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Rialto bridge and its fascinating history

rialto-bridge

Rialto bridge was the first one built on the Grand Canal and it is the most famous bridge of the city. Why?

It all began with the foundation of Venice. The first settlements took place in this very area that was called Rivoalto, literally high land. With the development of the city, Rivoalto became the headquarter of the political and commercial life. The area was full of markets, storehouses, shops of jewels, precious fabrics, spices and so on. At that time people used a boat, called “traghetto”, to cross the Grand Canal. They had to pay a toll for this service; they built the first bridge in this location in 1180 and it was called the “toll bridge” because people still had to pay in order to cross it.

The bridge was made with boats that were connected together with some wooden tables and in the middle it was a drawbridge, in order to allow big boats to pass underneath it. They completely rebuilt it in 1255, with wood, piles as foundations, the drawbridge in the middle and with shops on both sides. People started calling it the Rialto bridge, from the contraction of the area’s name Rivoalto.

Tiepolo’s conspirancy

This bridge will remain unaltered until 1310, this year sadly became famous because of the conspiracy of Bajamonte Tiepolo: some Venetian aristocrats organized it as they wanted to rebel against the Doge.

Their plan was to attack the Doge’s palace (headquarter of the government) and to kill the Doge but it failed: the army of the Doge discovered the conspirators and forced them to retire. They crossed Rialto bridge during their escape and, in order to stop the army that was after them, they set the wooden bridge on fire. The army caught all the members of the conspiracy and exiled them from Venice; they condemned the leaders to death and repaired the Rialto bridge.

The bridge was then able to survive until 1444 when Venice hosted the wedding of the marquis of Ferrara; they set a beautiful parade of boats on the Grand Canal and everybody wanted to see the bride. A lot of people gathered on the bridge to see the parade… so many that the bridge collapsed! Luckily there were no victims, except for the bridge

Rialto-Bridge-sunset-san-marco-sestiere

Antonio da Ponte

They rebuilt the bridge with wood in 1450 but still, it wasn’t so stable, so the Republic of Venice finally thought: why don’t we built a bridge made of stone, that maybe will be stronger than wood?

They announced a contest to choose the architect that would have been in charge of the entire project. There were different participants, a lot of them were great names of Italian architecture such as Palladio, Michelangelo and Sansovino.

The winner was Antonio da Ponte (it’s ironic that its surname actually means bridge in Italian) who proposed the best solution to all the requests of the Republic. They completed the bridge in 1591, they made it with Istrian stone and based it on 12000 wooden poles; the arch measures 28 meters and there are 24 shops (12 per side).

Restoration

Rialto bridge is divided in three lanes: the central lane is 10 meters wide and with bigger steps; the two lanes on the sides are 3 meters wide. Here the steps are lower and smaller in order to facilitate the transit of men with carts that transport and deliver goods all over Venice. To built this bridge the Republic of Venice spent 250,000 ducats. That means 10 times the price that they paid for the previous wooden bridge.

Today you can admire the bridge in all its magnificence because they recently restored it. It is also one of the most photographed sites of Venice and a must-see for all visitors. Come and discover more curiosities and legends about Rialto bridge and the area nearby during one of our tours! We have plenty of stories to share with you!

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Redentore Festival

redeemer's-festival

Redentore Festival

The church of Redentore is one of the most outstanding buildings that define the skyline of Giudecca island. Yes, in Venice we do not have skyscrapers, we have churches and bell towers that define our landscape! As regards the above mentioned church, the story of its foundation is related to one of the plague epidemics that affected Venice over the centuries. We were in 1575, the plague hit the city, in two years there were almost 50,000 victims, if you think that at that time the population of Venice consisted of 150,000 people, this means that one third of the city was killed by the plague. There was no treatment to the disease, people were so desperate that they started thinking that the plague was a punishment sent from God in order to redeem them from their sins. In 1576 the Senate made a vow: they would have financed the building of a church in exchange of God’s help.

