A city surrounded by water. A strong heritage in trading. Having lions as part of the history. Even the Sultan of Malacca commented on this city in the 15th century. This may sound somewhat familiar to you – a description of our sunny island, but you may be very much surprised to realize that the descriptions mentioned above are those of Venice!
Venice – the Lion City
A pride of lions
Each city has its distinction, and its mark on architecture. For Venice, that mark of distinction is a winged lion. But why a lion when Venice is a maritime city?
The winged lion was at first St. Mark’s symbol but was later used as the renowned Medici family’s way of showing the power of Venice. It is said that in the 9th century Venetian thieves stole the remains of St. Mark the Apostle from Egypt and smuggled the body onto the ship by stuffing flowers and sow meat around the body to keep onlookers away. They made it to the vessel which was to transport the remains away, but no sooner had they made it to the open seas when they encountered a storm. St. Mark “appeared” to the captain and warned him to strike the sails or they would crash onto rocks. After crossing the Mediterranean and cruising up the Adriatic, the grave robbers reached Venice and handed their cargo over to their Duke. The local religious and civic authorities quickly elected St. Mark as Venice’s patron saint, and the apostle’s traditional symbol--a winged lion—which became the logo of the Venetian Republic.
The Lion’s Mane
Just as a lion’s mane is to a lion (the most prominent and outstanding feature), Venetian architecture is its most distinctive and spectacular attraction. The elegant and exquisite city of Venice that was once an anchor of the 19th-century Grand Tour still attracts 20 million visitors each year—about 55,000 a day. But on average, only half of them stay on in the city as most visitors spend just a few hours wandering around the photogenic streets and alley ways and leave for the next sight-seeing town.
For the discerning visitor who has a love for history, architecture , visual art, film and objects d’art , Venice is well worth more than a day trip of photo opportunities at the iconic Rialto bridge or at St Mark’s Square. Venetian Gothic architecture which combines the use of the Gothic lancet arch with Byzantine and Arab influences can be found in the Doge’s Palace and the Ca’ d’Oro. This exquisite style originated in 14th century when the confluence of Byzantine style from Constantinople met Arab influence from Moorish Spain. Venice also has several Renaissance and Baroque buildings, including the Ca’ Pesaro and the Ca’ Rezzonico.
Beyond the city’s six sestieri (districts), the shallow waters of the lagoon are dotted with a series of islands including Murano, Burano, and Torcello. Well worth the 40-mintute boat ride, is the lesser known Burano – the island of lace makers with homes which looks anything but white and pristine. Instead, the waterfront scene looks like part of Legoland of the lagoon.
Everything is in brightly coloured miniature - the canals, the bridges, the leaning tower and the houses painted in the deepest colours. Tradition has it that fishermen painted their houses in bright, contrasting colours to identify their houses on the way home in the misty lagoon.
The Lion’s Roar
An evening at La Fenice Opera house is a special treat for opera lovers. Venice, known for its important role in the history of symphonic and operatic music, can also claim to be the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi. Often popularly called the “Republic of Music”, Venice became one of the most important musical centres of Europe in the 16th century. The works were marked by a characteristic style of composition (the Venetian school) and the development of the Venetian polychoral style under composers such as Adrian Willaert, who worked at St Mark’s Basilica.
For art aficionados, the Venice Biennale is one of the most important events in the global arts calendar. One of the greatest draw to the Biennale is the chance to visit buildings whose doors are usually firmly closed, where you would get views of Venice that would otherwise be secret.
If one were to visit Venice in late August or early September, the place to head to is the island of the Lido - where the Golden Lion prize will be presented to a film at the Venice Film Festival. The prize was introduced in 1949 by the organizing committee and is now regarded as one of the film industry’s most distinguished prizes. Since the 18th century, Venice has been a major centre for the Grand Tour. Its beautiful cityscape, uniqueness and rich musical and artistic cultural heritage remain just as captivating today with even more attractions such as the Carnival of Venice, the prestigious Venice Biennale and the Venice Film Festival. From the antique to the contemporary, Venice never fails to fascinate and will inspire countless repeat visits.
To enjoy the best deals, enjoy Venetian cuisine at lunchtime, while in the evening, try cicheti, small snacks or “Venetian tapas” restaurants. Most Venetian cuisine comprises of polenta, cod, rice and beans, small birds and seafood. Some of the most well-known Venetian food include Sarde in Saor, sweet and sour sardines, very thick and coarse spaghetti Bigoli in Salsa, a salted sardine and onion sauce, Risi e bisi (rice and peas), Baccalà Mantecato, a creamy soft mousse like dish, made with dried cod and served with polenta. For those with a sweet tooth, hope into a pastry shop and ask for Zaleti, (cookies from Maize flour) and Frittelle little sweet fried dumplings.
Source: Prime Magazine Issue Oct-Nov 2015. Reproduced with permission.
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