Chapter 6 of Venice: la Madonna della Salute

‘White swan of cities slumbering in thy nest / So wonderfully built among the reeds […] / White phantom city, whose untrodden streets / Are rivers, and whose pavements are the shifting / Shadows of the palaces and strips of sky […]’ – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Keramos and Other Poems, A Book of Sonnets, Part II, Venice, 1878.

Why did I give you a meeting point at the vaporetto? Is it another island? Not at all!

You are still going to stay on mainland Venice in a quarter (or sestiere as they are known in la Serenissima) called Dorsoduro.

I want you to discover the basilica of La Madonna della Salute, also called Santa Maria della Salute or Saint Mary of the Health (I prefer the Italian). It is the amazing building you can see when you are on la Piazza San Marco. You know? The gigantic white dome? Yeah, that one!

You can actually go there by foot, but it is more practical and quicker to take the waterbus. The stop is called ‘Salute‘. Easy, isn’t it?

I dedicate this article to my sister. It is one of her favourite monuments in Venice, and how right she is!

You ask, why is a church named for ‘health’? Well, it is quite simple. The church was built after the 1630-1631 wave of Black Death that decimated a part of the Italian population. It was meant to pray the Virgin to keep a healthy air in La Serenissima and thank her for having spared the most part of the Venetian people during the epidemy (that along with the plague of 1575-1577 killed off one third of the people in Venice. I do not really call that ‘spared’, but well…) A young architect, Baldassare Longhena, was chosen because his project answered the need of grandeur and magnificence.

The constrution started in 1631, and the church was finally consecrated in 1687. This church has the peculiarity to have been built on the extremity of the mainland, right in the lagoon actually. When you take the waterbus, you just have that feeling of awe that makes you open your mouth, widen your eyes and just keeps you quiet. It is a white building with two domes and two towers. On top of the main dome, the Virgin Mary can be seen holding the bastone, or stick, symbol of the power over the seas.

As for the interior, it is very bright and clear. However, I did not take any picture of it. I don’t even know if it is allowed within the church. I just did not do it to respect people’s prayers. But here is the view you have from the entrance. 

If you come to visit on the 21st of November, know that there is an event called la Festa della Madonna della Salute. It is a pilgrimage which has been organised every year for three centuries. It is not so much about tourism than about faith. A lot of people praying will be people from Venice. The pilgrimage is meant to thank the Virgin Mary for Her protection, and pray for good health. In order to facilitate the pilgrimage, a temporary wooden bridge is set up every year over the Gran Canale. On that day, you can taste a typical dish called ‘la castradina‘, a mutton stew.

I love this basilica because it gives you a focal point. As it was meant to reassure Venetian about the plague, and more generally about their health, I also think that it was built to give a sense of belonging and of bearings. You know where you are when you can see it. It is rather fascinating to notice that the various episodes of plague that exterminated the population still holds a grim power in Venice. La Salute is their reminder of past decays and dark times that are annihilated by a pure and white building, an allegory of the Virgin Mary in itself.

You can also visit a few places around the church. For instance, you have the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a modern art museum. If you wonder what can be found on the extremity of the Dorsoduro, it is la Punta della Dogana. Nowadays, it is also a museum, but in remote times, it was the customs’ building.

I am afraid we are going to take the vaporetto once again. We are going to my favourite part of Venice (I say that in every article, I know!).

Keep praying,

Best wishes,

I M Gullivering.

A brief account of Treviso

‘Dove Sile e Cagnan s’accompagna’ – Dante Alighieri, Divina Commedia, Paradiso, IX, v.49

‘Where the Sile and the Cagnan join’ – Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, IX, l.49

Treviso is a small city situated in the North-East of Italy in the region of the Veneto (you start knowing a lot about it, eh?)  It is 40 minutes away from Venice and an hour away from Padua. It is the capital of its Province. It currently counts around 80.000 inhabitants.It is rather short of attractions, so you can visit it in a day if you want. There is a small airport with cheap flights near the city. The Sile and the Cagnan from Dante are the two rivers that meet in the city. 

Why am I going to talk about it if there is not much to see, then? Well, Treviso is a bit special to me. A part of my family comes from that Province, so I had to research information about the area. So, why not share my discoveries with you.