Giudecca canal

In 1577 the works started, the architect in charge of the project was Andrea Palladio, an important name, today he is considered one of the most influential individuals in the history of architecture. They positioned the first stone in May and soon the miracle happened: the plague stopped on the 20th of July 1577! It was a huge relief for the city, a procession was organized to celebrate this event. It was lead by the Doge and the members of the Senate who were then followed by nobles, members of the clergy and Venetian citizens. They had to reach Giudecca island and there was only one obstacle: the island is separated from Venice by the homonymous canal. The solution was simple: they created a temporary bridge made up of wooden boats, connected together by some ropes. The procession reached the church and people went inside in order to pray and thank God who stopped the plague. The procession became a ritual that the Venetians repeated yearly, this tradition has survived up to the present days. Every year, on the third weekend of July, a temporary bridge is built on the Giudecca Canal. Today they no longer use wooden boats, the bridge consists of a metal structure that can easily be transported and assembled. It is a unique experience to cross it: the view is astonishing and it is very odd to walk and cross the canal, usually you must use the boat to reach the other side!

Redeemer festival

The Redentore festival is very popular among Venetians, the celebrations start on the Saturday: in the evening the Giudecca Canal is closed to public transport, you can only go there by private boat and then you must stop there for a few hours until traffic is opened again. Why? Well, there is a unique show on that night! All boats are decorated with balloons, flowers and candles, people have dinner on the boats or they organize long tables all along the canal side on Giudecca island.

It’s a chance to party together, to celebrate the sense of community that is still surviving in Venice. During Redentore night friends, neighbours and relatives organize their dinner together: the most typical food consists of bigoli with onion and anchovies, sweet and sour sardines, stuffed duck, escargots and the most typical summer fruit: watermelon! Wine is another protagonist of the night, together with music and celebrations.

giudecca-canal

Redentore celebrations

We have to say that today Redentore is a festival both religious and spectacular: on the Saturday night at 11Pm the fireworks start, it’s a really beautiful show. Fireworks continue for almost one hour, you can admire them in the sky and you can also see their reflection on the water, it’s a colorful show that makes Venice even more magical. The Giudecca canal on that night is full of boats where people are celebrating all night long, the canal sides are crowded with Venetians and tourists that gather there hours in advance to find the best spots to see the fireworks. The luckiest people are those who own a balcony or a terrace on the rooftop, they have a unique and privileged view!

Redentore 2020

After the Covid-19 epidemic Redentore, like other local festivals, risked to be canceled. It was a surprise for the Venetians when the mayor announced that the festival is confirmed on the18th and 19th of July! Of course, they will take all measures and precautions necessary to protect everybody’s health, there will be restrictions on the number of people who can access the canal side to see the fireworks and boats will have to reserve their spot on the Giudecca Canal, social distancing and masks will be mandatory. It will be a strange festival, but at the same time it will be one of the first chances for Venice to go back to local traditions and events! After the lockdown we all need some fireworks!
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Best food in Venice

.sweet-and-sour-sardines-food-venice

A JOURNEY AT THE DISCOVERY OF THE BEST FOOD IN VENICE

“The only way to understand a city is to eat there” if there was a saying to define our beautiful Italy it would certainly be this. Our territory is in fact small in size but it is rich in different climates and landscapes. This has given rise to a varied and complex cuisine over the centuries. Food in Venice is one of the best examples of it.

They often identify Italy as the home of pizza and pasta, of course both perfectly summarize the spirit and the essence of italianness. However, it would be a mistake to believe that these two delicious dishes are the mirror of the traditions of each italian region. If Emilia Romagna is famous for its sliced salami and its sublime Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, if Tuscany is the land of Chianina meat and Chianti wine, if Calabria is known for its spicy chillies and Sicily is the mother of Arancini (little fried rise balls with ragù sauce inside) and blood oranges, Veneto is home to radicchio, rice and Prosecco wine.

As you can see in a few lines and with a few examples we have already highlighted so many differences. Above I mentioned Veneto, the region which is lucky enough to have Venice as its capital. Moving now from a regional plan to a more specific one, that we could define Venice-centric, what are the culinary wonders that this splendid city give us?

