Thanks for reading! Check out my Italy (Venice) category for several more posts (Jewish Ghetto, the hospital, Calatrava Bridge, etc.) about Venice… a city I hope to visit a third time when travel opportunities return. I have a list of sights I still want to experience. Feel free to leave a like, make a comment and become a follower for more travel posts.
My next post: How to get from Delphi to Itea, Greece by bus
This unexpected mosaic tucked into a corridor in the San Marco sestiere of Venice, Italy will take your breath away. Even the wrought iron barrier is beautiful and provides a contrasting frame for this photo taken by my daughter in June 2019.
That morning, after arriving by train from Venice, we had savored cappuccini and croissants and then toured the main attraction in Bologna, the Basilica de San Petronio. We spent about an hour there marvelling at the centuries-old church with the unusual brick and stone facade. Plan to read a future post on that experience soon, but here’s a taste.
We had also explored the Piazza Maggiore with its beautiful Fountain of Neptune and saw the city “square” rigged and ready with row upon row of temporary seating for hundreds plus a huge movie screen. Among other movies, Gone with the Wind was on the menu at some time during the summer season. How fun would that be?!
It’s the copper-domed church in the large photo at the top of this post. While it’s quite a standout in a Bologna skyline photo, at street level it’s easy to miss. Tall buildings and narrow streets together conceal your vision of things in the upper reaches.
It was a warm and achingly brilliant sunny day. Taking a short break in a quiet place of worship enticed us to escape the Italian noonday rays.
Inside, sounds of the street faded to a cavernous quiet. The majesty and somber tone of the interior both cooled and stunned me.
The soothing soft green interior wall colors caught our attentions first. The ornate Baroque stylings caught our attentions second. The dome, completed in 1787 and designed by architect Giuseppe Tubertini, was beautiful as well.
But if only I had Googled to see what more this structure had to reveal.
I stumbled upon this sculpture as I was researching the church and I still can’t believe that I was in this very building and missed this very powerful example of Renaissance art.
I can’t get over the expressions on the faces.
Terror. Despair. Uncontrollable grief.
Truth be told, I often feel detached from historical art. The expressions are often glum and sullen, especially in depictions of Jesus Christ and the suffering he endured on the cross. That goes, too, for the the emotional suffering of those nearby who loved him. Sometimes it’s just hard to identify.
With Arca’s work, however, the emotions of the figures are real and painfully so. I understand that kind of hurt and sorrow and panic. We see humans in painful grief daily on the news and in our modern media. To think that an Italian Renaissance artist was able to capture it accurately — in terra cotta — six hundred years ago — baffles my small mind.
Words are not needed in the picture below. The emotion is palpable and horrible.
And on that note, I’ll close this post with this final thought: When travelling, it’s a good thing to have time to spare. However, once you arrive home, it’s heart-breaking to discover something wonderful that you missed.
Lesson learned: Next time, slow down, google it, and learn what more there is right in front of you.
Thanks for reading! Follow my blog for more posts about the details in travel far and wide.
Five facts and photos from our brief visit to this less traveled Venetian sight
In June, my daughter and I took an afternoon in Venice to see the Jewish Ghetto located in the Cannaregio sestiere, in the north of the city. Two years earlier, on a previous week-long trip to Venice, I had wanted to see the ghetto, but ran out of time. Therefore, in June, it was still on my return trip bucket list.
Honestly, we didn’t plan this little jaunt well. We just took off for Cannaregio shortly after lunch on the last day of my visit. (She had the day off from her two-month internship at the U.S. Pavilion of the Biennale del Arte and wouldn’t be leaving for another month.)
So while I wish I had taken a guided tour offered by the Jewish Museum of Venice and was able to tell you more about Venice’s Jewish Ghetto—the first of its kind in the world—I’m still grateful that we spent the hour or so there.
Even so, with the recent flooding in Venice, the ghetto has suffered. Fortunately, the synagogues are located on top or upper floors. According to this article in The Jerusalem Post, a storage facility and kosher restaurant were damaged.
To find the ghetto, we used Google Maps, rode a vaporetto to the train station (the Ferrovia stop), and then wound our way through Cannaregio. We crossed a bridge, made a left alongside a row of shops bordering the canal, and walked right past an easy-to-overlook brick tunnel.
Following Google Maps, we turned around eventually, and wandered through that brick doorway. We followed the maze. Within a minute or two, we walked by a shop full of art prints and originals, a jewelry store, a book seller, a bakery.
It was quiet in the darkened corridors.
We heard the rumbles of the vaporetti (water buses) in the distance, layered behind the sounds of our own footsteps.