Although Treviso existed before the Roman Empire, it is during this era that the city took off properly to become a commercial hub of the Empire. With the fall of the Roman Empire, the city was left to the whims of the barbarians. You will be happy to learn that Attila did not go as far as Treviso!
During the Middle Ages, Treviso was part of the Lombard League which was an alliance of Italian cities to counteract the Holy Roman Empire from becoming too powerful in Italy. In 1183, with the Peace of Constance, Treviso and the other cities of the League gained their independence. It became a signory where important families actually ruled the city.

The city, after forging an alliance with the Republic of Venice, became willingly an integral part of la Serenissima’s jurisdiction. Treviso grew slowly in Venice’s shadow which explains why it is not so famous nowadays. You would not necessarily plan for a visit to Treviso, do you?

Later on, it fell in Napoleon’s hands, and in 1815, the city became Austrian. In 1866, like Venice and the rest of the Veneto, it joined the newly constituted country of Italy.

You will find a lot of people wearing the names ‘Trevisano’ or ‘Trevisan’. These people had an ancestor coming from the city of Treviso, then! ‘Trevisan’ is in the dialect of the Veneto (in the North-East of Italy, they tend to drop the last vowel in a word like they do with names such as Perin, Padovan, Marenot, Pilon…).  

It is quite a food city as well with a lot of specialities. In the Province of Treviso, you will find a lot of different meats such as sausages. You will be able to taste good cheese as well! But the most famous product from the Province is its radicchio, or chicory.It is excellent in a risotto. What you wouldn’t believe is that, apparently, the famous tiramisu comes from Treviso. And to finish, Prosecco is produced in Treviso. Do you need other motivations to go there?

In Treviso, you will find a nice city centre with a river. It is quite pretty!

The main places you will need to see are the Duomo, the Piazza dei Signori and the Palazzo dei Trecento.

To start with the Duomo, I was a bit surprised to learn that in 1760, it was completely destroyed on purpose. The former structure did not seem well built nor harmonious, and it was decided to bring it down entirely and rebuild it. When I say ‘destroyed’, I also mean that they annihilated all the artefacts (sculptures, paintings, old furniture…) in the church! The whole artistic past was consumed along with the old Duomo as if they did not want to leave any trace of Treviso’s history. The new edifice was finished in 1836, and ornamented with columns.

The Piazza dei Signori is a landmark of Italian urban organisation. You will find a square with such a name in every city which was, at one point, ruled by a ‘Signoria’, a kind of local government formed by all the most important families of the area (when I say families, I mean the men…as usual!). It is particularly common in northern Italy. The one in Treviso is the main meeting point in the city. 

On the square, you can find the Palazzo dei Trecento. The name comes from the Great Council, composed of 300 members, which held sessions in the Palace. It dates back from the 13th century, and was refurbished and redecorated several times. It necessitated restauration after bombings in 1944.

Behind the Palace, you can see the Torre Civica. You will always find towers in Italy! Like the ones in Bologna, you have the symbol of power that is attached to it. Nevertheless, it was mainly for security that such great towers were built in the first place. Wars were a common foe, particularly in such a divided country where the regions’ interests were so important. These towers were used to survey the horizon to check any foreign or dangerous presence. The Torre Civica was first built in the 13th century. It was rebuilt similarly in the 19th. It is the symbol of Treviso.

The visit does not stop here, but clearly, I have dwelt sufficiently upon it! 

I hope it makes you want to see Treviso because it is a nice place. You can stop by, and have a meal there! 

Keep moving,

Best wishes,

I M Gullivering.

Chapter 2 of Florence: Il Ponte Vecchio

‘Among the four old bridges that span the river, the Ponte Vecchio, that bridge which is covered with the shops of jewellers and goldsmiths, is a most enchanting feature in the scene. […] and that precious glimpse of sky, and water, and rich buildings, shining so quietly among the huddled roofs and gables, is exquisite’. – Charles Dickens.

Charles, I could not agree more! Only that now, there are more than four bridges to cross the river called lArno in Florence. The Arno River is the second most important river in central Italy, and is one of the reasons for Florence’s power in history. In the old days, without planes or trains, the rivers were used to transport goods and merchandise from one city to the other. The fluvial way was much more in favour at that time than now. The Arno, having a link with the Mediterranean Sea, was a direct way to do business with other countries. It meant that Florence could get richer, but could also build a reputation that shone above the Italian borders. We are going to see that a very famous bridge had its role to play there!

