Venice: Art, canals and churches

We started our first full day in Venice by exploring the canals near our hotel in the Cannaregio district, snaking our way over the bridges and along the deserted canals, while soaking up the area’s eerie stillness.

As we got closer to the Rialto district and the Grand Canal (below), the city, unsurprisingly, became increasingly busier and by the time we reached the iconic Rialto Bridge, we found ourselves amid a sea of people taking photos.

Built in the late 16th century by the Venetian architect and engineer Antonio da Ponte, the Rialto Bridge (below) is the oldest of the four bridges that span the Grand Canal.

Seeing it up close, it’s easy to see why it’s also the most famous, as it’s a beautiful, distinctive stone structure.

Not far from the bridge, we hopped on a waterbus and set off along the Grand Canal in the direction of San Marco.

I spent the short boat ride along the large bend in the canal, known as La Volta (below), eagerly taking in my surroundings as we sailed past the magnificent, and often quite dilapidated, palazzos.

Soon the distinctive Ponte d’Accademia came into view (below).

The bridge is named after Venice’s most famous gallery, the Galleria dell’Accademia di Venezia, which sits on the banks of the Grand Canal and is home to the largest collection of Venetian art in the world.

Ponte dell'Accademia and the Grand Canal, Venice

The gallery moved to its present home – the Scuola Grande della Carita, a former church and convent – on Napoleon’s orders in 1807.

Galleria dell'Accademia di Venezia

Made up of 37 halls, the gallery houses art dating from the 1300s to the 1880s and includes works by the likes of Giovanni Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto and Canaletto.

Visions of the Hereafter by Hieronymous Bosch

Most of the art on display wasn’t my cup of tea (I’m not a fan of the really religious paintings) but I liked the odd piece.

Most notably the four panels, Visions of the Hereafter, by Hieronymous Bosch (above), which were painted between 1505 and 1515.

During our visit, I had the impression that quite a few of the halls were closed or being renovated as there was no sensible, linear route through the gallery – we’d suddenly hit a wall and have to turn back on ourselves.

However, the building that houses the gallery is superb and I was awe-struck by a number of its spectacular ceilings (including the one below).

Inside the Galleria dell'Accademia

Aside from the many things to do in San Marco (which I’ll recount in my next post to avoid a ridiculously long essay here), the only other place we had time to visit in Venice itself was the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

I was keen to visit the Dominican church, which is also known as San Zanipolo, after it cropped up a number of times in John Julius Norwich’s A History of Venice as the burial place of 25 doges.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo is one of the largest churches in Venice, dating back to the 1430s, and from the 15th century onwards it played host to the funerals of Venice’s doges.

With such an illustrious history, it’s no wonder the church boasts works of art by the likes of Giovanni Bellini (who’s also buried here) and Bartolomeo, and it’s the burial place of a number of prominent Venetians.

Situated in the city’s less touristy Castello district, we set off in what I thought was the right direction from the Piazza San Marco, only to get terribly lost thanks to the winding nature of the streets and canals.

We eventually wound up in the Arsenale district, in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go.

After much confusion and many wrong turns (even while glued to Google Maps), we eventually arrived at the enormous church (below) – one hour later.

Santi Giovanni e Paolo

We ventured inside (photography was not allowed) and I was amazed by how bare it was – the centre of the church was completely empty.

On the plus side, it boasted an attractive marble floor and the walls were lined with a number of ostentatious marble tombs (many of which belonged to the aforementioned doges and other eminent folk).

The most impressive monument was the one dedicated to Doge Sebastiano Venier, who before becoming doge commanded the Venetian fleet during the Holy League’s decisive victory against the Ottomans at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571.

At the far left of the church, there was a largish chapel – and that was pretty much it. All in all, I was somewhat disappointed by Santi Giovanni e Paolo.

It was big and the building was nice, but it was so sparce and there was so little information about the tombs that I was left feeling underwhelmed.

If there was more information about the church, its illustrious history and the famous people associated with it, it would have made the visit much more interesting.

But as it was, I had no idea what I was looking at half the time and I’m not sure it was worth the hour or so we spent trying to find it.

If you happen to be nearby, you might as well pop inside, but I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to see it like we did.

Grand Canal at dusk

We ambled through the streets of Venice back towards the Grand Canal, thankfully without losing our bearings this time.

It was sunset when we hopped on a waterbus towards San Marcuola and as we sailed along the Grand Canal, it turned from dusk (above) to dark (below).

Rialto Bridge

It was great seeing the Rialto Bridge lit up after dark and I was left feeling as though we’d seen Venice in all its glory, at all times of the day and night.

15 thoughts on “Venice: Art, canals and churches

Add yours

  1. Lovely captures of your time in Venice. It looks like you had the city all to yourself. I regret not taking a boat ride when we were there in August as it seems like a great way to get a different perspective of the canals. It’s also nice to see what the Rialto Bridge looks like all lit up when it’s dark.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I took quite a few boat rides when I was in Venice and it was a fantastic way to see another side to the city. The way they light up the Rialto Bridge at night really makes the white stone pop and it was stunning lit up against the inky dark sky and canal.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, just look at all the wonderful photos from Venice. The floating city of Venice looks like a picture postcard with crisscrossing canals, marvellous castles, ancient museums, cathedrals, art galleries, churches, and public squares. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva xx

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You paint a vivid picture of the city I explored and loved many years ago. Getting lost in Venice is a rite of passage I think ha ha, happened to me a few times. Somehow, I believed I missed out on the Ponte d’Accademia during my wanderings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Leighton. Away from the main tourist attractions, the city’s such a rabbit warren, I’m not surprised to hear you (and I’m sure a fair few others) got lost there as well. It’s such a confusing maze of streets and canals. I suspect a few people miss the Ponte d’Accademia as it’s a little out of the way unless you go down the Grand Canal.

      Liked by 1 person

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