Wednesday, April 11

La Serenissima Repubblica

In 1444 Leonello d'Este, the Marquis of Ferrara, married Mary of Aragon, the illegitimate daughter of King Alfonso V of Naples. The wedding, held in Venice, was a spectacular affair culminating in a procession down the Grand Canal. Naturally people gathered on the only bridge crossing the canal to watch. However, the surging crowd's weight caused the timber structure to suddenly collapse. A replacement was duly built, only to suffer a similar fate, collapsing in 1524.

This series of failures prompted the construction of a sturdier bridge built from stone. Designed by Antonio da Ponte, a new, impressive white marble structure was finally completed in 1591. Today, more than 400 years later the Rialto bridge remains one of Venice's most recognised landmarks. Last weekend it also formed the backdrop for a five-day Easter vacation for Garry, his parents and myself.

We based ourselves at the Rialto Hotel. Unlike many similarly named venues, this hotel really was within a stone's throw of its namesake (its the pink building to the right in the photo above). Each morning we stepped out of the lobby into a bustling streetscape dominated by Venice's most famous bridge. The scene was made all the more enjoyable thanks to five days of gloriously sunny weather.

The hotel was excellent. The staff were friendly, helpful and discrete. Our rooms were wonderfully appointed with authentic period furniture, padded fabric walls and windows secured with heavy wooden shutters. The only minor disappointment was a rather simple fare offered for breakfast each day. I've had far a more sumptuous complimentary meal at lesser establishments.

It's been 17 years since I last visited Venice. It would be fair to say that I remember little of my last visit. As a result, last weekend was a whole new journey of discovery. It was clear that Rhonda and Murray loved the experience as much as I did.

We walked miles every day exploring passage after passage, canal upon canal, bridge after bridge. It's easy to appreciate why Venice was known as La Serenissima Repubblica, or the Most Serene Republic. It's truly a remarkable place - one of the few great cities on Earth where the only sound you'll often hear is the patter of footfall on cobblestones accompanied by muffled human voices. Ancient cities were undoubtably far quieter places than today's modern metropoli.

Over the next few days I'll do my best to capture some of the many highlights from a wonderful vacation. Along side classic tourist adventures (a gondola ride at dusk) we enjoyed moments of personal discovery (like the old woman we found painting traditional Venetian masks in a quiet side lane).


I've finally updated the blog to cover our day on Murano, the bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore and our thrilling night ride through the Grand Canal.

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