I really enjoyed walking along the river on what the Italians call the ‘Lungarno‘, the street parallel to the river.You can observe different types of architecture while wandering. The most significant landmark on the Lungarno is il Ponte Vecchio.

C’mon! You know it! It is everywhere on the internet and on TV. If you open a travel guide on Italy, that may be the first photo you will see. So, time to learn a bit more about it.

The bridge was a Roman idea. They loved building bridges, the Romans! So, upon the foundation of Florence in the first century, a bridge, made of wood was built to be able to cross the Arno River. As you can guess, it did not last. We don’t know if it was the same bridge or a more recent one, but it was destroyed in the 12th century by a flood. It was rebuilt with wood again, but this time solidified by stone archs. It was named Ponte Vecchio in the 13th century when another bridge was constructed. Merchants started settling on the different bridges of the city (four at that time) and created the business heart of Florence. Unfortunately, all the bridges where destroyed in the 14th century when two fires and one flood plagued the City of Arts.

Il Ponte Vecchio was rebuilt, but because of the years and careless management, it started crumbling down. The symmetry of the bridge disappeared, and it became unbalanced. The 16th century saw a real change in the habits of the Ponte Vecchio. Firstly, it was refurbished and rearranged. Then, it was decided that the bridge would only welcome gold and silver merchants and jewellers to bring more glory to the city of Florence, a tradition still alive nowadays. It was an order from the Grand Duke Ferdinand I, who had noticed the chaos and the filth reigning on the bridge. All the butchers, fishmongers and costermongers working on the bridge had created a living hell. And the Grand Duke, you see, wanted it to be a place where gentlemen would meet and deal. Actually, it happened! The goldsmiths gained an international reputation, and people from all Europe came on il Ponte Vecchio to trade. It also served the reputation of Florence, which became the convergent point of merchants and travellers. These goldsmiths and jewellers had to protect their shops, and created the ‘madielle’, the big wood and iron boards that you can still admire today as shops close.

I think you can still notice the past disorder on the sides of the bridge. Some shops are wider; others are longer. It is true that it creates a kind of asymmetry.  Nevertheless, I also think that it is that asymmetry that gives all its charm to the Ponte Vecchio. 

Today, you will only see jewellers’ shops on the bridge. It is organised in the exact same way it was several centuries ago. You can find the shops on each side, and a kind of small square in the centre. You can find the bust of Benvenuto Cellini, a goldsmith and sculptor, who sculpted Perseus, the famous statue of the demi-god holding a head. You can admire this statue in Florence, on la Piazza della Signoria.

This is Perseus:

I was lucky to visit Florence on the first weekend of the F.LIGHT, which is an illumation event around Christmas. A few monuments are lighted up with colours and the reproduction of paintings. Il Ponte Vecchio is one of the monuments chosen to display these plays of lights. 

At night, you also have musical animations. Street musicians come to play on the bridge. It has a wonderful sonority! The musicians I heard were pretty good. One sang classics of British and American songs; another sang his own Italian songs. 

If you want to see the bridge without anyone walking, pushing and taking pictures, you can wake up early and come around 8AM-8.30AM. You are bound to see no one! The shops are closed, the people are not yet going to work and the tourists are definitely not up!

Enough about il Ponte Vecchio. It just an ‘old bridge’, after all!

Let’s continue on the other bank of the river. I have something quite extraordinary to show you!

Keep window shopping,

Yours,

I M Gullivering.

Chapter 1 of Florence: la Piazza del Duomo

‘And when I thought of Florence, it was like a miracle city embalmed and like a corolla, because it was called the city of lillies and its cathedral, St. Mary of the Flowers’ – Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way

Florence! I love Florence! Who does not? This city is perfect for families, for couples, for single people, for old, for young…Am I being partial? Well, I admit it. It is simply to make you feel bad for not having been there already.

Florence, Firenze in Italian, is the capital city of Tuscany (a region in the North of Rome). Tuscany is often taken as the pure example of Italian’s landscapes and lifestyle. You know? The green hills scattered of pine trees and covered by vineyards adjoining ocre-coloured houses. Typical! Italy is far more complex than that. Nevertheless, you can’t obliterate the fact that Tuscany has marked characteristics.

