Paolo and I each had something we wanted to do while we were in Venice - Paolo wanted to go up to the top of the Campanile in San Marco and I wanted to visit the church of Santa Maria della Salute. After breakfast we bought our train tickets to Bologna and headed out into Venice to accomplish these two goals.
We had a bit os a surprise as we chugged along on the Grand Canal on the way to Salute - we passed a fotilla of gondola filled with rowers dressed as Santas. Now this was something that one does not see on a regular basis! The kids on the vaporetto came alive with excitment and joy at the sight - the Santas waved and yelled 'ho ho ho' in return. Even crusty Jerry had to smile!
The first stop was the church which has a rather dramatic history. In the summer of 1630, a plague swept through Venice. Being a cramped, hot city where people lived on top of one another, it is easy to see how devastating a plague would be. The whole city made a pilgrimage to San Marco on October 26, including the Doge. He made a humble prayer of supplication to Our Lady to spare the city. The city repeated this pilgrimage and supplication for 15 consecutive Saturdays and promised to build a church in honor of Mary of Good Health. They laid the foundation stone on April 1, 1631. The plague was eventually vanquished and the church was completed some fifty years later. Every year, at the end of November, they build a special bridge across the Grand Canal and commemorate the ending of the plague.
Perviously this church had always been under restoration when we were in Venice so it was wonderful to see it in all of its glory.
While we were wandering looking at the art in the church about the 11 am mass started. We were suprised to hear that it was sung. Needless to say I sat back and listened to the sounds soaring to the ceiling. It is amazing how the human voice can fill such an immense space.
Later we took the vaporetto across the Grand Canal to San Marco where we paid to go up the Campanile. The guy taking tickets warned us that it was foggy. DUH We could see that! Of course the moron behind us asked for a disount because of the fog. Bah The ticket taker looked down his long noise and said the equivalanet of 'f-off' in Itaian. It was brilliant. :-)
The campanile of St. Mark's is an imposing square plan tower
about 99 metres high, crowned by a spire that was once a lighthouse
for shipping. It is the prototype of all the campaniles of the lagoon
area. It was first built in the 12th century on the site of what
was probably a watchtower and rebuilt in its current form early in the
16th century with the addition of a belfry and with the spire faced
in copper and topped by a sort of rotating platform with a statue of the
Archangel Gabriel which functioned as a weathercock.
Of the five original bells only the largest remains. The others, now replaced, were destroyed when the tower collapsed in 1902 (killing the light keeper's cat). From the belfry loggia there is a spectacular bird's eye view of the city and the lagoon. We couldn't see off to the alps or even across the canala to Guideccia due to the fog but the views were incredible nonetheless.
When we took the elevator back down the square was starting the fill with water - the tide was coming in. I decided that I was absolutely unable to survive without a hot beverage from Cafe Florian - the most expensive place in town to do so. This cafe, which has been serving guests since 1720, in an elegant setting is one of our favourite places to visit as a splurge. Our tour guide the day before had told us a secret - go to the back where the bar is located and order there - you'll pay about 1/3 of the regular price. You're still served by stiff, older gentlemen in white jackets and gold trim but you'll wallet will thank you!
Having seen two of the main things the we had hoped to see we headed back across the canal to do some shopping. I have always been impressed with the unique artisan shops near the Guggenheim so that is where we decided to satisfy our urges for art. Of course it wasn't long before we felt peckish. We agreed that we'd pop into the first restaurant we saw.
It turned out to be Ai Gondolier. It didn't look amazing from the outside (nor the inside either for that matter) but in we went where we joined the only other table in the place - a group of happy, chatty Italians.
Afterwards I read that some folks consider this to be the best restaurant in Venice. Based upon the quality of our food I can see why; it was certainly the best meal I have had in the city.
We started with a appetixer of fried zucchini flowers, artichoke hearts, and raddicho. Paolo ordered the truffle special ( a 46 euro plate of truffle ravioli!!!!) and I the canneloni stuffed with white veal and pumpkin. Because our meals had been so wonderful we followed our usual rule - we had to order dessert (and dessert wine). It was clearly one of the most expensive lunches I had ever had in my life but it was so good that we were wishing we had another day in the city in order to go back for dinner!
We made our way back to the hotel, shopping there and there until we got to the Frari church. Known simply as ‘I Frari,’ this immense 13th- to 14th-century Gothic church is around the corner from the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. If in the area, be sure to visit both. Built by the Franciscans (frari is a distortion of the Latin ‘frati’, or brothers), it is the largest church in Venice after the Basilica of San Marco.
The Frari has long been considered as a memorial to the ancient glories of Venice. Since St. Francis and the order he founded emphasized prayer and poverty, it is not surprising that the church is austere both inside and out. Yet within, it houses a number of very important works, including two masterpieces by Titian. The more striking of these is his Assumption of the Virgin over the main altar, which was painted when the artist was only in his late 20s. His Virgin of the Pesaro Family is in the left nave; Titian's wife posed for the figure of Mary (and then died soon afterward in childbirth) for this work commissioned by one of Venice's most powerful families.
The church's other masterwork is Giovanni Bellini's important triptych on wood, the Madonna and Child, displayed in the sacristy; it is one of his finest portraits ofthe Madonna. There is also an almost primitive-looking wood carving by Donatello of St. John the Baptist. The grandiose tombs of two famous Venetians are also here: Canova (d. 1822), the Italian sculptor who led the revival of classicism, and Titian, who died in 1576 during a deadly plague.
We had a moment while we were taking in the wonders of this church - all of a sudden we heard some wonderful singing. We turned and saw a group who seemed to be dressed as pilgrims. Three of them carried staves - one with a shining star. We assumed that they were recreating the journey of the Wise Men on their way to Bethleham. We sat back and listened to their soaring voices fill the church. Brilliant.
Once we got off fo the vaporatto we noticed that the church near the train station was open. For some reason I had never been inside the Scalzi church - odd given its proximity to the train station and our hotel. We walked inside and took in the Barogue splendor within.
The Barefoot Carmelites, or Scalzi, came to Venice in 1633 and in 1649 got Baldassare Longhena (the architect of the Salute church at the other end of the Grand Canal) to build them a monastery and a church, dedicated to Santa Maria di Nazareth. The church was built 1656-89, with finace provided by Girolamo Cavazza, and consecrated in 1705. Longhena had died in 1682 and the work was continued by the Carmelite Giuseppe Pozzo. The monastery was suppressed in 1810, but the order returned in 1840. The monastery buildings were demolished when the railway station was built.
The baldachin over the high altar is huge with twisty columns and statues of sibyls lounging about on the architecture - it's the work of the aforementioned Pozzo. Lodovico Manin, Venice's last doge, deposed by Napoleon in 1797, is buried here.
I was amused by the way the church had set up their nativity scene - on the left was an altar with Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus. Beneath the marble they had added some barnyard animals. Across the other side of the church were the three wisemen, They were all brought together by a riot of gold fabric which was hung across the church ending in a star which lit up over the baby Jesus.
Back in the hotel we napped and took it easy for the rest of the evening. It is hard to believe that our time in Venice is over already but we're leaving happy, more rested than when we arrived, and with some treasures packed away.