October 26, 2015

Venice – Queen of the Seas

Venice today is a popular port of call for cruise ships, large and small, and even river cruise boats can be seen in the waters of the lagoon. In previous centuries, the Most Serene Republic of Venice ruled the seas and the Arsenale di Venezia, the Venice Arsenal, was the centre of the republic’s shipping and naval power.

Cruise Ship in Venice

River Boat on the Giudecca Canal

The Arsenal is a short walk from Piazza San Marco in the neighbourhood of Castello. The crowds along the waterside promenade Riva degli Schiavone began to thin as we passed the luxury Hotel Danieli, the equestrian monument of Victor Emmanuel II and La Pietà, also known as Vivaldi's Church.

The Luxury Hotel Danieli

Victor Emmanuel II Monument

La Pietà, or Vivaldi's Church

I’d noted in my travel journal that the temperature that day was 38C (100F) so I was happy to find a shaded park bench next to the Naval Museum.

Venice Naval Museum

Respite from the Heat

The Arsenale di Venezia is still an operating military base so it’s not open to the public but I’d come to see the Porta Magna, the shipyard’s main gates which were built in the fifteenth century. If the republic’s maritime rivals weren’t impressed by these gates then surely they were awed by the fact that the shipyard could build a complete vessel in one day.

The Porta Magna, Main Gates of the Venice Arsenal

Arsenale di Venezia, the Venice Arsenal

Arsenal Bell Tower

Two lion sculptures from ancient Greece flank the main entrance of the Arsenal. The lion is the symbol of the city’s patron, Saint Mark. The Piraeus Lion (left of the stairway) came from the port area of Athens. In the eleventh century, Scandinavians carved runic inscriptions in the white marble.

Arsenal Entrance

The Piraeus Lion, Arsenale di Venezia

Once again wilting in the mid-day heat, we stopped to have a cold drink. I was surprised when my lemonade arrived as a glass of freshly squeezed lemon juice, a bowl of ice cubes and a small carafe of water. No sugar! But our waterfront table provided a great view of the bell tower of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore across St. Mark’s Basin.

View of San Giorgio Maggiore


Somewhat refreshed by our tart beverages we walked back towards San Marco, stopping to take photos of the famous Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri). On my previous visit to Venice the bridge was undergoing restoration work and surrounded by advertising so I was pleased to see it returned to its full splendour.

Bridge of Sighs (2010)

Bridge of Sighs (2014)

Near Piazza San Marco is a rare green space, the Giardinetti Reali or Royal Gardens. This tiny public park is tucked in behind a stretch of souvenir kiosks by the San Marco vaporetto stop and it’s the only spot near the popular piazza where picnics are allowed. I would've appreciated another opportunity to sit in the shade but only sunny benches were left.

Souvenir Kiosks along the Waterfront

Giardinetti Reali, the Royal Gardens

And soon it was time to rejoin our tour group for the next item on our agenda: a cruise through the canals by the simple, but iconic, Venetian gondola.

Next:  At Last, the Venice of My Dreams

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