How to arrive in Venice from Istria
I remember when I was just a child. We were spending our summer holidays in Rovinj in Istria because our family had a house there. I remember that my parents took me a few times on a boat trip to Venice.
There was a direct boat line from Rovinj to Venice. The boats looked pretty different then and the border controls were not so strict, so our trips went smoothly and I remember enjoying them. I also remember how crowded Venice was, even then.
During our lunch in Zagreb, my dad mentioned those trips and told us to check if those boat lines still exist. We found an agency that organizes one-day trips from Rovinj or Poreč to Venice – Venezia Lines.
We booked our trip with Venezia Lines for 550 kn, which includes a ferry ride from Poreč to Venice and back and a guided tour of St. Mark's Square. The ferry ride lasts 2,5 hour which leaves you only about 5 or 6 hours in Venice.
The ride was cozy and educative. They divided us into English-speaking and German-speaking groups and our guide made an introduction to Venice for us. He talked about the history of the city and explained to us what we're going to see there.
He also mentioned additional services that they offer, such as a gondola ride (25€/person), a taxi boat ride through the Grand Canal (30€/person), lunch, etc. You could buy a coffee or tea on the ferry for decent prices (for example, 3€ for a cappuccino).
“City of Canals”, “The Floating City”, “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Masks”, “La Serenissima” - those are some of the nicknames belonging to the gorgeous city of Venice. We can add that Venice is considered to be the most romantic city in the world or even the most beautiful.
Many people from all over the world come to admire the city's architecture, picturesque canals, and luxurious palaces. This is why, unfortunately, it's also one of the most crowded cities in the world.
Venice is a city on water, located on 118 islands in the shallow Venetian Lagoon. The Venetian islands are separated by canals, which are connected by more than 400 bridges.
The city was the capital of the Republic of Venice for over a millennium until it fell under Napoleon and later in the 19th century the Austrian Empire. Today it belongs to the Italian Republic. During the medieval period and the Renaissance, Venice was an important naval and merchant port, as well as a prominent financial center.
The city inspired many works of art, from literature, paintings until the more modern forms such as films and music videos. Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, Othello, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Voltaire's Candide are only a few examples of literary masterpieces set in Venice.
Venice gave us some of the most important painters from the Renaissance period (15th/16th century) belonging to the so-called Venetian School: Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Veronese, Tintoretto. The results of the Venetian School are less linear coloristic paintings, nude motives, etc.
Venice is famous for its unique architecture, Venetian Gothic style and architectural pearls from the Renaissance period.
The Venice Film Festival is supposedly the oldest film festival in the world and one of the most prestigious ones. It's held annually at the end of August/beginning of September on the Venetian island Lido, which we saw from our ferry entering the Venice Lagoon.
The Venice Film Festival is a part of an important art event, Venice Biennial. It's an international contemporary art exhibition held in odd-numbered years, which is famous all across the globe.
One cannot write about Venice without mentioning the Venetian Carnival. It's one of the largest carnival celebrations in the world that attracts millions of tourists every year. The street performances, mask parades, jugglers, theater plays, and parties are organized all around the city during the last two weeks before Lent.
The Venetian Carnival has a long tradition. Venetians started to celebrate it as early as the 12th century, although the festivities were forbidden during the French and Austrian rule. The carnival was a time when people from all social classes got to wear masks and mingle. It was the only time in a year when the rigid class structures were not respected.
The Venetian Carnival is still popular today and it preserved the traditional Venetian masks such as Bauta, Medico della Peste, Moretta, Gnaga or the popular characters from the Renaissance Italian Commedia dell'arte (Arlecchino, Colombina, Pantalone, etc.). The masks were made traditionally from porcelain, leather, and glass, and the mask-making tradition is present in today's Venice as well (the masks today are mostly made of clay).
Every mask has its own symbolism. Bauta is the most common Venetian mask. It's a white mask that doesn't cover the mouth and it has to be worn with a tricorn hat and a black cape that completely covers your body.
Medico della Peste is a traditional mask used by doctors that treated plague, which was a common disease in medieval Venice. Moretta is a black oval mask held by biting a button from inside so that the wearer could not speak. It was normally worn by women. 😉
Gnaga is an interesting mask of a cat worn by Venetian “drag queens”, men dressing in women's clothes. Since homosexuality was punishable by death in those times, only the mask enabled men to indulge in homosexual activities. The wearer of the Gnaga mask usually has to carry a basket with kittens.
