April 15th, 2019 – seconda parte: Our first full day of exploring Venice, Italy – part two – the afternoon, from the historic Caffé Florian all the way around the eastern island and back, to the spectacular Doge’s Palace !!!

After a leisurely lunch and time sketching over the noon hour at historic Caffè Florian – the oldest café in Europe, we decided to head east along the promenade of the Riva degli Schiavoni (bayside of the Venetian lagoon) toward the eastern tip of the Venetian islands, for a mile or so, observing fishermen, boats, a large park that is home to the Venice Biennalle (public garden) with some beautiful sculpture – where a young woman was busily feeding pigeons. On the way, just past the looming façade of the Doge’s Palace, we passed over a low bridge looking over the narrow canal between the Doge’s Palace and the old Venetian Prison. Over the narrow canal is the now infamous “Bridge of Sighs,” so-called because of what one might have heard a prisoner on the way to spend their final days in the prison to utter.

Venice’s “Bridge of Sighs.” Note the gondolas lined up further up the narrow canal, waiting to take customers beneath the famous bridge
An elderly Venetian woman out for a stroll along the cobblestoned bayside promenade of the Riva degli Schiavoni
Looking from around the bend of the Riva degli Schiavoni, with a Venetian fisherman in the foreground, and the Palazzo Ducalé, Venetian prison and the 323-foot-high Campinilé di San Marco beyond
Mandy happy to be out for a stroll along the Riva degli Schiavoni promenade on such a crisp, spring afternoon. The Venice lagoon outside the Bacino di San Marco, on out to the Adriatic Sea far beyond

We strolled past the vast Arsenale di Venezia (once home to the most powerful naval fleet the world has ever known) and the Castello district, to almost the very tip of the island, then we went back toward the Piazza di San Marco, snaking our way through narrow streets hung with laundry – where true Venetians live – far beyond the probing tourist eye.

Two men talking under drying laundry along a back street of eastern, working-class Venice – much less touristy and much less crowded than more popular districts of the city
Colorful old houses along the backstreets of working-class eastern Venice

Far away from the more touristy districts of Venice, the city felt smaller and far less-crowded. We watched people just hanging out, talking, walking dogs, wandering around with friends and, in general, living life in an unhurried fashion. In this part of working-class Venice there were fewer canals and more colorful houses on the back streets.

A neighborhood public water fount in the eastern part of Venice

We eventually wound our way back to the Doge’s Palace, where we had timed tickets to personally tour the imposing structure.

The generous porch of the Doge’s Palace facing the Piazza di San Marco, where we entered to begin our timed tour of the vast palace

We went in and immediately climbed the stairs to the grand second floor. There were huge rooms with built-in benches, apparently for waiting for an appointment to see the Doge – that is, if you were important enough to get one! The ceilings of these grand rooms were elaborately painted and gilded.

A massive Doge’s Palace second floor room with gilded ceiling and walls – perhaps the built-in dias was where the Doge and his court sat when receiving petitioners. Note the biblical scenes and scenes featuring Venice as a backdrop
Close-up view of one of the giant second floor room’s gilded and elaborately painted mural ceiling. Not that the backdrops for many of the murals were of Venice itself

There were decorations and ornament in every square inch of the spaces – with equally elaborate wall paintings – all to, I assume, impress upon patrons the immense power of the sitting Doge – who was equal almost to the Pope in Rome in power and prestige during the height of Venetian power during the medieval period through the early Italian Renaissance. So much so, that the Doge’s instructions for over a 400-year span of Venetian influence were literally to go forth and plunder!

