From Belluno the Alps drop rapidly to the coastal plain of northeast Italy. After an hour's drive on the Autostrada we reached Venice. We parked on the Tronchetto, a modern parking island with an exit off the Autostrada. We then took the public water bus, or vaporetto, to San Marco.
All of Venice’s six sestieri or districts can be reached on foot, though not the outlying islands. Venice in 2017 appeared at first glance to risk being trampled. The summer crowd pouring in and out was phenomenal. One might speculate that Venice needs fewer tourists, and when considering the great achievements of this city in the past, one might conclude that the world needs more Venetians. We outsiders don’t have the realism for Venice—but when your streets are canals that connect with the open sea, and jellyfish can swim up the canal past your door, realism may become second nature.
The lion above, on the Arsenale gate, is the only Venetian lion sculpted holding a closed book, representing the Gospel according to Mark. All other Venetian lion sculptures hold an open book with the words Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus -- a reference to the legend that an angel appeared to St. Mark as his boat was passing the sandspit that later became Venice, en route from Aquileia to Ravenna. The Arsenale is the source of the modern word arsenal, and this building was the headquarters of Venice's formidable navy. Hence the phrase Pax Tibi was considered inappropriate for this gate.
The best modern history of Venice I know of is John Julius Norwich's History of Venice, and those unfamiliar with the rise, long triumph, and ultimate decline of the Venetian Empire may wish to read it. Venice, though not physically large, is one of the world's great cities and a lifetime studying Venice would not be ill spent.
We left Venice on foot. For 1,200 years or more that would have been impossible, except by wading and swimming the lagoon. But the Tronchetto parking island off the Autostrada is connected to Venice by a causeway. Rail and vehicular access to Venice only became possible late in the 20th Century, and changed the nature of the city. It's a long walk, if you chose to enter or leave Venice by foot. The winding mazes of lanes and squares were never intended as thoroughfares; quite the opposite. But walking out gave us a last couple of hours to meander through the seemingly enchanted city of Venice.
The next post will cover our two days in Ravenna, just an hour or so down the coast from Venice.