Our short visit to Istanbul came to a close Wednesday as we headed to the airport early for our flight to Venice. By the way, the Istanbul airport boasts the largest single-building terminal in the world. It is massive! It’s also quite modern, clean, and easy to navigate (but wear shorts – it’s warm).
One uneventful flight and a water taxi later, we arrived in Venice. The fish-shaped city of 118 islands was the dominant epicenter of trade for Europe, Asia, and North Africa over a thousand years from 700 AD to nearly 1800. In addition, its shallow waters, islands, and narrow canals made it difficult for enemy ships to navigate, which protected it from attacks.
After settling into our room at the Hotel Corte di Gabriela near Piazza San Marco, we met up with our friends who also arrived today and headed to St. Mark’s Square for an after-hours tour of Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica. We highly recommend this tour, as you see two major Venice landmarks without the typical crowds. Plus, you escape the heat of the day by visiting early evening and after official closing hours.
The Doge’s Palace (or Palazzo Dogal) was the home of the Doge (or duke), who was the elected authority of the Venetian Republic. The original structure dates back to the early 1100s but continued to be expanded through the early 1400s. One side of the palace displays its original Gothic style, while the other side bears more of a Renaissance style after being rebuilt following a fire. Many of its carved ceilings were covered in four layers of gold leaf, especially on the stairways leading to the audience chambers.
The palace also contained courthouses and a prison. Even though the doge position was eliminated in the late 1700s when Napoleon overtook Venice, the prison continued to be used until the early 1900s. The Bridge of Sighs connects the prison to the courthouses within the palace walls.
After a short break for dinner, we continued to St. Mark’s Basilica. It was dark when we arrived and most of the interior lights were off. It was hauntingly beautiful to be in this magnificent church at night! Probably the most spectacular thing about this Basilica are the painstakingly detailed gold mosaics everywhere you turn. Absolutely breathtaking. After a tour of the foyer, we sat quietly in the main sanctuary facing the altar while they slowly began turning on all the lights to illuminate the full structure. A moving and beautiful experience. It was difficult to get photos inside at night; the few that I did take don't begin to do it justice.
Thursday we explore the many side canals of this glorious city! Buona notte!