Always having had a firm place on my bucket list; the city didn’t disappoint. I’ve travelled extensively, mainly in Europe and frequently in Italy, since I was about 11 years old, but no other city I’ve visited quite had the same impact at Venice. From the outset, I felt that I was walking through a cardboard city, temporarily erected for a Hollywood movie, or a Disneyland water ride; ever expecting Jonny Depp to come whizzing round the corner on a luxury speedboat with 5 angry Russians in hot pursuit. Needless to say none of that happened… Maybe next time!
Walking around the ancient alleyways and through the breathtaking squares, I had to constantly remind myself that I was walking on a feat of engineering and architectural genius; the concept of which would result in a fair few scratched heads even today. I must admit that the sudden jolts of realisation that all of this splendour was in fact being held above water had a rather ‘sea-sickening’ effect. Not that I had to worry as it didn’t take longer than a minute before my attention had been grabbed by a piece of art, or a building, the smell of a freshly cooked pizza, or a view that would put photoshop to shame.
I was lucky with timing in that the summer heat had long subsided, and with it the odours
so often negatively associated with Venice. Yet the floods hadn’t quite yet rolled in. This all added to the stark difference in other trips to Italy that I had taken. The city felt asleep. There were times where there wasn’t a soul in sight. The nights were so quiet and still; which all happily contributed to the movie set illusion. During the day locals and tourists seemed to go about their day with an almost gratefulness and contentment with the quiet season.
Although I was primarily there for the 15th International Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia, taking a visit to some key tourist attractions was also on my to-do list. The incomparable St Mark’s Basilica and Campanile in Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal and Ponte di Rialto, Palazzo Ducale, and not to mention the wine and food (but mainly the wine). Disappointingly, due to the quietness of the season, several things were closed for renovations, including the Olivetti Showroom; a space designed by Carlo Scarpa in 1957/8 to showcase the typewriter and calculator designs of Andrea Olivetti. One for the list of reasons to return. Naturally that list doesn’t need to be very extensive!
. Vicenza .
75km west of Venice and 1 hour 15 minutes on a train brought me to Vicenza. My first impression of the city was that as beautiful as it was, the locals didn’t seem too well versed with tourism; no doubt an effect of the massive attraction of two relatively close-by cities; Milan and Venice. That aside, the attractions of the the city far surpassed expectation, specifically Andrea Palladio’s overwhelmingly ambitious and beautiful Teatro Olimpico. Completed in 1585, Teatro Olimpico is the oldest of the only three remaining Renaissance theatres in existence and houses the oldest stage setting,designed by Vincenzo Scamozzi, which itself is the theatre’s most striking feature. Built to replicate Roman streets and constructed from wood stucco imitating marble, the scenery is set back behind the stage and its towering archways, and decreases in size the further it goes back, giving it the perspective illusion that the streets are longer than is true.
Another hot spot for design in Vicenza is the Villa Capra La Rotonda. A fantastic example of Palladian architecture, the villa was built in 1566, again by Andrea Palladio. Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, the house was built as a country residence for a priest retiring from life at the Vatican. Unfortunately (especially given the €10 admission fee), photography is forbidden inside the villa and so this floor plan and image of the interior have been sourced from the internet. The plan, from Palladio’s book I quattro libri dell’architettura, shows the symmetry of the building with each of the four sides projecting a portico, the 8 interior spaces and the open hall roofed by a large dome. Fortunately, I was able to take photographs of the exterior, which itself is a testament to the beauty of the building; besides, who doesn’t love symmetry?!