Venetians are also known for its art glass which is produced on the Venetian island of Murano. Its tradition goes back to the 13th century and it's considered one of the finest glass in the world. Today it attracts many tourists. You can visit the Glass Museum (Museo del Vetro) on Murano Island and buy an original souvenir.
Our day in Venice
We arrived in Venice around 11 a.m. and waited for about 15 minutes in line on the border control. Both Croatia and Italy are members of the EU, but Croatia is not in a Schengen area yet, thus the strict control.
We could take a Vaporetto, a common Venice mean of transportation, “a water tram”, for about 20€ to take us to the city center on the St. Mark's Square. Instead, we chose to walk and experience the city's atmosphere on our own.
From the port San Basilio, we walked along the seaside promenade full of small cafés and buffets, enjoying the view on the other side of the canal, colorful houses and palaces on the Isola della Giudecca.
We crossed a large Academy Bridge (Ponte de l'Accademia) on the Grand Canal. The bridge was crowded with tourists that were standing on it and taking selfies with the stunning Baroque Church of St. Mary of Health (Santa Maria della Salute) in the background.
Santa Maria della Salute is one of the landmarks of Venice and supposedly the most photographed monument in the city. It was built in 1681 by an architect Baldassare Longhena. The church was built out of Istrian stone and brick covered with marble dust (marmorino) giving it its white color. The church's facade is richly decorated. Two domes and a pair of bell-towers complete this picturesque sight. The astonishing beauty of the church inspired many Italian and international painters, such as Canaletto, J. M. W. Turner, as well as a Serbian poet Laza Kostić.
We continued our walk crossing many small bridges over the canals filled with black gondolas. A typical Venetian sight. In the streets parallel with canals, small passages were facing the canals where people used to sit, eating their sandwiches and observing the singing gondoliers in their striped uniforms.
We passed one of the many Venice churches, Santa Maria del Giglio in Baroque style. We ended up in the backyard of a Contemporary Art Gallery and saw some interesting modern sculptures.
There were pizzerias, restaurants, shops selling an original Italian pasta or Venetian masks on every corner.
St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco)
Following the arrows on the walls and street signs, we came to the main Venetian square, the St. Mark's Square. We stepped on this magnificent square that for centuries was a market, a center of the religious and public life of the Republic of Venice. It's the only square in Venice that bears a designation “piazza”, while all the other squares are simply called “campo”.
1) Procuratie and Ala Napoleona
We entered the St. Mark's Square through the passage in the third and the youngest building of Procoratie (the former offices of Procurators, administrative and financial chief officers of the Republic), Ala Napoleona. Napoleon ordered its construction at the beginning of the 19th century during his occupation of Italy.
The other two buildings of Procuratie, the Procuratie Vecchie and the Procuratie Nuove surround the southern and northern part of the square. Although they were built in slightly different architectural styles, Venetian Early Renaissance style, Classical and Neoclassical style, the three Procuratie perfectly complete the well-known scenery of the St. Mark's Square.
Today the buildings house the Archaeological Museum, Museo Correr, and the Museo del Risorgimento. The Museo Correr tells a story about the history of Venice, its architectural development, exhibits political and every day's life accessories and an admirable collection of paintings from the 14th-17th century. The Museo del Risorgimento is a part of the Museo Correr that illustrates the 1848 Revolution against Austria and a process of the unification (Risorgimento) of Italy, which was completed in 1871.
You can buy a combined ticket of St. Mark's Square Museums for 25€, which includes the entrance to the Doge's Palace, Museo Correr, Archaeological Museum, and the Libreria Sansoviniana.
2) Clock Tower (Torre dell' Orologio)
On the north side of the St. Mark's Square, next to the Procuratie Vecchie, stands the famous Clock Tower with the white Venetian lion and two bronze Moors ringing the bell on top of it. Its construction began in the 15th century by Mauro Codessi in the Venetian Renaissance architectural style.
