One is pushed in Venice, pushed to interact, converse and engage with one another.

Travel Period: July 2012
Length of stay: 7 Days

On Friday, 12th May 1797, The Serene Republic of Venice voted itself out of existence. Having existed for over a millennium, it was a momentous death for Europe. The greatest commercial empire of the world had run it’s course and Napoleon’s troops now overran the petite streets of the city in the Venetian Lagoon.

A year after its demise, in a castle in Dux, Bohemia, Venice’s most renowned resident, Giacomo Casanova, aged 73, died. Having been exiled thrice from his so called La Serenissima; Giacomo Casanova had always pined for his divine homeland. But age and sickness prevented him from returning, and the Venice he loved and adored trickled away from him.

Casanova’s adoration for Venice is not singular. It’s a city loved by many, and travelers from all over the world descend upon the tiny 118 islands that comprise Venice with eagerness. Regardless of time, or what it stands for today, Venice is still one of the most captivating cities in the world.

Unlike its heyday, Venice casts a decayed shadow of its former self nowadays. You realise instantly that age had not been kind to the urban fabric. The architecture, moldy and weatherworn, has perished significantly, and the proclaimed pleasure capital with its carnivals and parades now only remains in hand-crafted masks and cloaks you purchase from the myriad of shops on the streets that sell them.

Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.

Truman Capote

Instead, what you actually find is a swarm of tourists. That many in fact, that’s its hard to distinguish who is a resident and who is a traveler, the dividing line so evidently blurred, and yet visible for they roam frequently around the attractions in San Marco, the main square.

What Venice holds as truly individual is its status as the only pedestrian city in the world. It’s the only city where your feet are truly the only means of getting to and fro. They rule and dictate as you walk through its narrow streets and bridges that connect the islands and merge them as one.

I was told at the airport that we came at a good time. Supposedly summer in Venice is a crowd magnet. Thousands of people arrive, hoping to catch the aura of its romance, filling it to such an extent that it comes to possess more tourists than residents, not to mention the overwhelming stench of the channels. Now that it was autumn, while relatively still busy, the city was manageable and less congested.

Some areas such as San Marco were, of course, still brimming with tourists taking photos of the pigeons, but on the whole it wasn’t unappealing, and as there are a myriad of streets and alleyways in Venice including a total of 406 bridges, one can easily run away from displeasing crowds.

When I arrive in a foreign city, I immediately try and understand its geography. I have to discern it’s urban spread and understand how to maneuver in it. Venice however, dumbfounded me. Abundant streets, alleyways and central squares surrounded me. Signs for districts and main attractions were nowhere to be seen and finding the café our hotel receptionist recommended proved too difficult. Venice was a maze in my eyes, a truly complex network, intricate and too multipart. Ashamedly, I had to admit I was lost.

Over the next couple of days, I aided my walks with the assistance of Google Maps. Even with this aid however, the complexity still surprised me. Only after I recognised a few of the monuments near our hotel, did I finally let go, immersing myself wholeheartedly in aimless exploration.

This, I had come to know is the best way to appreciate what Venice is. Getting lost in the architecture and urban design is truly the way to immerse your foreign presence in it. Don’t think, walk became the mantra that guided each step, and only then did I see the beauty that so many cherish; Venice is romantic, a haven of paths that incite excitement and mystery.

If a single word could be attributed to cities, intimacy would describe Venice. It’s the feeling it protrudes. You are captured in architecture, wedged between buildings and channels. The footbridges, short and arched bring you only more contained spaces. There is no width in Venice, narrowness and constriction defines it. You are swallowed in by the magnitude of the buildings and pressed up close to the centuries old walls and facades.

And this closeness to architecture is what creates its intimacy. It’s up close and personal. Even though it can be claustrophobic at times for there are paths in Venice so narrow, one has to slowly walk through them side on, but even this oozes the beauty of cozy atmospheres, as your hands glide over the eroded exteriors and you see the shadows cast in corners in front of you.

The Republic of Venice (traditionally known as the Most Serene Republic of Venice) existed from the late 7th century AD to 1797.

The intimate architecture also affects the social basics of people; the tightly built environment brings the inhabitants closer together, forcing interaction. One is pushed in Venice, pushed to interact, converse and engage with one another.

Only when you reach the edge of a borough, like San Marco, do you finally sense you are in a bigger world. You breathe only then. For at all other times, you are completely muscled in by the charming architecture.

The many squares found in the boroughs (Venice is divided into six comprising Cannaregio, Castello, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce and San Marco) also provide spatial relief. It is within these that your eyes can retract and see depth, space and the entirety of buildings. Rather popular sections of the city, they tend to gather melancholy characters, those that spend hours sitting on the benches watching crowds surface in and around the churches and market stalls.

The charm of Venice is relatively quiet in the evenings, but it’s a time when its romantic sights are most present. Couples and wanderers stroll, with the murmur of interaction ringing in the night. People saunter, their feet happily taking each step with confidence and when they reach a bridge, they slow down and halt and from there they see sidelights illuminate the channel, the water flickers with sparks, and seeing a figure walk past a lamppost lifts the magic of Venice’s presence. It is on bridges that you can see the romance Venice stands for; when passionate lovers cross it, their rhythmic footsteps echoing and the architecture illuminated in the background, the channel curving around the corner. It’s a sight that bestows on your memory forever.

Adventurer and Author Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was born in Venice in 1725 when the city thrived as the pleasure capital of Europe.

But I was somewhat surprised to sense so much silence after only 9 o’clock. The streets were deserted and the sound of footsteps echoed loudly. You could feel your presence in this dense stillness, and if you are accustomed to wearing healed shoes, the ‘tock tock’ sound becomes so audible you feel like you are waking the whole neighborhood.

Venice’s glory doesn’t just lie in the past. I discovered this even when the stench of the channels was unbearable, wafting constantly below my nose. The decayed architecture, so grinded down by age is really the beauty of our current Venice. It may no longer be the commercial capital of the world, but our present possesses a Venice that is full of grace, wisdom and poise. A city that can teach us the formality of old habits. Venice can be considered our teacher. A voice from the past that sings of insight and glory, a sacred city that beholds the most sacred of architectural missions, social intimacy.


Ennis Cehic