A people who once took refuge in the sea. Venice trying to forget the loss of its brilliant powerful days in a wild carnival. As if by fate a city drowning in the water that tries to bury it. And the masks that give a feeling of immortality, stripping people of their identity and creating a sense of endless freedom.
In the eighteenth century Venice was a carnival city. At the carnival everyone, whether duke or beggar, was equal; this city, which once ruled the seas and was a powerful political and commercial force all over the globe, created the carnival to forget the loss of its former glory or perhaps to hide behind masks and costumes. The carnival was so colorful, wild and enticing that it attracted pleasure seekers from all over the world; rich Europeans, aristocrats, adventurers took part in the entertainment. In those days carnival lasted for six months of every year. With masks to conceal their identity they lost themselves in their glorious past.
The English writer Charles Dickens found words inadequate to describe Venice. "I have never felt so afraid of describing something." The sea constantly tries to draw Venice into its waves. The city founded on little islands of mud is protected from the greedy sea by giant wooden stakes driven into the shore. However, every year the streets and squares fill with water.
Starting the day in Venice with a mask... Facing death with a mask and cheating Azrael, the angel of death. Facing up to our darkest fears.
In the background the silhouette of San Giorgio Maggiore church and its tower, one of the least visited but most worthy pieces of Venice. Seen from the shore in front of the Ducal Palace an intermittent silhouette in the never absent winter mist. A new day is begun very early in the morning in Venice wearing a mask and blue, one of the main carnival colors, and setting off at the front of a gondola.
From the 9-15 century Venice was the apple of Europe's eye. Venice was an important commercial and naval power. As its power and wealth ebbed away it tried to maintain its brilliance with carnival and entertainment. Some masks have black shadows as if to explain that Venice is sinking.
Masks Beyond time... Spell-binding, fixed, deep gazes stripping identity...
Two centuries ago when carnival lasted 6 months every face behind the mask was young and beautiful or handsome, every heart was wild, all people were equal. All responsibilities were forgotten and work was dismissed as a waste of time in the drunken atmosphere of carnival that lasted for weeks, months. The least possible time was spent on necessary tasks. Everyone acted as they pleased behind the mask. No one had an identity. The correct form of address to a masked woman was "Signora Maschera." Masks were usually worn by women. Men wore half-masks with a long nose reminiscent of a bird's beak as a phallic symbol. The body was enclosed in a black cloak.
The earliest record mentioning a gondola was in the year 194 AD. However, those vessels varied greatly in shape from the present day ones. Now all gondolas measure 10.87m in length and 1.42m at the widest point. Gondolas are hired to tourists at the rate of 80,000 lire for 50 minutes. One gondola can take 6 passengers.
Most of the Venetian palaces are ranged along the Canal Grande. The canal walls in Venice are protected with millions of stakes. To protect the palaces from the water the foundations have been injected with concrete. This preserves them in the same way as a tooth filling. 30 palaces on the Canal Grande have been protected in this way.
Venice was raised on water and lives on the water. Transport in the streets of Venice is on foot or in the case of water-filled streets by gondola or rowing boat. Tourists wonder how these waterways, no more than 2m in width, can accommodate gondolas. The canals can be crossed by means of countless little bridges.
After years I am in Venice once more, in the city of legendary romance, magnificent palaces and a maze of canals.
|The narrow streets of Venice which are not wide enough to take an umbrella.(above)
The Marciana Library where Nedim Gürsel conducted his research on the painter Gentile Bellini is in San Marco square.(below)
I am in Venice once more, in the city of legendary romance, magnificent palaces and a maze of canals.
First on the right is the charming peach-colored Palazzo Foscari -Contarini with vaulted columned façade and inverted bell-shaped chimneys. Then Palazzo Gritti where commander Doc Andrea Gritti died of indigestion at a xmas feast. On the left is the somewhat heavy looking Palazzo Flangini which cannot compete in charm with the strawberry colored Palazzo Correr-Contari.
Passing the church of San Marcuola on the left the shadow of another large palace falls on the water: Palazzo Vendramin Calergi where Wagner composed the melancholy Tristan and Isolde and the place of his death. To the right is the restored façade of Fondaco Dei Turchi and I imagine Ottoman merchants in padded headdresses whose caftans sweep over the seaweed of cobbles on the broad quay loading their galleons with water melon.
|Two large columns at the end of San Marco Piazzetta are each flanked by a bronze statue. One is of St. Mark Lion, the other of Saint Theodore. Known as God's horseman Theodore is by common consensus the first protector of Venice. The origin of the lion to the right next to the library is disputed. There are those who claim it is Etruscan, Persian or Sasanian.
Venice has captured me on the first day with the beauty of its canal and bridges the web of its narrow streets.
Suddenly my head starts spinning. The vaporetto rocks as it is tied to the quay and the palaces of Venice which have seen better days also seem to quake in a world of light and shadow, color and shape, chandelier and candle-light.
The story of each building ranged along the canal -Palazzo Mocenigo where Byron started writing Don Juan, Palazzo Contarini Fasan as dark as Othellos looks where Desdemona lived -releasing its ghosts to the wind as I close my eyes and surrender to the swaying of the vaporetto. As we approach San Marco after a seemingly endless journey the sights of Canal Grande are still imprinted on my brain. Venice has captured me on the first day with the beauty of its canal and bridges the web of its narrow streets.
In the silence of the Marciana library where everyone is lost in their own world I hope to further my research on Gentile Bellini who seems to have been condemned to remain in the shadow of his brother Giovanni Bellini, the famous painter.Gentile travelled to Istanbul and during his 18 month stay in the Ottoman empire did a portrait of Fatih, sketched Janissaries and palace servants and is said to have decorated the harem with erotic paintings at the request of the sultan.
The water continues to rise lapping the monuments to the city's magnificent past.
When I leave the library a cold wind strikes my face. The piazzetta is deserted, with not even a pigeon in sight.
I install myself in a café under the cold stone arches where a melancholy tune is being played on the piano. The notes struggle to bury themselves in the walls of the Doge's Palace opposite and are cast out to sea by the wind. Broad-domed San Giorgio church on its island seems to be slowly moving away into the sunset and the sea is rising and falling, rocking the vaporettos that move from quay to quay. The water continues to rise lapping the monuments to the city's magnificent past.