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The allure of Venice

Exploring the romance of one of Hollywood’s most beloved cities

The allure of Venice
Saint Mark's with the four horses from Constantinople.

Venice was a longtime dream as I grew up watching Venice in 007 movies besides reading Merchant of Venice, and, yes, Rialto cinema in Rawalpindi always intrigued me with its name.

After a three-hour-long bus journey from Slovenia last December, I was finally there. Though I knew about the canals and water taxis of Venice, what I didn’t know was that central Venice and San Marco precinct is completely water-locked, and no cars can get to even its fringes. Even if you arrive by train, you need to take a water bus or taxi next to reach central Venice.

Soon I boarded a water bus – slower as compared to water taxis (which are also more expensive) – but it allows you to absorb Venetian culture and heritage in a more substantial way.

Venice is a centuries-old trading port on the Mediterranean, and one of the main cities of Italy. It was originally built in a lagoon by the locals who were constructing their homes and shops on wooden planks. Slowly these houses and shops coalesced to form bigger mansions separated by small canals which are essentially used as regular streets except with boats or gondolas in place of cars and taxis.

Venetians were smart people, and they controlled the trade between western Europe and the east, and over time became quite rich. Cunning observers, they avoided conflict at home while funding the crusaders during medieval times to attack the Byzantine Christian Empire for purely economic reasons. The 13th century fourth crusade which brought down the Byzantine Empire was unique in the sense that Christians fought against Christians, and the plunders from Constantinople found their way to Venice.

One of the mementos was the 4th century Triumphal Quadriga, sculpture comprising a set of four bronze horses which was then set up in front balcony of Saint Mark’s basilica. The horses guarded the Basilica for centuries before being looted by Napoleon in 1797; however, Venice did manage to get them back in 1815. Wary of another episode in the future, Venetians put replicas outside the cathedral and took the originals inside the cathedral.

Venice is a centuries-old trading port on the Mediterranean, and one of the main cities of Italy. It was originally built in a lagoon by the locals who were constructing their homes and shops on wooden planks.

Piazza San Marco is the central square of Venice. It gets its name from the grand Saint Mark’s Basilica completed around 1071. Saint Mark’s cathedral was originally the Doge’s chapel until it became the seat of the Archbishop of Venice in 1807. In front of the cathedral is the expansive Piazza San Marco dotted with handicraft shops and cafes. The historic 1720 Caffè Florian with its plush antique furniture and almost three-century old tradition of offering coffee is also located in the square.

Saint Mark's Cathedral copy

The U-shaped central Venice is spread like a maze of narrow streets and canals with typical bridges connecting churches, shops and courtyards. A typical city tour takes you on an elegant gondola ride through these narrow canals, and one is amazed by the navigating skills of the boatmen. These boatmen, sporting Ray-Bans and flaunting chiseled bodies, look like something straight out of a Hollywood movie. If you can cough up some more money, you can actually have a personal orchestra singing for you in your chartered gondola. These gondolas are very tastefully decorated with golden railings and velvet sofas. A trip to Venice is not complete without a gondola ride.

The tight gondola navigation in inner canals.

The tight gondola navigation in inner canals.

There are several bridges that connect San Marcos to other precincts of Venice over the Grand Canal. But the most legendary of these is Rialto Bridge, which connects San Marcos with San Polo precinct. Rialto Bridge has been featured in many Hollywood movies like From Russia with Love or The Tourist. You can actually visualise James Bond speeding in a water taxi through the canals being chased by gangsters. Both Roger Moore and Daniel Craig have played 007 here in Moonraker and Casino Royale. And if you are a Julia Roberts fan, then you would be happy to know that Everyone Says I Love You was also filmed close to Saint Mark’s cathedral.


Rialto bridge over grand canal.

Rialto bridge over grand canal.

Standing on Rialto Bridge, one can enjoy the lights of Venice when the sun goes down. Just next to the bridge are the famous fish market and the San Giacomo church which also has some nice antique musical instruments.

Venice is known for its mask shops, ice cream and coffee joints, and gondola rides. The best time to visit is of course summers as winters can be quite cold here. However, winters do provide the luxury of less crowds, more serenity and romance. As the saying goes, ‘Nothing ever seems straight forward in Venice, least of all its romances’.

Omar Mukhtar Khan

Omar Mukhtar Khan
The author is a development professional with a passion for travelling. He may be contacted at [email protected]

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