After browsing through some lithographs and snapping a picture of the detailed sign above summarizing the history of the ghetto, we entered the Campiello de le Scuole, the “little square of the synagogues.” A seven-story building stood plainly before us. I have read since that this building demonstrates the tight quarters the Jewish people were contained in. Judging by the windows, these units couldn’t have contained standard 8-foot ceilings. In fact, these buildings were “the tallest buildings with the lowest-ceilinged apartments” in Venice, wrote David Laskin in this New York Times article.
We continued past this small square. Not more than one minute further into the labyrinth, we found ourselves in the main campo of the Jewish Ghetto, the Campo de Ghetto Nuovo. In the square, a dozen people mingled and conversed quietly. A small tour group gathered at the base of the Jewish Museum of Venice.
A boy wearing a yarmulke, who looked to be about twelve years old, kicked a ball in the cool shade under a covered overhang on one of the many multi-story buildings that lined the campo.
The afternoon was clear and sunny. And hot. It was the perfect day to tour cool and darkened museums and synagogues. But alas, we hadn’t planned well enough to do that. Perhaps on my next visit to Venice (I can’t imagine there’s not another one in my future!), I’ll plan better. In the meantime…
Here are five facts I have learned since about Venice’s Jewish Ghetto:
2. The English word “ghetto” is derived from the Jewish Ghetto in Venice, originating from the Venetian word ghèto and the Italian word ghetto, according to Chabad.org. The word “geto” in the Venetian dialect referred to a foundry, which was located nearby. Eventually, the word was used to refer to the area that contained the Jewish people.
Today, about 450-500 Jews live in Venice. A small number still live in the ghetto.
4. During the ghetto’s early years, its residents were limited as to where they could travel and work. They also had to pay for their own watchmen and security. In addition, their clothing was used to mark them: men wore yellow circles sewn to their left shoulders of their clothing; women wore yellow scarves.
5. There are five active synagogues in the Jewish Ghetto today. To see the synagogues, one must sign up for public guided tours conducted by the Jewish Museum of Venice. Tours are scheduled every half hour starting at 10:30 and ending at 17:30. Tickets are 12 Euro each. Visit this website for more information.
The plaque below describes the above sculpture, titled The Last Train, created by sculptor and Lithuanian-Jew Arbit Blatas. The sculpture shows Jews being loaded onto cattle cars. I believe the top line on the plaque is a dedication of the sculpture by the Jewish community of Venice to those deported to concentration camps of Nazi Germany.
A composition of seven bronze sculptures depicts the atrocities inflicted upon the Jewish people during World War II. Close-up photos of three of these sculptures and the inscription plaques at far right are below.
Thanks for reading! This stop during my stay in Venice last summer was followed by a warm walk back through Cannaregio. On our way back to Santa Elena, we stopped along the Zattere at a Conad Supermarket for groceries we would need later that night for dinner. Follow my blog for more stories from my trip last summer to Skopelos, the Peloponnese, Crete, and, of course, Venice.
Santiago Calatrava’s infamous bridge made my bucket list
This past June, I returned to Venice, Italy for five days to visit my daughter who was serving an internship at the U.S. Pavilion of the 2019 Art Biennale. While there, my goal was to experience a few sights I had missed in 2017 when we visited while she served another internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a small modern art museum on the Grand Canal. (By the way, I plan to write a future post about her overall experience with the PGC internship. If you, your child, or your grandchild are interested in a career in art museum operations or administration, this paid internship is worth looking into.)
On the last full day of my visit in June, my daughter and I took a vaporetto to Cannaregio, the part of Venice where the Jewish Ghetto and the Ponte della Costituzione are located.
I had first learned of the famous bridge, one of four pedestrian bridges that cross from one side of the Grand Canal to the other, when I read The Politics of Washing: Real Life in Venice. This book, written by Venetian transplant Polly Coles, reveals the daily routines of ordinary Venetians who have made the lagoon city their home. (What’s it like to live in one of the most heavily touristed cities in the world? Read this book. Where are the schools, the hospital, the post office? Read this book.)
I first learned of Calatrava when we visited “Sculpture into Architecture,” a 2005 exhibition of the artist’s work at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The architect’s unusual skeletal forms intrigued me and still do today. For example, the Oculus transit hub near NYC’s One World Trade and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum is one of Calatrava’s more recent U.S. designs. The Oculus’ soaring bird-like structure is a fitting symbol of recovery and growth for the formerly devastated Ground Zero area.
However in Venice, Calatrava’s bridge is a controversial piece of architecture that continues to gain attention today even though it was completed in 2008. Indeed, its troubles started long before the current ones. For example, during its construction, the bridge was budgeted to cost 7 million Euro, but wound up costing 11.6 million Euro. In addition, several delays were required during its construction.
