The Venice syndrome

Venice, tourist attraction or functioning city?

Having only spent two days or so in Venice we obviously didn’t get a chance to get a real feel for the place. As a map fan and public transport nerd I was happy to note that the island of Venice really is the shape of a fish, reached from the mainland via the Ponte della Libertà, a 3.6km bridge built in 1933. The only other bridge over the lagoon is the Austrian railway bridge built in 1846.

Other than the Fish of the other islands in the lagoon we only managed a trip to the Lido at sunset via vaporetto. I’m rather fascinated by the Lido, a seven mile long sandbar completely unlike its Tooting Bec descendent. Not just a summer resort, this Lido has a population of 20,000. As well as the scenic route down the Canal Grande there are car ferries from Tronchetto and quicker vaps along the Giudecca and Canneregio Canals.

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the main square in Mestre

We stayed on the mainland, a 30 minute bus ride to the Piazzale Roma. If it weren’t the antipasto for Venice proper Mestre would be worth a visit for its own sake – we stayed by the clock tower, and spent our first evening joining the Italians in a pre-pizza passeggiata. Much is made of Jan Gehl’s comment that Danes became Italians once Strøget was pedestrianised, but I’m not really buying it, although with artificial islands and cruise ships also dominating, Copenhagen is in with a shout as Venice of the north.

Geoff Dyer in Jeff in Venice, death in Varanesi:

Every day, for hundreds of years, Venice had woken up and put on this guise of being a real place even though everyone knew it existed only for tourists.

With Tronchetto the last of the islands to be created (in the 1960s as a car park), there are very few modern traces in Venice proper. Let’s explore two.

The Ponte della Costituzione, the fourth bridge over the Canal Grande creating a direct link between the Piazzale Roma and Venezia Santa Lucia railway station, opened in 2008 to widespread protest. While it would look at home in Copenhagen, here its minimalist style sits awkwardly. Furthermore, its rise and fall is fairly steep, with irregularly spaced steps and slippery-when-wet see through panels causing further visual disorientation. The addition of a cable car to improve accessibility has barely helped matters.

The station, one of the few modernist buildings in Venice, is undergoing a renovation programme which began in 2009 and doesn’t look like ending any time soon.

Moving on, the most jaw dropping sight in Venice may well be that of cruise ships looming over the horizon at regular intervals as they sail from the port up the Guidecca Canal to appear round the point at Accademia, then breaking free to round the Lido and head back into the Adriatic. While in Copenhagen you can pretty much avoid the 315 cruise ship calls, here there’s no escape, although the ships can look quite picturesque as they sail into the sunset.

See you in Trieste!

Note: The Venice Syndrome is a 2012 documentary – see the trailer.

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