(click on pictures to enlarge)
We just got back from a week spent in the Veneto region with two friends from Toronto. The plan was to spend 2 days each in Venice, Vicenza and Padova.
Going from Rome to Venice is a pleasant three and a half hour train ride. We left early on a Sunday morning and arrived by noon in time for lunch. Venice is beautiful as always despite the hordes of day-trippers who disembark from massive cruise ships just for the day. One of the things I like most is just walking around the narrow streets looking at the traffic on the canals.
It was a nice afternoon and we we went to see the Architecture Biennale. The theme was ‘Fundamentals’ with part of it devoted to fundamentals of living spaces used by any architect. Unfortunately, it was rather disappointing on the whole but I did enjoy a display of toilets through the ages. They haven’t changed much and indeed some from antiquity were rather magnificent like this 18th cent. Venetian urinal.
Monday was foggy and dull and since this wasn’t our first time in Venice, we decided to explore the islands nearby, in the Venice lagoon. For 20 Eur/person, one can buy a day card which allows unlimited travel on the boats in and around Venice, a good deal considering that the cost of a single fare is 7 Eur. Our first stop was the very quaint island of Torcello which has just a basilica and a small church on it and a hotel or two. The basilica has an entire wall of beautiful 11th cent Byzantine mosaics, the earliest still remaining in the Venice region.
Before catching the boat for the next island of Burano, we found a little outdoor cafe and fortified ourselves with fried seafood served on plates of baked dough which could also be eaten. Burano is just a 20 minute boat ride away. It is noted for lace-making though I can’t imagine that there is a great demand for lace anymore. Very picturesque, the buildings are painted in various colours and were quite striking despite the fog.
The next island, Murano, which is actually a series of tiny, little islands, is where all the Venetian glass is made and one can see the glass being blown and shaped. It is quite an industry as in addition to bowls and vases, they also make chandeliers, jewellery and various ornaments.
The next day, we rented a car and drove to Vicenza along the Brenta canal which is dotted with fine Palladian style villas. Andrea Palladio was a 17th cent. Venetian architect strongly influenced by Greek and Roman architecture who has had a great influence on Western architecture. Many buildings all over the world including the American Capitol building are built in his style.
Vicenza itself, which is a World Heritage Site, has grand palaces and small villas in the Palladian style. One of the most notable is the Villa Rotonda which was built as a private home and still privately owned. It sits on a little hill with wonderful views all around. The main floor is dominated by a domed hall filled with frescoes and off this are the rooms. Despite the imposing hall and grand exterior appearance, the rooms are bright, cozy and of a human dimension. I could imagine a family living there quite comfortably. We didn’t get to see upstairs as the family who now own it still live there. It rained most of the time we were in Vicenza but at least we were able to enjoy the interiors of the villas and buildings.
Our final stop was Padova which is only about 40km from Vicenza. The streets in Padova are narrow and lined with long covered arcades below the buildings. A good thing as it was cloudy and raining here as well a lot of the time. There is plenty to see in Padova, the most visited being the Scrovegni chapel which is covered with frescoes by Giotti. Before going into the chapel which was a private family chapel and is consequently small, one has to sit in a room and acclimatize for 15 minutes, then you only have 15 minutes to actually view the frescoes. They are spectacular and Giotto was the first to introduce perspective in painting. Needless to say, no photos are allowed so I can’t show you an example but you can find lots of pictures on the internet.
Another notable sight was the Palazzo Bo which houses the oldest anatomy theatre in the world built like an amphitheatre. It is made of wood in a spiral shape and is really quite beautiful. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed but I managed to find one on a Padova tourism site. Galileo lived and taught at Padova University and the podium and chair from which he taught are still there. The first woman graduate in the world, Elena Piscopia graduated from Padova University in 1678.
Padova has an impressive basilica with many domes, dedicated to St. Anthony whose remains are in a chapel within. Not only that but rather disturbingly, his tongue, lower jaw and vocal chords are on view in a reliquary. One of his claims to fame was that he was a wonderful preacher and legend has it that his body was exhumed many years after his death and his tongue was still preserved. He is also credited with finding lost items and interestingly, I remember my mother praying to St. Anthony of Padova when she lost something. On one occasion, she couldn’t find her purse and immediately began to pray to him. I on the other hand, went around searching for it and eventually found it whereupon she said ” See! He answered my prayers”. Go figure!