Moreover, other problems have come to light since its construction and subsequent use. These have added to the bridge’s notoriety. Some of these problems include:
Limited accessibility for the disabled
Its modern design that conflicted stylistically with the city’s historic architecture
Its relative close proximity to other bridges that cross the canal, of which there are four in total
Glass panels that pedestrians walk on, which become very slippery in rain and even fog
In addition to the slippery surface, because so many tourists (and residents, alike) carry wheeled luggage over the bridge, the glass panels have worn down, which has caused damage to the panels and to pedestrians alike, if they should fall.
So how was my walk across Calatrava’s Constitution Bridge?
Let’s just say that I was glad it was dry the day we ventured across… it was slick even then. (But let me tell you… the marble steps on nearly every other Venetian bridge are slick, too. On these bridges –and there are hundreds across the city– I had to take care to avoid the worn-down, curved edge of each step where I had nearly fallen more than once.)
On Calatrava’s bridge, there is a narrow walkway of another material (stone? concrete?) you can step across on. And truth be told, that optional surface was more comfortable to use even though it was only a strip the width of a narrow sidewalk positioned in the middle of the walkway, far from a handrail.
But still, I will say this about the Constitution Bridge: it is elegant.
Its long arch gracefully extends across the canal. If you have the chance to take the lengthy stroll across it, do. Despite its controversy, the bridge is beautiful, simplistic, and a refreshing contemporary note amidst Venice’s historic facades.
It is also officially crossed off my bucket list. Been there. Done that.
After traversing the infamous bridge, we then ventured on to find the Jewish Ghetto. I’ll write about this district, which provides the actual origin of the Italian word “ghetto,” as well as the museum title. Stay tuned for that upcoming post, as well as the post about the Peggy Guggenheim Collection internship.
There’s a guard at a basilica who wants us to be better.
It just wasn’t as elaborate as I thought it would be, I thought as I surveyed the interior of Venice’s Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Yes, it was beautiful, just not as beautiful as I expected for a “Top 10” ranking in the little book about Venice I had at home.
A sign at the door had notified us of a 3.50€ entrance fee to enter. My daughter and I both agreed that this view from the doorway would suffice. After all, we had been in many other Venetian cathedrals or basilicas.
However, I liked the idea of at least a souvenir from Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo. The rotating stand at the edge of the entry steps might have one I could purchase. I spun the stand, picked out a couple of cards and stepped over to an ornate kiosk. From the back, a man entered the darkened kiosk.
He had just finished setting up for the day—repositioning the “No Photos” sign, stacking up the 1€ kimonos available for purchase by bare-shouldered women, arranging a selection of votive candles.
I slid the two postcards under the slot in the kiosk’s Plexiglass shield. The man looked intently at each one and then met my eyes.
“Did you see the originals?” he asked.
“No.” How could I explain in my non-existent Italian that we had already seen so many churches in this great city? He straightened the cards in his palms with a tap on the marble counter.
“Okay, you must see the originals.” He stepped out from the kiosk and stepped around to meet us. Grabbing the velvet partition rope, he said, “Come with me.”
He handed me the postcards, and we followed him into the cool darkness of the basilica. He strode purposefully to a mammoth collection of oil paintings on the large wall to the right.
As he walked, he spoke over his shoulder, “It’s a crime to come to Venice and buy a postcard and not see the original because you don’t want to pay three-fifty Euro.”
Ouch, I thought.
Here was a Venice enthusiast if I had ever met one. Flashing his dark eyes from beneath even darker curls, he continued: “I will show you the two paintings on your cards.” He stepped over to the wall behind the oil paintings and tapped a small plastic rectangle. Click. Light saturated the paintings.
My daughter reached for my postcards for a closer look. “This is a Bellini—those are why this church is on the list. These are special,” she whispered.
“Here is the Bellini,” he called from the light switch.”You look at this one, then go over to that one”—he pointed further into the nave directing our eyes to the darker painting of Christ with the apostle Thomas by Leandro da Bassano— “and then come back and see this one again. You turn on the light if you need to.”
I’m not an art historian, but a little online research revealed these paintings were not made with oils, but tempera paint on wooden panels. This particular one shows the Christ child being carried by Saint Christopher, a 3rd-century church martyr executed by the Roman emperor at the time. The painting glowed under the light, and reminded me of another glowing Bellini at the Basilica dei Frari. It seems Bellini knew the tempera medium well.
We walked to the other painting we had been permitted to see at no charge.
