In northeastern Italy take a gondola ride back in time to an artistic paradise of elegant decay; marble palaces, churches and museums; and countless canals and bridges. The city is a living museum as its foundation, structure and architecture remain virtually the same as it was six hundred years ago. It is easy to get lost in all of the twists and turns of this floating city as it is situated across 118 small islands that are separated by canals and joined by 400 bridges located in the Venetian Lagoon between the Po and Piave Rivers.
Venice has been a wealthy city throughout its history and was considered the first real international financial centre. The city was an important commerce centre for silk, grain, spice and art from the 13th to 17th century and played an important role in symphonic and operatic music.
The Venetian Lagoon and part of the city are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the city of Venice has been ranked as the most beautiful city in the world, attracting up to 60,000 tourists a day. The most popular attractions include St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the Grand Canal and Piazza San Marco. The city is so popular and widely-known that the country Venezuela, which is a Spanish diminutive of Venice, was actually named after this one-of-a-kind city.
Venice, however, faces the problem of excessive tourism, which creates overcrowding and environmental problems with the canal’s ecosystem. Over 55,000 people live in the city centre of Venice without any cars or even bikes; the only source of transportation is feet or boats. Although it is a gorgeous city to visit for the day, Venice is not an ideal place to live as the city faces problems with finances, erosion, pollution, subsidence, over-tourism and over-sized cruise ships. The city is prone to floods that push in from the Adriatic between autumn and early spring. Many of the former staircases used to unload goods in old houses are now flooded, rendering the ground floor uninhabitable. In the 20th-century people would extract water from artesian wells, but it caused the city to gradually sink, so the wells were banned in the 1960s. The city continues to slowly sink, but the government has actively been trying to seek out solutions and innovations to protect this historic site.
Besides the over-bearing problems in Venice, the city is known for world-famous festivals including the Venetian Carnival before Lent, where people wear crafted Venetian masks; the Venice Film Festival, the oldest film festival in the world; and the Festa del Redentore, originally a feast to give thanks to the end of the plague in 1576.
As I was teaching at summer camps in Italy, I stayed in a tiny town about 45 kilometres north of the historic city of Venice and was able to attend the Festa del Redentore. This festival takes place on the third Sunday of July and on the Saturday night before there is the most spectacular fireworks display. I have never seen a bigger or more beautiful firework spectacle than the Festa del Redentore in Venice. It was absolutely breathtaking and I could not believe I was lucky enough to be in Venice during this festival. I have dreamt of visiting Venice for years and it is truly amazing to see where life will take you because you can make anything happen with faith, courage and perseverance.