Archive for February, 2015


Padua walkabout

Street scene, Padua, Italy

Street scene, Padua, Italy

Padua (in Italian “Padova“) is less than half an hour’s drive from Venice, and even the time spent on a farewell breakfast at the hotel on Lido and a ferry ride back to the mainland to retrieve the car still allows for a mid-morning arrival.

 

In fact, the distance between each night’s stay for this trip rarely exceeds 100 miles, and the short travel legs make for plenty of time to wander off the beaten path.

 

Belltower, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Belltower, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

 

Like stops earlier in this trip at Bergamo and Verona , Padua is a destination omitted from shorter Italian itineraries, despite the fact that autostradas place it within easy reach of Venice or Florence.

 

On this morning, the itinerary is very off-the-cuff, and Padua is a place which lends itself well to such spontaneity.

 

Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

This city is perhaps most well-known as the final home of Saint Anthony of Padua, buried in his namesake basilica.

 

A Portuguese-born Catholic priest and Franciscan friar first renowned as an eloquent preacher, and later as the patron saint of finding lost people or property, he was a saintly superstar canonized within a few years of his untimely death around the age of 40.

 

Courtyard, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

Courtyard, Basilica of Saint Anthony, Padua, Italy

 

As elsewhere in Medieval Europe, relics of the saints held a pre-eminent spot in Catholic practices, and among the grisly relics on display here are his skeletal remains and what is purported to be the great orator’s tongue!

 

This city is also home to the University of Padua, one of Europe’s earliest.  Older than any Italian university except the  one at Bologna, it once numbered Galileo among its lecturers.

Going to market, Padua, Italy

Going to market, Padua, Italy

Padua claims to be the oldest city in northern Italy, settled almost 1200 years B.C.E. by a Trojan prince who led his people there from Turkey’s Black Sea coast.  A sarcophagus reputed to hold the prince’s remains was unearthed there two-and-a-half millennia later.  By the time of Christ’s birth, Padua had become a Roman town with a population of nearly 40,000.  (Today it’s over 200,000.)

 

Like many cities in this part of Italy, Padua suffered barbarian invasions as the Roman Empire collapsed, and through the Middles Ages was dominated by – and frequently traded among – he region’s city-states and puppet kingdoms.  It nonetheless has a tradition of constitutional government dating back more than a millennium.

 

Wooden sculpture, Padua, Italy

Wooden sculpture, Padua, Italy

During the wave of revolutions that in 1848 swept Europe and Latin America,  Padua’s students and citizens staged an unsuccessful revolt against the Austrians that turned the University and the city’s famed Caffè Pedrocchi into battlegrounds.

 

The Italian Army made its headquarters here during World War I.

 

 

At the war’s low-water mark, the city was within range of Austrian artillery and was bombed several times, but it was also in Padua that the Austrians surrendered to the Italians when the armistice came.

 

Street musician, Padua, Italy

Street musician, Padua, Italy

During the Fascist era, Padua was the venue for one of Benito Mussolini’s largest rallies, where a crowd of more than 300,000 attended his speech.  During World War II, the city was bombed by Allied planes.

 

Notwithstanding its contentious history, Padua remains a picturesque town.

 

Bridge over the Bacchiglione River, Padua, Italy

Bridge over the Bacchiglione River, Padua, Italy

 

It sits on a bend of the Bacchiglione River, which once fed a moat surrounding the city walls, and make of it a city of bridges, among which several date back to the time of the Romans.

 

 

The old city is criss-crossed by a labyrinth of streets which open into large piazze that make it a great place to just wander about.

 

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

One of the most memorable sites is the city’s famed Caffè Pedrocchi .  The original part of this cafe dates from 1772, although it was expanded more than once in the century following.

 

Caffè Pedrocchi  follows in the tradition of European coffee houses where students, artists, and activists met to exchange ideas and plot revolution.

 

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

Pedrocchi Café, Padua, Italy

 

The owner’s heir willed the café to the City of Padua in 1891, charging the city fathers with “the solemn obligation to preserve the building as it exists today in perpetuity for public use “.

 

Today’s travel plan is to spend the afternoon and evening in Bologna, but just before the departure from Padua, a stroke of good luck carries this city walk past an open market in a piazza.

 

 

Piazza market, Padua, Italy

Piazza market, Padua, Italy

 

The fresh produce under the canopies is eye-popping, for the Italians take little as seriously as eating well, but this is  also a great spot to people-watch.

 

It’s been a morning delightfully spent, but it’s time to return to  the autostrada and the promise of Bologna well before nightfall.

