To experience is to appreciate, to understand is to remember.
If you want to understand Venice, you need to do more than just visit its main, marvellous, monuments: St. Mark’s square – with St. Mark’s cathedral and the Doge’s palace – and the Rialto market with its bridge; that is to say the political and the commercial centres of the ancient maritime republic. To understand it, you have to look at the lagoon and enter its streets and canals.
Indeed, not only is it pleasant to get lost in its picturesque urban spaces, but it’s through them that you can understand the connection between Venice and the water, the reasons behind its birth, the way in which the city was built throughout its long history and the life which still goes on today.
I was born in Padua, 25 miles away from Venice, into a family of architects, and I have been living in the Venetian historical centre for many years with my family.
My culture is deeply Venetian because of my mother, who was born in Dalmatia — formerly part of the Venetian empire — and grew up in Venice. But I also have Roman roots, through my father. My parents’ origins and profession and my subsequent education gave me the best background to understand the classical and medieval basis of Italian and Venetian building culture.
I took my bachelor’s degree in architecture in Venice, and also my PhD.
My favourite subjects were Architectural history and the shape of interior spaces; thus both my final thesis and most of my publications have been focused on the evolution of interior spaces throughout history.
Therefore my knowledge of architecture allows me to have a unique view of the buildings, not only recognizing their different styles but also understanding their history and the reason behind their different spaces. I use the same approach with every work of art, trying to clarify both the context and the reason that allowed a specific painting, sculpture, or any other artefact, to be created in that time and place.
I have been teaching for about twenty years in various Italian universities — Venice, Trieste and Ferrara — and I have been called to give lectures and conferences in various foreign universities such as Oxford, Madrid and Valencia. I still lecture for foreign students in summer courses at the Venetian university Ca’ Foscari.
I think that my origins, my knowledge and my long experience in teaching have been extremely important in maintaining and keeping alive the interest of those listeners who — following my tours — wish to understand the reasons, the evolution and the life of a city as singular as it is amazing.
An interesting stroll to penetrate the deepest explanations of Venice could begin in St. Mark’s square in front of the lagoon, where the commercial and the military advantages of a city built in the middle of the largest lagoon in the Mediterranean sea are made clear. But, after a while, you should focus your attention on the inner canals to understand their relation with the buildings. In particular the palace façades facing the water explain their use, the life of their inhabitants and of all the Venetians.
A different way to know Venice is through the peculiarity and the evolution of the architectural styles of its buildings. Among them the Byzantine, when the city was still the distant colony of a great empire; the Gothic, when Venice was at the height of its commercial wealth; the Renaissance, when its key-points – St. Mark’s square and Rialto Market – were renovated; the Baroque, whose decorations hid rising economic and military difficulties.
There are many more different ways to explain Venice, but all of them should have in common the attempt to understand how it was possible that a city, borne on the water and built on islands in mud, was for centuries one of the richest and best ruled in the world.