Florence was founded by the Romans in 59 B.C. Due to its strategic position, it became a hub for business and transports. It also means that it was quite attractive to barbaric tribes (it can never be perfect…) Its Golden Age covers quite a large span of four centuries (from the 11th to the 15th). It coincidated with the end of Middle Ages and the birth of the Renaissance in Italy (which have both different dates than  in England). Art is to be found everywhere in Florence. Writers such as Dante or Machiavelli lived there. Botticelli and Michelangelo (not Mickey Langelo…) both worked as painters in the city. Leonardo da Vinci learnt his trade in Florence. The Capital of Arts is the birthplace of the Renaissance, and of Italian arts as we celebrate them today.

The city was ruled by a Signoria, a Council of the most powerful men from the most important families of Florence. THE most important family happens to be the Medici. There is currently a series on the soaring of the family. The dynasty raised itself from being bankers (not bonkers) to being one of the most powerful families in Europe. They offered one Pope to Italy and two Queens to France. Their blood is in all the European royal families. Originally, they may have had doctors in their ranks as ‘Medici’ means ‘doctors’. The Medici’s status sprang with Cosimo di Medici in the 15th century. He established himself and the family as the leaders of Florence. The second most important name is Lorenzo il Magnifico (greatest nickname ever) who gave the city its cultural aspect by being a generous patron to artists who, as a result, came to settle in Florence to work and earn a living. 

My first chapter is dedicated to the most wonderful building in Florence: the Cathedral Santa Maria del Fiore. It can nicely be translated by Saint Mary of the Flower. Isn’t it cute? Florence, Flower…You can see the link pretty quickly, uh? Actually, the symbol of the city is the lily flower, and Florence is called the City of the Lily

The Cathedral is very famous for its architecture, and especially for its Cupola (Dome). 

Just to impress you even more, know that it is the third largest church in the world (after Saint Peter in Rome and Saint Paul in London). It started being built in 1296 by an architect called Arnolfo di Cambio, and was almost finished in 1421. The construction phase was delayed by the deaths of the several architects in charge of the project. Furthermore, the Cupola was expected to be grand and gigantic with the slight problem that no one had ever accomplished such an architectural prowess. So, after decades of stagnation, the Opera del Duomo, the Council in charge of the Cathedral, decided to open a competition in 1418 to find the best project to finalise the dome. Filippo Brunelleschi, an architect who was a former goldsmith, was finally appointed after endless debates, but had to work alongside Lorenzo Ghiberti, another goldsmith, who happened to be Bruneslleschi’s greatest rival. The project started in 1420. 

His project was to build two domes nestled into one another. In short, he wanted to create a fake dome under the main one to support and solidify it. It proved to be a difficult endeavour, but it was finally achieved in 1434. Two years later, the Duomo was consecrated by the Pope. You think it is beautiful on the outside? It is as impressive on the inside!

Opposite the Cathedral, you can see the Battistero di San Giovanni. It is an octogonal baptistery flanked by three golden gates made out of Bronze. The most beautiful is the East Gate called la Porta del Paradiso (named by Michelangelo himself). It was created by Lorenzo Ghiberti (who had won against Brunelleschi that time). In former times (that is 3rd and 4th century), there was already a baptistery. The actual one was erected between the 11th and the 12th century which makes it one of the oldest buildings in Florence. The gates were created later on in the 14th and 15th century. A Battistero, like its name indicates, is used to baptise! Dante was baptised there actually.

Next to the Duomo, there is il Campanile, the bell tower. The term campanile comes from ‘campana’ that means ‘bell’. The project was Giotto‘s, one of the most famous Italian artists of the Renaissance. Sadly, in 1337, only three years after the beginning of the construction, Giotto died. Weirdly, the bell tower is called il Campanile di Giotto despite the fact that he did not even work three years on the project. It was finished in 1359, after the works were interrupted by the Black Death episodes which began in 1348. The exterior of the Campanile is richly decorated. It is ornamented of white, red and green marble, just like the Battistero and the Cathedral, with geometrical designs.You can find biblical scenes, representations of sciences, planets, the cardinal virtues, the seven sacraments (from the Catholic faith), as well as prophets and kings of Israel on the façades.