Typical food in Venice

Talking about food in Venice means making a leap into its old history. I always like to define the city as the most oriental that you can find in the western part of the world. This link with the East is in fact visible on every stone and on every mosaic of what they once called the Serenissima. The merchant traffic, the ships that sailed the seas of the known world, the waves of foreign merchants who stayed in the famous Fondaci (literally houses with wearhouses) to take care of their business, have in fact allowed the city to become a mix of different cultures and traditions.

This link between different cultures has inevitably manifested itself also in the venetian cuisine. Thanks to the numerous influences it has undergone, Venetian food could be defined as one of the most varied in the world. But let’s not waste time chatting, on the contrary let’s go straight to the list of some of the most typical food in Venice. In other words, let’s analyse those delicacies that you absolutely cannot think of not tasting once you set foot in the lagoon.

Baccalà mantecato (creamed codfish)

It is probably the symbol of the city. There is no bacaro, restaurant or tavern that has not placed it on its menu. Its presence on the venetian tables is due to Captain Pietro Querini. In the 15th century, after a shipwreck he ended up staying for a few weeks in the Lofoten Islands, in Northern Europe.
There, he got to know the tradition of stockfish, codfish dried in the air and in the sun. On his return to the Serenissima, he made sure to take some samples with him. From that moment cod went straight into the culinary tradition of Venice. The recipe requires the boiling of the fish with bay leaves and lemon for about twenty minutes. After you cook it, cream the cod with oil in a thin stream, salt and pepper.
The result is a soft and velvety cream perfect on bread croutons or on a slice of grilled polenta. A real treat!

venetian-style-liver-food-venice

Sarde in Saor (Sweet and Sour Sardines)

Saor, which in venetian dialect means “sapore” so taste in english, consists of a sweet and sour preparation based on onions, vinegar, pine nuts and raisins. This delicious dish has ancient origins.
In fact, the presence of vinegar allows food to be kept for many days. Considering the lack of refrigerators, the saor was therefore the perfect method to consume even that fish (not only sardines) which was not really fresh. The recipe requires the frying of sardines and on the side the preparation of the saor. In a pan, brown the onions (a lot of them) with a drizzle of oil. Once dried, add sugar to caramelize and deglaze the whole thing with vinegar (the more vinegar you add the more intense the saor will be).
Lastly, fire off, put in pine nuts and raisins. Finally proceed with the preparation of the dish. Alternate a layer of saor with one of fried sardines, as if it was a lasagna, until the ingredients are used up. It is better to prepare saor a couple of days in advace so the fish absorbes all the flavors and it becomes a real treat!

Polenta e Schie (Polenta with little shellfish)

Polenta in Veneto is really eaten in every possible way, but if served with schie it becomes even tastier. First of all, what are the schie? They are very small shrimp typical of the venetian lagoon. Despite their small size, their taste is really intense. You can taste them fried but the version you’re going to prefer is the boiled one. In fact, if boiled and seasoned with a drizzle of oil, pepper and parsley and served with hot and soft polenta, they will simply be somptuous.

Risotto al nero di seppia (Squid ink Risotto)

Here two great venetian products are combined: rice and squid ink. Risotto is certainly a widespread first course in all of the northern regions of Italy. Whether you prefer it soupy or dry, it is a truly versatile dish that can be prepared with the most varied ingredients: vegetables, meat and of course in Venice with fish. If you love the strong and at the same time delicate taste of squid, you definitely have to try their ink. The colour might seem uninviting for a dish but the taste will amaze you!

Pasta alla Busara

If you love shellfish, especially shrimp, you should definitely try the pasta, usually spaghetti, alla Busara. Its origins probably date back to after the war and could be sought in Istria (present day Croatia). Today the dish is perfectly framed in the tradition of the city. The name busara has multiple meanings. Some claim it was an earthenware pot they used on board ships. Others say it means “lie” because of the presence of tomato sauce which somehow covered the taste of shrimp. Today one thing is certain, the shrimp in the busara sauce are definitely the protagonists and their taste gives the tomato a unique flavour.

frittelle-carnival-food-venice

Bigoli in Salsa (Bigoli in sauce)

It is a dish with very poor origins. Bigoli in sauce were considered a lean option. They would consume them during those days when the precepts of religion imposed abstinence from certain food. The ingredients to make the sauce are actually poor: onions and anchovies. Don’t be fooled though, the taste on the contrary is an explosion of rich flavors.
The realization of the recipe is really simple. For the sauce, brown the onion with a generous dose of oil and add the anchovies. While cooking, these will flake off and create a mouth-watering sauce. Boil the bigoli, a type of long pasta similar to spaghetti but much thicker, drain them and finally whip them with the sauce.

