Renowned for the beauty of its setting, architecture and artworks, Venice is one of the most tourist-attracting cities of Europe.
Hordes of tourists make daily survival difficult and expensive for ordinary Venetians who long for olden days. In fact, while Venice had 79 900 inhabitants in 1991, the population has declined to 60 000 in 2011. At the end of World War II, Venice had a population of 175 000.
Tourist traffic which increases at peak in summer months to 130 000 daily strains supply and distribution of essential materials and foodstuffs.
Everything in this unique vehicular traffic less city, moves wither by boat or manual labour.
Needless to say, life becomes very expensive for locals.
I recall paying $ 6.00 for a large dried fruit cookie 15 years ago and no doubt the same now costs more than double, at least for tourists.
Some people have to travel by boat (vaporetto) to buy fresh vegetables but they buy outrageously expensive watches, carnival masks, souvenirs and the latest fashion dresses within a few minutes of their homes.
A coffee in a posh café on the St. Mark’s Piazza costs more than $ 10.00.
Undoubtedly, the city is very interesting, but it has become a theme park, which some purists compare to an “old version of Disneyland”.
The region was inhabited as long ago as 1000 B.C by a tribe called Veneti who eventually built canals that serve as the transportation arteries of Venice, which over time became the capital of the Venetian Republic aka Serenissima.
It stretches across 1175 small islands in the Venetian lagoon on the Adriatic Sea. In 810, an agreement between Charlemagne and Nicephorus, the Emperor of Byzantium, recognized Venice as Byzantine territory, and which helped the city to become the centre of spice trade in Europe. It was the “link” between the Orient and Europe for everything imported from the vast territories east of today’s Italy. In time, Venice managed to become the richest city in Europe.
Venice was so wealthy it financed the fourth Crusade in 1204, the soldiers of which sacked Constantinople, establishing the Latin Empire of the 13th century.
Venice’s heydays started to wane after Fatih Sultan Mehmet of the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1452.
Venetian entrepreneurs made the city the printing capital of the then known world, after adopting Gutenberg’s book press.
In 1450 more than 3000 Venetian trade ships were crisscrossing the Mediterranean Sea. Buildings on canals are built on closely placed wooden piles and must be maintained regularly to prevent sinking.
Tides represent a major problem and frequently inundate the Piazza San Marco along with other locations.
Venice is compact, a haven for pedestrians. Streets are narrow, colourful, quiet, and architecturally interesting.
At. Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco) located at one end of the Piazza San Marco, is an architectural marvel and a must see, as is the “Loge” next door.
Museums abound and at least two or three should be visited to understand how the city grew and became wealthy.
177 canals make up the main traffic “arteries” of Venice and are of interest. Of the many islands Murano, a major glass manufacturing location, may be the most important and most interesting where you can actually visit a production facility that manufactures huge chandeliers or modern vases or ornate stemware.
There are many churches worth visiting, but all now charge a nominal fee as congregations are quickly dwindling.
The Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal is a sight to behold with its architecture and hundreds of jewellery shops on both sides.
Standing on the Rialto and watching the traffic on the Grand Canal is an experience any tourist cannot forget.
An island near to Venice was designated as a cemetery so as to avoid contamination from diseases that occurred in the Middle Ages, also to give space to much needed residential land.
Needles to say accommodation in Venice are expensive, as is good food mainly thanks to tourism, and high labour cost involved in transportation and distribution. You can always buy fast food and while standing or walking but a restaurant meal tends to be expensive particularly if there is a “barker” at the entrance promising great food at low prices. Once you are in the restaurant, pricing changes quickly as is the promise of great food.
Many tourists now stay in nearby Mestre, which is much less expensive. It takes a seven minutes-ride from Mestre to Venice, and a train depart six times hourly or so claims the Italian railroad administration, but actually timetables mean very little in Italy.
If you want to see and experience Venice do it as soon as possible, as in five years or a decade from now it may become so expensive that ordinary tourists will not be able to afford it.
Several bars offer possibilities to enjoy wine, cocktails and food. Harry’s Bar where a now world famous cocktail was invented was reputedly frequented by E. Hemingway.
You can fly to Venice from Rome or Milan, and take a taxi to the “terminal”. From there you must walk to your accommodation, or travel to Mestre and then take the train.
It is undeniable that tourism injects millions of vital Euros into the local economy but the population bears the brunt of expensive living, particularly the elderly and retired people on pensions and fixed incomes.