This second painting, L’incredulita di S. Tommasso by Leandro da Bassano was near the front of the church. It was dark and partially obscured by a screen of sorts. It shows Christ showing the doubtful Thomas his crucifixion wounds, proving the resurrection. I later learned that Leandro da Bassano was a famous painter who followed in his artist father’s footsteps and was later knighted by the Doge of Venice. Many of his works are confused with Tintoretto’s and are difficult to date.
We returned to the Bellini and switched on the lights one more time.
“Oh, thank you,” said a tourist staring at the painting who had entered after us.
We decided our visit was over. As we left, my daughter selected another postcard and paid. She offered the guard 5€ to thank him for allowing us in.
“No, no, you keep,” he said. “I just want to show you what you want to see. A postcard isn’t good enough. It’s how I make you… what to say… better tourists,” he said, smiling and shrugging his shoulders. I could tell he meant no offense by his remark.
He continued. “You know… when you’re inside a church here, tell the guard that you want to light a candle and say a prayer and they will let you in.”
Did I hear him correctly? I asked myself.
Still, I’m not Catholic, and using prayer as my ticket inside a church seems disingenuous. However, I did appreciate his candid tip and his enthusiasm for La Serenissima, the traditional name for the Venetian Republic.
In reflection, the guard at Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo was merely doing his part… politely doing what he could to help visitors he met to “be better tourists” in his city on the sea.
Thanks for reading! I really enjoyed meeting this guard and hearing his frank ideas and suggestions. It’s easy to tour Venice and not exchange words with a local. Please feel free to click like, leave a comment, and follow my blog for more stories from Venice and Greece.
I’m betting that the question, “Wonder where the hospital is around here?” passes through the minds of most visitors to Venice… at least those visitors who stay on the island and think about where they would go if they twisted an ankle or suffered whiplash doing a double-take at an especially handsome gondolier.
Last Sunday, my daughter and I wound up at the hospital without really meaning to. We intended to go see the church, Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo (the Basilica of St. John and Paul). In 2017, I had purchased a little folding picture book of the top ten Venice sights and this church was on that list.
During the week that we visited back then, we simply didn’t get everything accomplished. Back home after our trip, I realized that if I was ever to return to Venice, this church would be on my list of sights to see.
And when one sees this church, one also has the opportunity to see the Venice hospital, the Ospedale SS Giovanni E Paolo Venice. That’s because the church is literally connected to the hospital building. You can enter the hospital from either the black front doors (as seen in the photo above) or you can enter from the backside, which borders the waters of the lagoon.
My daughter and I decided to take the water route around the back of the island. My daughter had never actually ventured on the vaporetto route past her Santa Elena stop, so this was a first-time experience for her, too.
Here’s the sign in the vaporetto bus stop that shows the stop for the Ospedale (Italian for hospital). Note the international symbol for hospital, “H,” below the line.
We traveled around the backside of the island to eventually arrive at the church; we didn’t realize it at the time, but the church is joined to the hospital.
Here are some more pictures from the vaporetto ride around to the hospital and the basilica.
According to The Venice Insider, the hospital grounds are not open for tourists. That being the case, I hesitated to take lots of pictures. However, I did snap a few. Here’s a picture of a modern-looking inner garden area you’ll walk through after leaving the vaporetto and walking through the first doors you come to.
Katherine’s roommate had told us to look for the gardens with all the cats. We thought that this was the garden she meant. We were wrong, as you will soon see.
Before we would find the garden full of cats, we walked by the Emergency Room doors. Here it is, for all you ankle twisters or gondolier gawkers:
Keep walking past the ER and you will eventually arrive at a beautiful garden, surrounded by loggia walkways and filled with about a dozen stray cats.
Residents and visitors alike care for Venice’s many feral felines. The kitties are quite comfortable during the warmer months. I’ve read that the cat population can become a problem during cooler temperatures and that there are volunteer groups that help with the problem.
After you exit the cat garden, you’ll pass through an exit where you can continue on to the wards of the hospital or turn left to the Scuole Grande, which leads eventually leads outside to the campo with Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo.
If you continue down these steps, you will enter this grand entrance hall. There are doors and hallways that lead from this hall. This is the Scuole Grande (see caption above). At the end of this hall, is the front door of the hospital shown in the elaborate facade in the first picture of this article.
And this brings us to the front entrance of the hospital on the campo, the large square that is the “city center” of this area of Castello.
In effect, this post has brought you to the hospital from the backside along the water, to the very front door, which is shown in this photo at the far left (see the oval-topped dark door that blends in with the light post).
And this also brings us to the close of this post. I will continue this post tomorrow with our visit to the basilica where you will meet a die-hard Venetian who gave us some very good and timely advice on how to be “better tourists.”
Thanks for reading! Tune in tomorrow for the continuation of our Sunday morning in Venice. Click like, leave a comment, and be sure to follow my blog for the next installment.