I wasn’t ready for Venice. To call the city “picturesque” is to do it a disservice; to call its streets “a veritable maze” is to be kinder than it deserves. It is theatrical, dramatic, and at night… downright spooky. Its stepped bridges absolutely destroyed my knees, and knowing that “as the crow flies” is a laughable concept and that arriving anywhere sooner than five minutes (even if it was only a street over) is impossible, was endlessly frustrating. But Venice’s shabby beauty is undeniable, and this winter light suits it in a way that still has me swooning.

In Italian, the city is called Venezia; in its local dialect, Venesia or Venexia. It is the capital of the Veneto region, and it sits upon 118 islands, separated by canals and linked by more than 400 bridges.

It was once the capital of the Republic of Venice (from 697 to 1797), and it was a powerful maritime and financial center during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. It was heavily involved in the Crusades (and the sacking of Constantinople of 1204 – never forget), as well as in the trade of silk, grain, and spice. In 1797, it was conquered by Napoleon, and in 1866, it joined the Kingdom of Italy.

Venice has been known as the Queen of the Adriatic, La Serenissima, and the City of Canals, just to name a few. It has played a key role in the artistic realms of painting (Titian), and music (Vivaldi), among others, and its lagoon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It has also been an important tourist destination since the 18th century, and was nearly always included as a stop on the Grand Tour.

Visiting Venice today, however, is not without its ethical concerns. The city is a very important touristic destination — perhaps too much so. Annually, it receives somewhere between 22 and 30 million tourists (that’s upwards of 60,000 a day), which is creating environmental problems for the city. In 2014, the UN warned that, unless measures were taken, the city might be placed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

In 2019, after years of demand from locals and activists, the Italian government began rerouting cruise ships of a certain size and banned them from entering the Giudecca Canal to help assuage some of these problems. But even without cruise ships, Venice still suffers from overtourism, and there have been repeated talks of beginning to charge an entrance fee to the city to help repay what it is losing in return.

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