 

See these earlier posts from “10 Days In Italy”

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Venice’s Piazza San Marco

Piazetta, Venice, Italy

Piazetta, Venice, Italy

Anchored by its iconic Basilica and campanile, the Piazza San Marco – St. Mark’s Square – is  as an essential part of Venice’s identity as its canals.

 

Its main entrance is the Piazetta corridor adjacent to the Doge’s Palace that connects it to the Grand Canal.

 

 

Basilica San Marcos and campanile, Piazza San Marcos, Venie, Italy

Basilica San Marcos and campanile, Piazza San Marcos, Venie, Italy

 

 

 

The Basilica San Marco reflects the conviction held by Christians in the Middle Ages that physical remains of a holy site or person had healing powers, and that  possession bestowed honor and privileges upon their owners.

 

 

 

 

Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

 

Tradition holds that St. Mark Christianized Venice in the first century before his martyrdom in Alexandria, Egypt, from which a body believed to be his was stolen by two Venetian merchants in 828.

The city quickly adopted St. Mark as its patron, and built the first church of San Marco as its sanctuary.  It also adopted the saint’s winged-lion symbol as its own.

 

Facade detail, Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

Facade detail, Basilica San Marcos, Venice, Italy

 

 

 

When Constantinople was sacked during the 4th Crusade, plunder shipped back to Venice included the two pillars which still stand where the Piazzetta meets the canal, along with marbles and mosaics installed on the Basilica’s west facade.

 

 

 

Four Horses of St, Mark's

Four Horses of St, Mark’s

 

The booty also included the bronze Triumphal Quadriga – the “Four Horses of Saint Mark”.  Originally part of a larger Roman monument, they stand on the Basilica’s loggia above the porch.

 

It’s an interesting bit of trivia that the heads were detached in order to transport these bronzes, and collars were added to hide the cuts during reassembly.

 

Promenade, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Promenade, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

In the late Renaissance, the original campanile was replaced to house a new astronomical clock, and the Piazza was enlarged to its present size.

 

Today, the only pre-Renaissance buildings and monuments still standing are the Basilica San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale – the Doge’s Palace – and the two great columns in the Piazzetta adjacent to it.

 

Caffè Florian (founded 1720), Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Caffè Florian (founded 1720), Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

When the Venetian Republic ended with Napoleon’s conquest 1797, stonemasons were ordered to destroy images of the winged lion, which Revolutionary France saw as a symbol of aristocratic rule.

 

Wedding party, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

Wedding party, Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy

 

The Four Horses were sent to Paris along with the winged lion perched on one of the columns in the Piazzetta.

 

The headless statues were later replaced by copies, and both the winged lion and Four Horses were returned in 1815 following Napoleon’s abdication.

 

 

Doge's Palace and Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Doge’s Palace and Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

 

The Palazzo Ducale – the Doge’s Palace – faces the canal adjoining the Basilica and the Piazzetta.  It was not just the Doge’s residence, but the center of government.

 

It was here that foreign delegations were received and from here that communications with ambassadors and regional governors were managed.

 

 

 

Basilco San Marco from the Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Basilco San Marco from the Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

It was here that the meetings of the Great Council and the Senate were held, and from here that justice was administered.

 

It was from here that recruitment of crews for Venice’s war galleys and the outfitting of its fleet were coordinated.

 

Senators' courtyard, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Senators’ courtyard, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

While the Doge served for life, the Republic maintained a strong system of checks and balances.

 

It is a testament to this ingenious system that the Council was compelled to remove only two of the 120 Doges who served continuously from 717 to 1797.

 

Campile from Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Campile from Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

The Great Council was made up of all male members of patrician families over the age of 25.  Smaller councils carved from it had responsibilities including assuring punishment of the guilty, redress for the innocent, and enforcement of regulations concerning the practice of law.

 

The Venetian Senate dates back to the 13th century.

 

Window in the Doge's palace, Venice, Italy

Window in the Doge’s palace, Venice, Italy

 

State Censors were charged with preventing electoral fraud and protecting public institutions.

 

State Advocates safeguarded the rule of law and verified marriages and births to preserve the legitimacy of the patrician ruling class.

 

Whistleblower mailbox, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Whistleblower mailbox, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy: “For secret denunciations against those who conceal favors and services or conspire to conceal revenue.”

 

The Doge’s private apartments are well-appointed if not large.

 

The walls of the Palazzo’s rooms are covered in gilded wood, frescoes, and paintings by Renaissance masters.

 

Bridge of Sighs, Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy

Bridge of Sighs, Doge’s Palace, Venice, Italy

 

 

 

The Ponte dei Sospiri – the Bridge of Sighs – links magistrates’ chambers in the Palazzo Ducale to the New Prisons, from which Casanova is reputed to have escaped.