Fegato alla Veneziana (Venetian style Liver)

Don’t worry, if you don’t like fish, here’s a traditional venetian meat dish: liver…venetian style of course. Why is it defined like this? Because inside the dish there is an ingredient which is very dear to the city: onions. You simply have to cut the liver, usually from veal but also from pork, into strips and cook it in a pan with oil, butter and onions. A sprinkle of vinegar is also inevitable! It is excellent to dampen the strong taste of the meat and the sweet but intense taste of the onions.

Buranelli (Burano cookies)

You don’t want to live Venice without having tried some typical sweets, do you? In addition to being delicious, the Buranelli are also the perfect souvenir for friends anf family. These cookies are typical of the island of Burano. Is is one of the three main island of the venetian lagoon together with Murano and Torcello. The ingredients are among the most classic for sweet preparations: flour, eggs, sugar, butter and vanilla flavouring. The recipe is very simple. Just assemle everything and create donut-shaped cookies. Bake them for about twenty minutes in the oven and you’re done. Try them, they are amazing!

Frittelle (fried donuts)

If you are in Venice during the Carnival period, you absolutely have to stop in one of the many historic pastry shops and taste the famous frittelle (in Venetian dialect fritole). Unfortunately, or fortunately for those who want to keep in shape, you can only enjoy them in those weeks.

Their origins are very ancient, they probably date back to the 14th century. It is very easy to make them: you just have to put together eggs, butter, milk , flour, yeast, sugar and flavourings. Then fry the batter “spoon by spoon” in boiling oil and then stuff it.

The classic venetian frittella actually has no filling but only raisin which you put directly in the row dough. The sweet tooth can taste the many variations with chocolate filling, classic cream, pistacchio cream  and a bunch of other flavors. The whole city, at Carnival, smells like frittelle… it is the scent of joy!

Baicoli

Baicoli are typical cookies of the venetian tradition. They have ancient origins and they say the sailors consumed them during their long periods of absence from home. The dough is very simple.You make it with water, flour, yeast, butter, sugar amd egg whites.The consistency of these sweets is very different from the above mentioned Buranelli. If those are buttery and crumbly, the Baicoli are “hard” and crunchy. They are perfect together with mascarpone cream, eggnog or an excellent sweet wine.

Venetian cuisine

We could mention many other dishes that make Venetian cuisine a real Italian gem, but surely the above mentioned onces are already enough to let you have a real deep dive in the most authentic Venetian essence.

Travelling doen’t just mean moving from one place to another. Travelling means opening your mind and heart to new experiences, it means living different cultures and traditions and knowing stories of exciting characters. But there is more, travelling also means experiencing the local cuisine because there is no monument nor museum that can convey the soul of a country, or a city, or a people as perfectly as the dishes that its inhabitants traditionally consume do.

Food is history, it is life, it is culture, it is art and beauty, it is sharing and joy so what would Venice be without its baccalà mantecato or its frittelle?

What more can I say? Fasten your seat belts, set the navigator towards Venice and…enjoy your meal!

If you want to discover more about food in Venice and where to taste it, read our article about the 10 best Venetian Bacari!

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The best 10 churches in Venice

saint-mark-basilica

The best 10 churches in Venice

There are 137 churches in Venice, they can be considered as museums of the city because they contain works of the greatest artist, were designed by the main architects, reflect all the different architectural styles that affected buildings in Venice over the centuries.

churches you must see in Venice

Some of them have mysterious legends, myths about their foundation, secrets hidden inside their paintings and statues…come and discover them during our tours! In the meantime, here’s our top 10 churches that you can see in Venice:

Saint Mark's basilica

This is the most famous church of the city. The construction started in 828 but the works to add magnificence to this church will last a few centuries more. The Basilica today reflects different styles: Romanesque, Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance; it’s a treasure chest of all the most important facts and victories of Venice. The marbles, the gold imported from the East, all the statues and columns brought back as spoils of war, they all contributed to create the gorgeous Basilica that became one of the symbols of the city. Visit the inside, with its 4,000 square meters of mosaics, it will be an astonishing experience! You will learn more about the church during our paid tour of Saint Mark Square. Entrance: FREE. Inside specific sites a ticket is required: Saint Mark’s Treasure, Golden Pall, Museum on the first floor.