You will be surprised to learn that, like any bell tower, there are bells inside! There are seven bells in il Campanile di Giotto.They are called Santa Reparata, la Misericordia, l’Apostolica, l’Assunta, la Mater Dei, l’Annunziata and l’Immacolata. To visit the tower, you have to brave a long queue of visitors. I could not find courage enough in me to wait an hour (sometimes, it is even more).

These buildings form the Piazza del Duomo, the most impressive square in Florence.There is also la Loggia del Bigallo that you can visit and the Museum della Misericordia. The Loggia was built during the construction of the Duomo in the 14th century. It originally belonged to la Compagnia della Misericordia which had to be merged with la Compagnia del Bigallo in 1425.These two brotherhoods coult not get on though, and la Misericordia left the Loggia. It is why, nowadays, the house bears the name of the Bigallo. These two organisations of rich merchants and bankers were meant to help the poor and destitute by welcoming them in the house. Nevertheless, the Compagnia del Bigallo was accused several times over the centuries of doubtful finances and malversation. It was finally dispersed, but the works of art that the two brotherhoods had hoarded over the years were reunited in the Loggia which became a museum. 

If you go around the Cathedral, you will find the statue of Brunelleschi, watching and studying his Cupola, and the statue of Arnolfo di Cambio, the first architect of the Duomo (remember?). Arnolfo surveys his work with a serious and focused look in the eye. 

This is just the start, people! Some more wonders await you in Florence. Are you ready to (re)discover them?

Next time will be another very famous landmark of Florence. I am sure you can guess!

Keep visiting,

Kindest regards,

I M Gullivering.

Chapter 5 of Venice: La Scala Contarini del Bovolo and Daniele Manin

‘No other place on earth has created, more than Venice, such a conspiration of enthusiasm’ – Guy de Maupassant

I want us to talk a bit of altitude, and a bit of distance with the common attractions that Venice has to offer.

La Scala del Bovolo may be in your travel guide, but it is so well hidden that you will have trouble finding it. It makes it even more special! You won’t find many tourists there, which is a good thing because, you don’t want to feel nudged and pushed in such a high staircase (particularly with a fear of heights, believe me…).

The staircase is part of a Palace called il Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. It is to be found not very far away from the Rialto Bridge. You need to find il Campo Manin, which is a square ornamented with a gigantic statue of Daniele Manin overpowering the Venetian lion (a really humble statue) The Manins were a prominent family in the North-East of Italy. Originally a Jewish family of bankers, they settled in Venice where they gained more and more power. Their raise led them to have Ludovico Manin elected Doge (the last one…not sure he was a lucky draw…). 

After the era of Doges, the Republic of Venice had a status quo during Napoleon, and passed later on in the hands of the Austrian Empire. In 1848, after an uprising against the Austrians, Daniele Manin (remember, the statue?) became the first and last President (quite a family feature) of what was called La Repubblica di San Marco which lasted a year and a half. In 1849, Venice went back to being Austrian.This story is just a small sample of the confusion that was reigning in Venice in the 19th century. By its location and its reputation, it had always been a city coveted by powerful leaders. Venice found its stability in 1866 when it was finally unified to the Kingdom of Italy. 

Back to our sheep! You remember that you are here for La Scala, uh? So, once on the Manin square, you will find a small indication board for the Scala. Follow straight, and here you are:

 The entry ticket varies according to what you want to see. You can simply pay to go up the staircase and admire the view (the full price is 6 euros). There is also another room called la Sala del Tintoretto, but really, if you are not interested in paintings, do not pay more to visit this room. It is basically eight paintings hanging on four walls…

The staircase was built under the command of one Pietro Contarini in the 15th century. I hear you ask, ‘why?’. Well, it is imposing, it is beautiful, it makes you fly over Venice’s rooftops: it means that it is all about power. The Scala was meant to show how affluent, rich and powerful the Contarini family was. The term ‘Bovolo’ comes from the venezian word for ‘snail’, and it is meant to echo the spiral form of the staircase. It is often taken as an example of pure Venezian architecture.

I think it is one of my favourite spots in Venice. I had the impression it was set in another world altogether. When you arrive, you are not far away from all the main attractions, but you feel disconnected from them! I almost felt like Harry Potter when he first discovered Diagon Alley (without the owls, the wand makers and the cauldrons’ sellers, obviously!). And admire the panoramic view!