Paolo Ranieri and his son constructed the clock, which, similar to the Prague's Astronomical Clock, shows hours, phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. Above the clock, there is a statue of Madonna, in front of which every hour on Epiphany (6th of January) pass the figurines of Three Kings.
Under the Clock Tower, you can take the passage into the narrow Merceria Street filled with shops selling branded clothes and accessories that will lead you directly to the Rialto Bridge.
3) St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
The main Venetian landmark is the St. Mark's Basilica. It's the Byzantine-style basilica, which with its white marble and stunning golden mosaics attracts many curious tourists and dominates the St. Mark's Square.
Originally the Doge's chapel, the church gained in importance in 829 when the remains of the Venetian patron saint were brought from Alexandria and buried inside the basilica. St. Mark's attribute of a winged lion became the official symbol of Venice and you can see it on every corner: on the Clock Tower, on one of the columns in Piazzetta dei Leoncini, etc.
At the end of the 11th century, a Venetian Doge passed the law that every Venetian returning ship should bring something precious and rare to decorate the basilica. Later, after the fall of Constantinople, the Venetian crusaders brought back ships filled with Byzantine art treasures.
The result of those crusades is the interior of the St. Mark's Basilica covered with 4,240 square meters of gold mosaics, the breathtaking golden Byzantine high altar retable Pala d'Oro, inlaid marble floor, and many other precious objects and reliquaries inside the church's Treasury.
The admission to the St. Mark's Basilica is free. However, you'll have to pay to see the Pala d'Oro (2€) or to enter the Treasury (3€). As I already mentioned, Venice is a city extremely crowded with tourists and the St. Mark's Basilica is its main attraction, so expect long lines at the entrance. When we were passing by (on a hot summer day on almost 40°C and no shade), the line was all the way to the Piazzetta.
4) Campanile and Loggetta
Campanile is a 98 meters tall brick bell tower of the St. Mark's Basilica. It was built in the 12th century but rebuilt after its collapse at the beginning of the 20th century. The Campanile was so tall that it also served as a compass for the sailors to bring them back home.
At the base of the Campanile, you can see a marble Loggetta, originally built in the 16th century by an architect Jacopo Sansovino. Loggetta was used as a “meeting point” for the members of Great Council before going to the sessions.
During the medieval period, the Campanile was also used as a “pillar of shame”. The adulterers, renegade priests, and other offenders were put into the cage, which was lifted halfway up the tower for everybody to see them.
The entrance fee to the Campanile is 8€, but when you climb up the tower, you'll enjoy a magnificent view of the whole of Venice and the Venetian Lagoon.
5) Doge's Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
Right next to the St. Mark's Basilica stands the Doge's Palace, from one side facing the Piazzetta and from the other the Grand Canal. The Doge's Palace with its double arcade, arching windows, Istrian marble columns and covered in pink Verona marble, is a masterpiece of the Venetian Gothic architecture.
It was a residence of the Doge and, for centuries, a center of government during the Venetian Republic. Its today's look was formed in the 14th and 15th century.
In the interior of the palace, you'll see monumental paintings by great artists of their time such as Tintoretto, Bellini, Carpaccio, Veronese, and Titian. Just buy the St. Mark's Museums pass for 25€ and you'll have the access to the palaces' highlights: Sala del Maggior Consiglio, staircase Scala d'Oro, Sala del Collegio, and Sala del Senato.
6) Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
Not precisely on the St. Mark's Square, but over the narrow Rio di Palazzo, is another Venetian landmark – the Bridge of Sights (Ponte dei Sospiri). The bridge connects the Doge's Palace (the rooms where convicts were interrogated by judges) with the Prigioni, a prison house.
The arched bridge made of white limestone was built in 1614 by Antonio Contino. Its name came later since the political offenders and other convicts took their last glimpse of the beautiful Venice and the Grand Canal while crossing the bridge. They sighed profoundly because it was their last moment of freedom before going to prison for life (the sentences at the time were strict and unmerciful).
7) Piazzetta dei Leoncini and Libreria Sansoviniana
The small square called Piazzetta connects the St. Mark's Square with the Grand Canal. Its water bank offers you a nice view of the parked black gondolas and the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore and the monastery surrounding it.
