Venice Explained: Its Architecture, Its Streets, Its Canals, and How Best to Experience Them All

“If you’re in Venice, you might not enjoy it so much if you fol­low a tour-guide route that gets you to the main attrac­tions.” So says Youtu­ber Manuel Bra­vo — whom we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture for his videos on Pom­peii, the Duo­mo di Firen­ze, and the Great Pyra­mids of Giza — in “Venice Explained” just above. “But if you get off that road, the charm of Venice is that it’s such a tan­gled mess that nobody ven­tures out there” — out, that is, into the “won­der­ful lit­tle neigh­bor­hoods with lit­tle squares with cis­terns and lit­tle cafés.” Diminu­tive though that may sound, Venice comes off in Bravo’s analy­sis as an entire, unique urban realm unto itself.

“His­tor­i­cal­ly, Venice is real­ly detached from Italy prop­er,” Bra­vo says. “It was not a Roman town. It does not have the detri­tus of Roman ruins scat­tered around. It does not have rem­nants of a Roman town plan with car­do and decumanus. It does not even have, well, land.”

Indeed, Venice is famous for hav­ing been built in the Adri­at­ic Sea, on a “new for­ti­fied ground plane” made of strong trees import­ed from Croa­t­ia. As its polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic impor­tance grew, so did its “incom­pa­ra­ble medieval urban land­scape that has remained prac­ti­cal­ly unchanged.” This built envi­ron­ment is full of archi­tec­tur­al styles and details seen nowhere else, to which Bra­vo draws our atten­tion through the course of the video.

Though he rec­om­mends depart­ing from the tourist-beat­en paths, he does­n’t ignore such world-famous Venet­ian struc­tures as the Ca d’Oro, “per­haps the most beau­ti­ful build­ing in Venice”; the Doge’s Palace with its “anti­grav­i­ty” archi­tec­ture; and — in detail — the Basil­i­ca and Piaz­za San Mar­co, “one of the most mem­o­rable spa­tial com­plex­es in the his­to­ry of urban plan­ning.” No first vis­it would be com­plete with­out some time spent at each of these sites. But “Venice is a city of light,” and in order prop­er­ly to enjoy it, we must “see it at dif­fer­ent times of the day and expe­ri­ence all the nuances that it offers”: good advice in this “most visu­al­ly seduc­tive of all the cities in the world,” but also worth bear­ing in mind as a means of appre­ci­at­ing even the less majes­tic places in which most of us usu­al­ly find our­selves.

Relat­ed con­tent:

How Venice Works: 124 Islands, 183 Canals & 438 Bridges

The Venice Time Machine: 1,000 Years of Venice’s His­to­ry Gets Dig­i­tal­ly Pre­served with Arti­fi­cial Intel­li­gence and Big Data

Venice in Beau­ti­ful Col­or Images 125 Years Ago: The Rial­to Bridge, St. Mark’s Basil­i­ca, Doge’s Palace & More

Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Venice (Its Streets, Plazas & Canals) with Google Street View

Take a High Def, Guid­ed Tour of Pom­peii

How the World’s Biggest Dome Was Built: The Sto­ry of Fil­ip­po Brunelleschi and the Duo­mo in Flo­rence

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (3)
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  • Marina karem says:

    Enjoy­able video except for the nar­ra­tor refer­ring to the campi as “piaz­zas” and some errors such as call­ing St. Mark an apos­tle.

  • Christie Bardwell says:

    Love your Venice video. We’ll be there in 3 weeks and your video will make us notice things we might not oth­er­wise. Thank you.

  • Miran says:

    You are def­i­nite­ly right about campi; there is only one Piaz­za in Venice and that would be the St. Mark’s.

    How­ev­er, you are not right about Mark not being and apos­tle! All com­mon talks are about 12 main apos­tles (I call them the First League), although there were 70 (or 72) apos­tles in the Sec­ond League and Mark was one of them. Please, check it out.

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