 

The bridge’s name refers to the last look at freedom it afforded to those on the way to prison.

 

Local legend holds that lovers kiss on a gondola at sunset under the bridge as the campanile’s bells toll will be granted eternal love and bliss.

 

Tomorrow it’s back to the Italian mainland, and on to Padua by autostrada.

 

 

Channeling Venice

Grand Canal, Venice

Grand Canal, Venice

There’s little that words can do to embellish the iconic images of Venice’s canals which have enchanted visitors for centuries.

 

Paintings of these waterways by English Romanticist J.M. Turner, French Impressionist Claude Monet, and American John Singer Sargent are widely published and well known.

 

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, their unique charm helped to make Venice a must-see on “Grand Tours” by both European nobility and global celebrities.

 

San Giorgio Maggiore Church, Venice

San Giorgio Maggiore Church, Venice

 

 

Venice’s appeal is so powerful that its name has been borrowed – or its urban waterways mimicked – in American cities from Venice, California to Coral Gables, Florida.

 

Every year, almost half a million visitors wander the waterways and piazzas of Las Vegas’s Venetian Hotel.

 

 

San Giorgio Maggiore Church, Venice

San Giorgio Maggiore Church, Venice from the Doge’s Palazzo

But it’s easy to lose in Venice’s seductive images the role of its canals on the development of the city’s culture, or their influence on making Venice a maritime powerhouse and quite arguably the navel of the civilized world for half a millennium.

 

Rialto Bridge, Venice

Rialto Bridge, Venice

 

The roots of Venice’s future greatness, though, would have been hard to discern in its inauspicious beginnings.

 

As the Roman Empire faltered under successive waves of barbarian invasions, fishermen who lived on the islands of the  lagoon were joined by refugees from nearby Roman cities and farms, seeking refuge in the inaccessibility of its marshes.

Bride and groom on gondola, Venice

Bride and groom on gondola, Venice

 

The city’s founding is traditionally pegged to the dedication of the Church of San Giacomo in 421.

 

When the Lombards conquered most of Italy more than a century later, insulated Venice and the adjacent coast were all that remained of Byzantine Italy.

 

Classic wooden boats, Venice

Classic wooden boats, Venice

 

Despite a 726 AD rebellion in which the city’s inhabitants took the side of Pope Gregory II in the schism between the Roman and Orthodox Catholic churches, Venice maintained good close relations with Constantinople through most of its history.

 

 

 

Classic wooden boat, Venice

Classic wooden boat, Venice

A fortuitous consequence of the rebellion, though, was that Venetians elected their own leader – the doge – for the first time, paving the way to a Venetian Republic that would last for more than ten centuries.

 

When the Lombards conquered the last of the Italian mainland in 751, Venice remained tethered to the Byzantine Empire only by sea routes.

 

The city’s isolation bred autonomy, and over the next 300 years Venice developed into a self-governed city state.

Northern Italy 079 Venice canals gondolas

 

Venice’s protected geography made it virtually invulnerable to attack, and the city became a flourishing trade link between Western Europe and all points east.  At its peak, the Venetian fleet numbered more than 3,000 ships and nearly 40,000 sailors.

 

Tributary canal and boats, Venice

Tributary canal and boats, Venice

 

By 1200 AD, the Venetian Republic had seized land on the eastern shores of the Adriatic.  Its possessions on the Italian mainland eventually extended east beyond Lake Garda to Bergamo.

 

They served as a buffer against belligerent neighbors, guaranteed Venetian control of Alpine trade routes, and ensured the supply of wheat upon which the city depended.

 

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

 

 

When the Fourth Crusade went rogue and instead sacked Constantinople in 1204, much of the plunder was brought back to Venice.

 

Partitioning of the fallen empire gave  the Venetians control of Cyprus, Crete, and most of the Aegean.

 

 

 

By the late 13th century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe and a major power-broker in the Near East, but its decline began in the 15th century with a series of precipitous events.

 

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

Unable to prevent the Ottomans from occupying Greece or to defend Constantinople against siege, Venice suffered retribution at the hands of the victorious Turkish sultan, whose thirty year war against the Venetians cost them most of their possessions in the eastern Mediterranean.

 

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

Grand Canal palazzo, Venice

 

When Columbus discovered the New World and Portugal found a sea route to India, Venice’s land monopoly was destroyed, and its oared galleys were unsuited to travel on the great oceans.

 

The Venetian fleet last appeared on the world stage in 1571, when it was instrumental in defeating the Turkish navy at the Battle of Lepanto, permanently blocking Ottoman expansion westward.

