s family lived., then paid a quick visit to Santa Maria Formosa, which has a lovely painting of St Barbara, and two facades, one overlooking the canal, and the other the square.

Thursday morning we had a tour of the Piazza San Marco with the art history lecturer, which was very interesting, and on my way home in the evening I visited San Zaccharia for the first time, to admire the paintings, but there wasn’t enough time to visit the crypt. In the evening several of us went out to Campo Santa Margherita and had ice cream

Friday 6th October, in the morning I went to the Rialto market to buy fruit and veg-radicchio, white onions, and pink and white beans, and also sardines from the fish market for tea. As Margaret was retiring, we had tiramasu and prosecco in the last of our Italian lessons, and drinks at Margaret Du Champs in the Campo S Margherita in the evening, as it was also someone’s 22nd birthday.

Saturday everyone who wanted to go managed to be on time for the trip to Ravenna, which impressed the lecturers. This town, two hours by road from Venice has some beautiful mosaics.

First though we stopped off to admire the frescos at the nearby abbey at Pomposa, which was once incredibly wealthy, controlling a lot of land and several benefices, however as the Po shifted and the area went into decline, becoming a malarial marsh, it declined too. The frescos deal with biblical scenes and the Last Judgement-there was an impressive devil eating people up.

We then moved onto Ravenna itself, which was chosen by the Emperor Honorius in 402 as the capital of the Western Roman Empire as it was easy to defend and situated close to the important port of Classis. Later it was captured first by the Ostrogoths, and then the Byzantines, who created some fantastic mosaics. On the way in we passed the Mausoleum of Theodoric, one of the Ostrogoth rulers, which is a small, white, ten sided building, based on Syrian models. In the centre of the town we went first to San Vitale, considered the crowning achievement of Byzantine art still existing anywhere in the world. The church is lit by thin panels of alabaster, which gives it a diffused yellowish light. The building is octagonal, and was the model for Aghia Sofia in Istanbul. There are a series of Old Testament scenes on the theme of sacrifice, and as was common in Byzantine mosaics, the symbols of the evangelists and a beardless Christ in the apse mosaic, enlivened by a plethora of animals. There are also two interesting panels showing the Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora. Nearby is the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, half-sister to Honorius and later regent for her son Emperor Valentinian. There is a beautiful blue roof, and on one of the walls a representation of St Lawrence going happily towards his martyrdom, and facing it a Roman mosaic of Christ the Good Shepherd, which is in a much more naturalistic style than the later Byzantine representations. Also included in the St Lawrence mosaic is a cupboard containing the gospels, which is the first known depiction of books rather than scrolls.

After lunch (a chicken burger sandwich of all things) we headed to the baptisteries. The Neonian, or Orthodox Baptistery was converted from a Roman bathhouse, as a result it has some lovely marble wall panelling. There are also mosaic representations of thrones and altars encircling the walls, and in the centre, a mosaic of the baptism of Christ, surrounded by a procession of the apostles led by SS Peter and Paul. The Arian Baptistery was built by Theodoric, who was a follower of the Arian heresy-he rejected the divinity of Christ. This just has a ceiling mosaic of the baptism of Christ and apostles, so the brick construction of the walls can be clearly seen. Then we walked to Sant’Apolinare Nuovo, named for the patron saint of Ravenna. It was built by Theodoric, who covered the nave with mosaics, with scenes from the life of Christ in the topmost part, and an imperial procession lower down. The Byzantines removed most of these figures apart from the Nativity and three kings dressed in contemporary costume, including leopard skin trousers. They then put in a line of male and female martyrs, who all look very much alike, apart from St Agnes, who has a lamb, but they thankfully are all named. At the west end is a representation of the port of Classis, and the palace of Theodoric.

We then drove the short hop to the basilica of Sant’Apollinare in Classe, burial place of the saint, which has an allegorical depiction of the transfiguration, with a field of plants and trees, and the faithful represented as a line of sheep coming out of the cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. On the way home we were treated to a Mongolian throat-singer courtesy of someone’s ipod, and a beautiful sunset crossing a river estuary.

On Sunday afternoon I walked round part of Castello, visiting the front gate to the Arsenal, the first ‘production line’ shipyard in the world, San Pietro in Castello, and walking back through the gardens, past the Bienniale site. I didn’t go as far as Sant’Elena as there was a football match on, so I decided to avoid the area. In the evening I met up with a couple I know from Staplehurst, who were just coming to the end of a week painting in the city as he is an artist. We had dinner in a restaurant near San Marco, and I had Spaghetti alle Vongole, which is a local specialty.

On the Monday afternoon I had a surprise when I got back from the Palazzo, sitting on the quayside, in front of the cruise liner that had moored there the previous day, was a tall ship, Amerigo Vespiano. The cruise liner soon left, heading for the Giudecca canal with one of the pilot boats in tow-I’ve seen several ships, of various sizes, heading to and from the cruise terminal.

Thursday 12th, I visited the Campo dei Mori, which is decorated by several statues of the oriental merchants who once lived in the area-they came from Morea in the Peloponnese. I then went to Madonna dell’Orto, which is a lovely church, still with its original herringbone brick campo, which has several impressive paintings, including Conegliano’s St John the Baptist and other saints, and several Tintoretto’s, the artist living nearby.

Friday I visited Santa Maria dei Miracoli, a small Renaissance building covered in marble, and a beautifully decorated interior-it is a favourite church for weddings. I also visited the crypt of San Zaccaria, which has a permanent layer of water flooding the floor, although it wasn’t very high that day. There are also a couple of side chapels, which contain yet more paintings, some frescos and a lovely altar polyptych. In the evening we were taken to visit some of the better bars in Venice, and sample some traditional Venetian snacks.

Saturday 14th October In the morning I visited San Giorgio Maggiore. This church occupies the island at the end of Giudecca opposite San Marco and the Riva degli Schiavoni-the quayside overlooking the basin that I live near. The church was built by Palladio, and contains a wealth of lovely paintings. The view from the top of the Campanile is stunning, looking over the lagoon, in all directions, with San Marco below on the other side of the basin, and the basins of the Arsenal showing up quite prominently. It was however a bit windswept. In the afternoon I went to San Lazzaro gegli Ameni, home to an Armenian monastery, which has a very big library and the best preserved Egyptian Mummy in Europe amongst its treasures, which can only be visited on a guided tour in the afternoon-there was an English translation, but it helped to be able to understand a bit of Italian. The island is very beautiful, and there are a lot of lovely artefacts, from Armenia, and elsewhere, in the museum.

Sunday I went to the Lido again for the afternoon whilst the weather is still good. When I came back I visited Santi Giovanni e Paulo, or San Zanipolo in Venetian dialect. There are some lovely paintings, and lots of funery monuments as several doges were buried here. In the campo outside is the statue of a condottiere or mercenary, who gave money in his will for a statue outside San Marco-the authorities put it outside the Scuola San Marco (now the civil hospital) instead.


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