On the Piazzetta stand two columns, Colonna di Marco with a gilded winged lion and the Colonna di Teodoro, the first patron saint of Venice. You'll certainly notice the arcades of the Old Library (Libreria Vecchia) on the right side of the square, while on the left side proudly stands the Doge's Palace.
The Libreria is a work of an important Venetian architect and sculptor, Sansovino, built between 1536 and 1553. You can visit its exhibition rooms if you buy a combined St. Mark's Square Museums ticket. The rooms are decorated with Titian's frescoes, Tintoretto's portraits, and ceiling medallions by Veronese.
After our walk around the St. Mark's Square, we wanted to sit and relax with our Lemon Soda, a delicious Italian lemonade. We sat in front of the Libreria while the arcades gave us the necessary shadow.
Soon, an African lady dressed in a uniformed T-shirt came to warn us that we shouldn't sit here. She showed us the sign on a trash can, where it stood that sitting, lying or eating your food is strictly forbidden on St. Mark's Square. You can get a penalty worth up to 500€!
We asked her if there are any benches or places for people to sit around the square and she pointed us in the direction of Royal Gardens (Giardinetti Reale) around the corner.
Indeed, there were some places to sit in the narrow street with souvenir stands hidden under the trees. There were two or three benches and curbstones already taken by families eating their sandwiches.
So, I ask you, where should a large number of tourists sit and relax from a hard day sightseeing and walking around the city?? Or even hide from the burning sun for a few minutes? In overly expensive cafés and bars near the St. Mark's Square? Or in the most luxurious café in Venezia, Caffè Florian with the terrace in the middle of the St. Mark's Square?
It's the café with waiters dressed in white uniforms, sometimes even wearing white gloves. It's the café where you'll have an orchestra playing for you while enjoying the view of the golden mosaics on the St. Mark's Basilica. How much does this luxury costs, you wonder? 10,50€ for a cappuccino and more than 11€ for croissants, small cakes or other snacks. Nothing!
We didn't want to leave our savings in Venice, so we looked up for a cheaper place to eat pizza and drink an Aperol Spritz, a popular summer drink in Italy. We found the Caffe Internazionale just a few steps from the Bridge of Sights (Riva degli Schiavoni 4182). The atmosphere and the table decoration was nothing special, but we had a decent pizza for 10€ still with a view of the Grand Canal.
Grand Canal (Canal Grande)
It was already the time for us to get back to the port San Basilio. We decided to buy an optional ride on a water taxi along the Grand Canal (30€/person), which will take us directly to the port.
The Grand Canal is the main waterway in Venice that goes from the St. Mark's Basilica to the Santa Chiara Church and divides the city in two. It's more than 3 meters long and between 30 and 70 meters wide. Its average depth is 5 meters.
We slowly put a sail from the St. Mark's Square. In front of us, the majestic view of the Doge's Palace and the whole St. Mark's Square emerged. During our ride, we saw palaces, churches, hotels in Romanesque, Venetian Gothic, and Renaissance styles.
We passed many palaces along the canal with porticos (that facilitated the ships' unloading), arched terraces and decorated columns emerging from the water. The columns are indicators of how wealthy the palace's owners are. They are decorated with different color stripes, every color symbolizing the owners' position inside the society. According to our guide, the columns colored in blue or blue and white stripes belong to the richest families.
In front of us soon appeared the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto), the only bridge across the canal until the 19th century (today, 3 more bridges cross the canal).
The first floating bridge was built across the Grand Canal in 1097 to provide easier access to the Rialto district, an important financial and commercial center of Venice. Two centuries later it was replaced by a wooden bridge. The Rialto Bridge got its today's image in the 16th century. It was built in marble by a Swiss engineer Antonio da Ponte.
The bridge inspired many artists, among them the famous Renaissance painter Vittore Carpaccio. Today it's the most visited tourist spot in the city after the St. Mark's Square.
The time flew while we were wandering around the city and our afternoon in Venice had come to an end. We had ahead of us a long 2,5h ferry journey back home to Poreč.
I think that Venice is a beautiful city worth visiting, even if you can easily be annoyed by huge crowds of tourists. However, the 5 hours that we've spent in Venice was not enough to explore all the possibilities that this city can offer. This is why I wouldn't recommend the ferry tour from Poreč. It's better to drive to Venice and even spend a night in this magical city.