 

Today, the only legacy of this magnificent maritime tradition is the gondoliers and classic wooden boats that ply its storied canals.

 

Next, it’s on to Venice’s famous Piazza San Marco.

 

Venice’s backstreets

Villa and canal bridge, Venice, Italy

Villa and canal bridge, Venice, Italy

Acres of cars are stacked within parking garages and lines of pedestrian passengers are streaming onto the ferry as the departure time to Venice approaches.

 

The drive from Verona to Venice that began right after breakfast took less than two hours, which promises arrival in time for lunch at a Venetian trattoria.

 

Cul-de-sac, Venice, Italy

Cul-de-sac, Venice, Italy

 

 

The Alps are still clearly visible for the first part of the drive, but the highway soon becomes a beeline across a coastal plain.

 

It’s easy to see why Venetian forefathers fled this indefensible terrain and moved wholesale onto the islands of the lagoon.

 

 

Palazzo entryway, Venice, Italy

Palazzo entryway, Venice, Italy

 

 

It’s doubtful, though, that they could have imagined how their swampy islands would one day become one of the world’s first post-Roman republics, or that it would become the pre-eminent economic and maritime power of its era and a bastion of the Italian Renaissance.

 

Causeways connect Venice to the Italian mainland by rail and motor vehicle, but no cars, trucks, or busses are permitted beyond their city terminals.

 

 

Postered wall, Venice, Italy.

Postered wall, Venice, Italy.

 

 

Getting around in Venice is strictly by water taxi or on foot.

 

The ferry terminal not only connects Venice with the Italian mainland, but also to ports all up and down the Adriatic coast, and on to Greece.

 

 

Pedestrian crossroads,Venice,Italy

Pedestrian crossroads,Venice,Italy

 

The very mention of Venice recalls the iconic images of its canals and its Piazza San Marco, but since two days afford ample time to see them – and other postcard sights – I first wander instead off the beaten path.

 

Many of Venice’s most intimate and captivating spaces can be found along the pedestrian lanes that lace its islands.

 

Café, Venice, Italy

Café, Venice, Italy

 

Walkways broken only by the largest canals follow pedestrian bridges over the smaller canals, but their loosely organized grid sometimes twists to follow the route of the waterways.

 

 

 

Neighborhood piazza, Venice, Italy

Neighborhood piazza, Venice, Italy

Here, away from the friendly chaos of the canals, are quiet residential streets punctuated by family-owned shops and pocket piazzas.

 

The scent of the sea and swarms of tourists are never far away, but within Venice’s labyrinth of narrow, stone lanes and alleys there is sense of serenity and timelessness.

 

Wandering untethered to a parked car with no footsteps to retrace is a deliciously liberating experience.  On these small islands, it’s impossible to get lost for long.

 

Sidewalk  cafe, Venice, Italy

Sidewalk cafe, Venice, Italy

 

 

The lack of motorized vehicles necessarily slows the pace in Venice and allows the city to unfold before visitors in richly elegant slow motion.

 

There’s time to fully absorb the colors and aromas.

 

 

Restaurant, Venice, Italy.

Restaurant, Venice, Italy.

 

 

 

 

 

There’s time to linger for a longer look or to laze over a leisurely lunch or espresso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pizza  dough sculptures, pizzeria, Venice, Italy

Pizza dough sculptures, pizzeria, Venice, Italy

 

There’s a chance to grasp, if only fleetingly, a sense of how people defined community before they were isolated from each other by freeways and shopping malls and suburbs.

 

City lane, Venice, Italy

City lane, Venice, Italy

 

At the end of this walkabout, I can think of no better place to emerge from the quiet alleyways than into the storied atmosphere of Harry’s Bar.

 

Harry’s is the home both of carpaccio and the Bellini, and is also famous for its very dry (10:1) martini.

 

The famous Harry's Bar, Venice, Italy.

The famous Harry’s Bar, Venice, Italy.

 

Harry’s is at least as well known, though, for the unending stream of celebrities who have paraded through its doors since it opened in 1931.

 

Its guest book bears the signatures of Toscanini, Marconi, Somerset Maughan, Noel Coward, Charlie Chaplin, Barbara Hutton, Orson Welles, Truman Capote, Georges Braque and Peggy Guggenheim.

 

Harry’s was also a favorite of Ernest Hemingway’s and other fans have included Alfred Hitchcock, Baron Philippe de Rothschild, Aristotle Onassis, and Woody Allen.

 

Still ahead to see in Venice:  The fabled canals and the Piazza San Marcos – St. Mark’s Square.  Then it’s on to Padua.