Imagine the audacity of building a city of marble palaces on a lagoon – and that was only the start.
Garden islands and lagoon aquaculture yield specialty produce and seafood you won’t find elsewhere – all highlighted in inventive Venetian cuisine, with tantalizing traces of ancient spice routes. The city knows how to put on a royal spread, as France’s King Henry III once found out when faced with 1200 dishes and 200 bonbons. Today such feasts are available in miniature at happy hour, when bars mount lavish spreads of cicheti (Venetian tapas). Save room and time for a proper sit-down Venetian meal, with lagoon seafood to match views at canal-side bistros and toasts with Veneto’s signature bubbly, prosecco.
Never was a thoroughfare so aptly named as the Grand Canal, reflecting the glories of Venetian architecture lining its banks. At the end of Venice’s signature waterway, Palazzo Ducale and Basilica di San Marco add double exclamation points. But wait until you see what’s hiding in narrow backstreets: neighborhood churches lined with Veroneses and priceless marbles, Tiepolo’s glimpses of heaven on homeless-shelter ceilings, and a tiny Titian that mysteriously lights up an entire cathedral.
The city built on water was never afraid to attempt the impossible. When plague struck, Venice consulted its brain trust of Mediterranean doctors, who recommended a precaution that has saved untold lives since: quarantine. Under attack by Genovese rivals, Venice’s Arsenale shipyards innovated the assembly line, producing a new warship every day to defeat Genoa. After Genoa backed Christopher Columbus’ venture to the New World, Venice’s shipping fortunes began to fade – but Venice wasn’t about to relinquish the world stage, going on to become the launching pad for baroque music and modern opera.
Eyeglasses, platform shoes and uncorseted dresses are outlandish Venetian fashions that continental critics sniffed would never be worn by respectable Europeans. When prolific Ghetto publishing houses circulated Renaissance ideas, Rome banned Venice from publishing books. The city was excommunicated for ignoring such bans – but when savvy Venice withheld tithes, Rome recanted. Venice’s artistic triumphs over censorship now grace the magnificent Gallerie dell’Accademia.