Venice is often considered to be one of the most romantic cities in the world. Design-wise, it’s also one of the most complex. Comprised of 117 islands and being situated close to sea level puts it in a prime flood zone. This is why Venice has such a well-developed system of canals – 177 to be exact. In fact, some of these canals were used as far back as 400 AD, as an easy way to transport goods.
This system of canals and waterways also happens to be a great way to explore the city from a different vantage point. While you can use the local water buses or water taxis to get around, my husband and I chose the most romantic, (and touristy) – the gondola.
Becoming a Gondolier
Becoming a gondolier is no easy task. If you’re not lucky enough to be born into the trade, you need to find a gondolier who’s willing to mentor you. You also have to be a member of the Gondoliers Guild, and complete 400 hours of training. Then there’s the test, which includes navigation, physical strength, foreign language skills, and knowledge of local history and sites. And competition is tough – the guild only issues 425 licenses.
Transportation Options on the Canals
Gondolas aren’t your only option for navigating the canals in Venice. This is what most of the water taxis look like:
A water bus (or vaporetti) is on the left, and of course, the gondola is in the center. Of the three, I think we made the right choice for our journey.
Of course, you can’t have this many canals without having a way across them that doesn’t require getting your feet wet. Venice has approximately 390+ bridges criss-crossing the canals:
Churches of Note Along the Canals
The Grand Canal is one of the largest and most heavily used canals in Venice. The domed church in the background is the Santa Maria della Salute, or Saint Mary of Health church. It has an interesting history in itself.
In 1630 a plague swept through Venice, killing nearly one-third of the population in just one short year. At this period in time, so-called “plague churches” were sometimes built as a way of calling for protection from a patron saint. In this case, instead of a patron saint, the Virgin Mary was considered to be the protector of the Republic. That’s why this church was dedicated to her.
Construction began in 1631, but it wasn’t completed until 1687. The octagonal building follows the baroque style, and sits on a platform of 1,000,000 wooden piles!
The church below is the Santa Maria del Rosario, or St. Mary of the Rosary. Construction on this Dominican church began in 1725. It’s often referred to as I Gesuati due to the religious order, the Jesuates (not to be confused with the Jesuits, a different religious order) who founded the original church on this site. Eventually they outgrew the small church and proceeded to have this larger church built.
The San Giorgio Maggiore Benedictine church was built in the 16th Century. The original bell tower was built in 1467, but collapsed in 1774. It was rebuilt in 1794.
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum
Along the Grand Canal also sits the Peggy Guggenheim Museum. The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was Peggy Guggenheim’s home for three decades. Now, this 18th Century palace is a modern art museum.
I loved this glass necklace piece!
It’s amazing to see the details painted on the buildings facing the canals. Just look at these brightly colored murals. I imagine they require frequent touch-ups, with so much exposure to moisture:
Of course, the great thing about gondolas is that they’re small enough to slide down the narrow, winding side canals, too.
This is where the beauty of the city really shines.
It was also around this time that we approached a gondola whose gondolier was serenading his passengers. Our gondolier slowed down, and eventually our gondolas passed each other. Once we were fully out of earshot, our gondolier said, “there, you’ve just been serenaded for free!” We had no idea this was an option, but it’s worth requesting if you want the full experience!
Although a gondola tour can be on the pricey side, (see current rates here) it’s a unique way to see Venice that most other cities in the world don’t offer. So what if it’s a bit touristy. Some of the most memorable experiences are!