A 14th-century map of the known world, with Venice at the very center of power and wealth, near the man’s middle finger, drawn after the explorations of the Venetian, Marco Polo, to the near East and the Orient, but before the discovery and plunder of the Americas. The whole of the East and the Orient, all the way down to the Indian subcontinent, over to China and out to the Japanese Isles is all depicted. Note the many known cities, rivers, countries, oceans and mountains. Also note that there are cathedrals everywhere on the map, even in the far East – wishful thinking on the Catholic church’s part? The map is from the Galileo Museum in Florence, Italy

This was the time of the Holy Crusades, after all. Venice was truly the center of power and wealth in the known World during the time of the 14th-century explorer Marco Polo, and beyond. The goal seemed simply to be to make Venetians even richer, so they could construct their palatial Palazzi along the Canalé Grandé – the more ornate the better – the better to outdo your neighbors! For example, the elaborate Canalé Grandé palazzo, the Ca d’Oro or “golden house,” was originally covered in gold leaf, polychrome and jewels. The Ca d’Oro remains today, but gone are the more obvious signs of such incredible wealth. It is one of the oldest palazzos in Venice; a superb example of Venetian Gothic architecture.

The rear of the Basilica di San Marco as seen from the grand courtyard of the Doge’s Palace. The connection between the two was strong – both physically and spiritually – the church had the Doge’s back while he ran the Holy Crusades to wrench Christian relics from the hands of Muslims in the Holy Land and to fund Venetian explorers, like Marco Polo

On the massive second floor of the Doge’s Palace, there were grand room after grand room. It was hard to tell what each room’s function might have been – simply to impress? Finally, the most ornate rooms of all were the Doge’s private apartments. In many murals were scenes depicting great battles – it must have been a very bloody time!

The ornate interior of the Doge’s apartments featuring many paintings of Venetian history and Bible stories

From the second floor, we took an internal staircase back down to the ground level, which soon spilled out into a giant internal courtyard, sandwiched between the looming Basilica di San Marco and the Doge’s Palace itself. On one end, nearer the basilica, was a grand exterior staircase, flanked by two huge sculptures and crowned by the Lion of St. Mark, leading down from the second floor – it is said that the Doge would never descend this staircase to the ground level. The Doge obviously took his hold on power very seriously.

The imposing grand exterior staircase, flanked by statues and crowned by the Lion of St. Mark, the top of from which the Doge surveyed the giant courtyard below

Around the courtyard were many interesting nichés with sculpture. Near the basilica was a particularly interesting loggia with a very famous statue: that of Saint Theodore of Amasea – “Il Todaro” – patron saint of Venice prior to St. Mark; from the 4th-century to the 14th. This statue once held the revered position on top of one of the two giant columns at the entrance to the Piazetta di San Marco, next to that of the lion of St. Mark. This statue of “Il Todara” is “a pastiche of parts from different eras and places: the head probably belonged to a colossal statue of the (Roman) emperor Constantine, the bust belonged to a loricate statue of a Roman emperor, perhaps Hadrian; the other parts of the body and the dragon at his feet, similar to a crocodile, were added at the beginning of the 14th-century……The dragon recalls the iconography of St. George, whose cult is traditionally linked to the protection against swamping and the healthiness of the air.” (from an information panel next to the statue)

Saint Theodore of Amasea – “Il Todaro” – patron saint of Venice prior to St. Mark; from the 4th-century to the 14th

After leaving the Doge’s Palace complex, we wandered along the Piazetta di San Marco and the Bacino di San Marco, watching the day’s waning light on the glistening water and the colorful buildings.

Sunset on the Doge’s Palace and a column crowned by the Lion of St. Mark

We happened upon a young bride and groom making their way from a motorboat along the quai. Here they met up with their families for a group photograph, then they wandered through the evening streets to the church (?) or to their hotel (?) – it was hard to tell.

A Venetian bride’s wedding party photograph. Happy family!
An evening sight in Venice: a newlywed bride and groom making their way through the streets

The setting sun on the forms of the Doge’s Palace façade and Basilica di San Marco was very memorable. To get back to our apartment neighborhood and a nice dinner at a true Italian trattoria, we made our way across the 19th-century Ponté del’Accademia through the interesting Dosodura district.

A sunset view of the Grand Canal from the Ponté di Accademia, with a view of Peggy Guggenheim’s mansion – now the Guggenheim Museum – with the “Italian wedding cake” mass of La Saluté church, built with donations from 14th-century plague survivors
A delicious evening meal of rich pesto with linguine and mouth watering pizza
An accompanying rich Italian dessert