Venice, known as Venezia to those who live there, is known for its canals. Tradition says it was founded in 421AD on April 25, St Mark's Day. He is the patron saint of Venice. It is built on an archipelago of 122 islands formed by around 150 canals in the shallow, marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea. The islands on which the city is built are connected by some 400 bridges. In the old centre, the canals serve the function of roads.
In the 19th century a causeway to the mainland brought a railway station to Venice, and an automobile causeway and parking lot was added in the 20th century.
Apart from that, transportation within the city remains as it was in centuries past, entirely on water or foot. It is Europe's largest urban car-free area and functions entirely without cars or trucks.
Venice is divided into six districts and its most crowded part is San Marco Square, where people flock to see Basilica di San Marco, one of the most spectacular houses of worship in the world. Modelled on Constantinople's Church of the Twelve Apostles and consecrated in 1094, the church is a mass of domes, arches and golden mosaics and is adorned with an amazing array of plundered treasures.
It has a magnificent marble pavement, and Pala d'Oro, a gleaming gold, enamel and precious jewel masterpiece. The Treasury has booty from a 1204 raid on Constantinople and includes a thorn said to be from the crown worn by Christ.
Above the main door are copies of prancing horses, also hijacked from Constantinople. The gilded-bronze originals are on display inside. The 10th century campanile collapsed without warning in 1902 and was rebuilt brick by brick over the next 10 years.
If you find the queues impossibly long at the basilica, and they usually are, why not go to the building next door?
Palazzo Ducale, or Doge's Palace, was home to the duke and all arms of government for much of the thousand years of the Venetian Republic. Established in the 9th century, the rare example of civil Venetian Gothic it has two magnificent facades in white Istrian stone and pink Veronese marble.
From its main courtyard, several stairways lead to the Duke's apartments which are followed by a succession of grandiose state rooms culminating in the immense Sala del Maggiore Consiglio featuring the Tintoretto's immense oil, Paradiso. And Veronese's Apotheosis of Venice.
A trail of corridors leads to the Ponte dei Sospiri Bridge of Sighs which connects to the new prisons on the east side of the canal to cater for overflow from the old prisons in the palace. The legendary 18th century philanderer Giacomo Casanova served time there.
The Rialto is, and always has been, the commercial heart of Venice and the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal was built there. In the 16th century 11,000 prostitutes plied their trade there for visiting sailors. The area is well patronised by locals and tourists for its bustling fruit, vegetables, fish and meat markets, and the bridge itself is a lather of stalls selling souvenirs.
The neo-Gothic arches of the Pescaria are only 100 years old, but the tradition of selling fish there goes back to 1300.
Venice's oldest church, the Chiesa di San Giacomo di Rialto, is in the middle of the market and was founded on the same day as the city itself.
Cross the bridge into San Paolo and you will reach one of Venice's most sublime religious treasure troves, Santa Maria Cloriosa dei Frari. It was built by the Franciscans and features Giovanni Bellini's sacristy altarpiece and Titan's glorious Assumption altar painting.
Venice's famous annual Carnival dates back to at least 1268. The mask has ancient origins and was used for many months of the year. They were permitted from the day of Santo Stefano, which marked the start of the carnival, to midnight of Shrove Tuesday which marked the end. During major events, such as official banquets or other celebrations of the Serenissima Republic, the mask and cloak were permitted.
Venetian masks are intricate and colourful. They are popular the world over, but many are mass-produced in China. For the real thing, visit Sergio and Massimo Boldrin at Bottega dei Mascareri. They have been creating wonderful masks since 1984 using the age-old craft.
Hotel Villa Rosa is in the perfect position for sightseeing. Close to boat stops for touring the Grand Canal, it has just 33 rooms, some with a terrace, others with views of the gardens.
Basilica di San Marco is open between 9:45am-5:30pm from Monday to Saturday in April to October and closes an hour earlier between October to April. On Sundays and holidays it is open between 2pm-4pm. The dress code requires knees, shoulders and upper arms be covered.
Palazzo Ducale opens between 9am to 7pm from April to October and 9am to 5pm between November to March.
The Carnival of Venice will run from February 13-24, 2009.
Bottega dei Mascareri hand-crafted masks start at around $40. The will be signed by the creator.
Hotel Villa Rosa rooms start at around $129 a double a night.
Intrepid Travel has 14 day tours from Venice to Rome starting at $1,840 per person. Accommodation and transport are included but meals are not. A typical itinerary is: Days 1-2 Venice; Days 3-4 Lake Garda; Days 5-6 Cinque Terre; Days 7-8 Florence; Days 9-11 Naples; Days 12-14 Rome. Tours start every Saturday between April and November.
Emirates has flights to Venice.
- Perth, $2253
- Melbourne, $2274
- Brisbane, $2284
- Sydney, $2292
- Adelaide $2858
- Darwin $3545
Valid for travel until March 31, 2009.
For further information
360 Bourke Street
84 Oxford Street
Ph: 1300 364 512
Fax: 03 9419 4426
Website: www. intrepidtravel. com
Bottega dei Mascareri
Calle del Cristo 2919
Ph: 041/522 3857
Hotel Villa Rosa
Ph/Fax: 39 0417 16569
Ph: 1300 303 777
Website: www.emirates. com