If you are lucky enough to have a good light, you will take the most beautiful pictures of your Venezian sojourn there (and therefore be able to impress all your jealous friends!).

I let you discover the view by yourself. Let’s meet at the vaporetto afterwards? I have a surprise!

Keep ascending,

Yours,

I M Gullivering.

Chapter 4 of Venice:  The pleasures of Il Ponte di Rialto and other bridges.

‘SALANIO: Now, what news on the Rialto?’ – William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice.

I am more subdued to Venice than ever. The strangest thing of all is that the constant flow of tourists does not even seem to bother me. Well, I am a tourist myself, but normally, I just rage and pest at everyone in the streets (particularly French people). In Venice, it seems the place has put a spell on me! It has enchanted me so that I do not see anything else but the beauty of it. It is quite exceptional!

So, today, I want to deal with a very famous bridge that Shakespeare included extensively in his play The Merchant of Venice.’Now, what news on the Rialto?’ is the first line of the third act. So, no, it is not asking what is happening ON the bridge, but rather what is said in the quarter of the Rialto, the Merchants’ area of Venice. It is a place of gossip and drama where your reputation is at risk. Shylock, a Jewish merchant and one of the main characters in the play, says he has been ‘rated’ ‘in the rialto’ (I, 3), meaning he has been mistreated and judged. Do not worry! This time has passed (you would hope so at least). Nevertheless, it is still a very crowded place with a lot of shops around. You will essentially find jeweleries and gold dealers there. 

You will also find around the bridge several remaining tokens of its mercantile past life. There are still markets to be found in the area such as the fish market. Nowadays, it is more like a general market, but there is still the old fishing regulation up the walls. 

The Rialto is the most impressive bridge in Venice. It is also the oldest. The Canal Grande is the big river which slithers in the city and breaks it into two parts. Only four bridges will take you across the river:  il Ponte della Costituzione, il Ponte degli Scalzi, il Ponte dell’Accademia and il Ponte di Rialto (hence the importance to localise them on a map). 

The Rialto was first built in the 12th century in the oldest and most commercial part of the city. As you can imagine, it did not look like the imposing stone bridge it is nowadays. It was not called ‘Rialto’ either. At the beginning, it was a wood bridge, and you had to pay a tax to cross it which is why it was called il Ponte del Quartorolo (named after the tax). It was refurbished and damaged several times. In 1444, it collapsed due to overcharging: people had gathered on the bridge to witness the arrival of a famous historical character; it could not support such a weight and broke, causing the deaths of several people (the number 4 is not the bridge’s lucky number…) The bridge was rebuilt ingeniously with a mobile part at the centre to let high ships pass. It was made out of wood again, and collapsed again…

The name ‘Rialto’ comes from the fact that it was built in a part of the city called ‘Rivoaltum’. You could find the living heart of Venice there with a great market and merchants all around. The actual bridge we can admire today was built at the end of the 16th century after a decreet straight from the Doge’s Palace. They had finally understood that building a wood bridge in such a lively and populated (and probably humid) area was not a good idea! It remained the only way to cross the Canal Grande until 1854! Imagine the number of people crossing the Canal daily with only one bridge to do so. Okay, no tourists or just a small bunch of them. Still,  it must have been insane! And the number of boats there was to deliver merchandise…Oh my my! 

What a stunning view from the bridge, uh?

In 1854, another bridge was built by the Austrians, who were occupying in the area, to connect the brand new railway station, Santa Lucia, to the heart of the city. This bridge did not last, and il Ponte dell’Accademia took its place in 1933. The bridge was actually meant to be provisory (it makes me think of the Eiffel Tower in Paris…) Nevertheless, it became an integral part of Venice, and apparently, people grew attached to it. It does the job! Actually, Venitians have the saying ‘provvisorio come il Ponte dell’Accademia’ to describe an ephemeral thing that has become permanent.

With as stunning a view, I can assure you!

The two other bridges can be found on each side of the railway station. Il Ponte della Costituzione is the last bridge to have been built on the Grand Canal. It was inaugurated in 2008, and has a modern look (too modern for some people). It draws its name from the Italian Constitution which celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2008. This bridge is also called Ponte di Calatrava after the name of the architect, Santiago Calatrava. The last bridge is il Ponte degli Scalzi. The Scalzi were a religious order which owned the church nearby. The Scalzi were monks famous for walking barefeet. Its building  took place after the opening of the railway station Santa Lucia in 1846. A bridge was built in 1858, but was destroyed. They only rebuilt it in the thirties.

