Six years ago today I was in Venice, which might be my favorite city in all of Italy. Situated in a lagoon at the northern edge of the Adriatic Sea, Venice became a very wealthy and powerful city-state in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance but the city’s prominence began to slowly decline when the main European trade routes shifted to the Atlantic. Built on a cluster of about 118 islands that are divided by a complex network of canals and linked by approximately 400 bridges, Venice is like no other city on Earth. I remember when I first arrived in Venice I wasn’t all that enamored with it because I was hauling around my backpack and there was no straight, direct route to the place where I was staying—or almost anywhere else in the city for that matter—but once I unloaded my stuff and had gotten settled in I fell in love with the city. There’s something undeniably magical about Venice, even with its myriad inconveniences, higher prices, and seasonal flooding. Cruising the canals, taking in the sights of the all the buildings from the city’s golden age, experiencing San Marco Square at night with the dueling bands—it’s one of the few places on Earth that fills me with a genuine sense of awe. The city is also a photographer’s dream, with interesting shots presenting themselves in almost every direction you can point your camera. This particular photo comes from the south side of the main islands of Venice. A gondolier is piloting his boat out into the lagoon and in the distance we can see the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. The bell tower attached to the church on that island has a great view of the city and when I was last in Venice in 2015 I remember that the water bus ride out to the island was the cheapest water bus fare you could purchase.
If you’re able, I highly recommend forking over the money needed to stay on the main islands rather than day tripping to Venice from the mainland. Staying in Venice is expensive, but it will allow you to experience Venice in the early morning and at night when much of the tourist horde is gone and it might also buy you some extra time to see some of the less visited parts of the city. Splurging on accommodations isn’t always worthwhile, but with Venice it’s worth every cent. Be sure to also get a good map, or have a GPS program on your phone. All those canals, bridges, and winding roads can make it tricky to find anything other than the more prominent landmarks.
As I’m guessing all of you know, Venice is slowly sinking into its lagoon. This has nothing to do with tourism and everything to do with the fact that the Venetians built their city in the middle of a lagoon where there’s no bedrock or hardened earth to support the buildings. Venice’s engineers did a really good job in distributing the weight of the city across hundreds of thousands of wooden support posts, but this system could never fully compensate for the lack of a strong foundation and today we’re seeing the inevitable results. Combine a slowly sinking city with rising tides and you’ve got a serious problem on your hands. Venice is flooding more frequently with the passage of time and although the Italian government has been building a series of flood barriers they will not permanently solve the problem. Probably the only thing that will keep Venice from being eventually lost to the lagoon is for some sort of dam or dike to be built all around it and then have machines pump out water into the sea to lower the water level in the city. This would no doubt damage the ecology of the lagoon, but we seem to be at the point where we can only save the city or the lagoon, and not both. Given how unique Venice is I think there’s a good case to be made that saving the city should have priority, but that’s just the opinion of an ignorant American.