This is the last bridge to have been built: il Ponte della Costituzione.

I am not going to dwell on ALL the bridges of Venice because I think I would not have the time (nor the will) to deal with more than 400 of them (some say 417, others 435…)!

Maybe you think it a good time to go round a few shops and see what they offer. You probably have trinkets to buy for Uncle Bernard, and a necklace to find for Cousin Marge. I will wait for you on the southbank. 

Keep crossing,

Kind regards,

I M Gullivering.

Chapter 2 of Verona: la piazza brà

‘Venetians are great lords, Paduans are great doctors, people from Vicenza eat cats and people from Verona… are all crazy’ – Italian saying.

This quote gives you a good overview of the Veneto…do not be afraid of visiting Verona, though! The people are not crazy at all. Well, maybe a little. Not sure. Why not? I don’t know really!

When you arrive by the train station, you will have to find il Corso Porta Nuova. It is the main street that will lead you to the heart of the city. To signify you that you are on the right track,  you will find an ancient gate (quite paradoxal when you think the street is called New Gate). 

Go straight. Straight again. Straight. No, STRAIGHT! This street is a bit like the Champs-Elysées in Paris. I said ‘a bit’… It is not similar at all, but serves the main purpose: welcoming you and preparing you for the heart of the city. It ends with a clocktower and an even more ancient gate (aaaah! That is why the other ancient gate is called ‘new’) 

Here can be found la Piazza Brà. I wondered why it was called so. It is a strange name after all! Well, it seems that it derives from the German ‘breit’ meaning ‘wide’. I hoped for a more epic story behind it, but life is full of disappointments, it seems!

On this square you will find restaurants and cafés, a museum, the town hall, a statue of Vittorio Emanuele II, and the arena. Do you understand why it is in fact called the Broad Square? Actually, there is a special word in the Veneto for that kind of square where people can gather and chat : un liston. 

The statue of Vittorio Emanuele II is the kind of statue you will find in every city or big town in Italy! Vittorio Emanuele (VE for friends)  is  one of the most famous men of the country. He was the King of Sardigna and took an active part in the Risorgimento, the movement for the unification of Italy. Along with Giuseppe Garibaldi and the Count Cavour, he managed to make Italy one country. He actually became the first King of Italy as a unified nation in 1861.

The biggest attaction on the square is the Roman Arena. Just know that it is the third largest in Italy (after the Colosseo in Rome and the one in Catania, Sicilia) It is a landmark that shows the history and legacy of Verona and its evolution. It started being built under the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, at the beginning of the 1st century (yeah…quite ancient!)  It was first meant as a place of entertainment where people could go and enjoy spectacular shows and death sentences (everyone has seen Gladiator around here?) From the end of the 19th century onwards, this place has been a stage to great opera compositions. It is funny to notice that when it was built, the Arena could be found outside the great fortified walls of the city. Nowadays, it is right in the city centre. It is so strange to notice these kind of historical and geographical shifts!

The great walls I have mentioned are the walls of the Cittadella, the historic centre of Verona. These walls are basically battlements. You can see them on the other side of la Piazza Brà. 

On the square, you can also find the Palazzo della Gran Guardia. It is currently a museum where you can admire all the latest exhibitions. Originally, it was a military base. ‘Gran Guardia’ means ‘Great Guard’, so you can well image the military past, eh? The construction started in the 17th century when a captain of the army realised there was no covered place to review the troops in a rainy weather. The Palace was born out of a practical need more than an artistic pursuit. That shows on the façade!

The final building I am going to deal with (I swear!) is the city hall or Palazzo Barbieri.  You will notice it straight away thanks to its vivid yellow colour. It was built between 1836 and 1848 under Austrian domination. It takes its name from Giuseppi Barbieri, the project’s engineer. 

If you are tired of your visit, you can just sit on the bench in the small green area facing the hall. There is a fountain, and it is quite relaxing! Maybe you are hungry…Then, I would advise you to stay on la Piazza Brà and choose one of the various restaurants it has to offer! If you are in the mood for shopping, just take the street near the Arena. Everyone is going there anyway!

Keep chilling,

Yours faithfully,

I M Gullivering.