Basilica of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari

Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari: or simply Basilica dei Frari. Frari in Venetian dialect means friars; the church in fact was built by Franciscan Friars in 1250. That’s why from the outside the style looks pretty simple: Italian Gothic style with red bricks and few decorations, to respect the rules of the Franciscan order, based on poverty and simplicity. But on the inside this church is an authentic jewel: it contains artworks of Titian (Pesaro Madonna and Assumption of the Virgin), Giovanni Bellini, Bartolomeo Vivarini and Donatello. Titian is buried here, his grave is in front of the funeral monument of another great artist: Antonio Canova. Entrance: 3 €
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Santa Maria della Salute

Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, also known as the Salute: the most beloved by Venetians. This Basilica was built as a vow after the plague that struck Venice in 1630. Designed by the architect Baldassare Longhena, it was completed in 1687, today with its beautiful Baroque style it dominates the final part of the Gran Canal. You will learn more about the church during our free tour in the Southern part of Venice. Entrance: FREE.

Mary of Miracles Church

Chiesa dei Miracoli: a hidden treasure in the middle of Venetian alleys. This church was built between 1481 and 1489 to host a painting of the Virgin Mary that was considered responsible of some miracles, it’s a masterpiece of Renaissance style, decorated with precious marbles and stones. Today it’s the favorite church for weddings: all brides want to get married inside this church because of the gorgeous pictures they can take there… but the waiting list is very long, you need to book the church at least two years in advance! You will learn more about the church during our free tour in the Northern part of Venice. Entrance: 3€

the Jesuits

Chiesa di Santa Maria Assunta or dei Gesuiti: located in Cannaregio district, this church was built by the religious order of the Gesuits during the 18th century. The inside is really astonishing, ceiling and paving are decorated with baroque style with green and white marbles, the altar is the masterpiece of the church. Inside there are paintings of Titian, Tintoretto and Palma il Giovane. A lot of visitors miss this church because of its location. You will learn more about the church during our free tour in the Northern part of Venice. Entrance: 1€

San Zanipolo

Basilica dei Santi Giovanni e Paolo: the biggest church in Venice, this church is also called “the Venetian Pantheon” because inside there are the graves of some heroes of the Republic of Venice: soldiers and commanders, Doges and other important members of Venice society. If you are interested in the history of the city and want to know more about it, this is a good place to start! The campo in front of the church is one of the most beautiful in Venice! Entrance: 3 €

san-simeone-piccolo

Madonna dell'orto

Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto: another jewel of Cannaregio district, built during the 14th century and originally dedicated to Saint Cristopher. There is a legend that explains why the name of the church was then changed into “Madonna dell’Orto”, literally “Virgin of the garden”, discover it during our tours! This church contains a lot of paintings made by the great painter Tintoretto who lived nearby and this was his favorite church in Venice. His grave is inside the church, close to the main altar. Entrance: 3€

San Pantalon

Chiesa di San Pantalon: this church is very simple from the outside, the facade is still incomplete, but on the inside there is a surprise: it contains the biggest canvas in the world. A huge ceiling painting represents the history of the martyrdom of Saint Pantalon, made by Giovanni Antonio Fumiani who painted it from 1680 to 1704. Entrance: FREE

Santa Maria del Giglio

Chiesa di Santa Maria del Giglio: first built in the 10th century and then rebuilt in the 17th century, it was financed by the noble Antonio Barbaro, he is represented together with his brothers on the facade of the church. There you can also see six columns, their bases are decorated with the maps of the six cities where Antonio worked during his life. Inside the church there is only painting in Venice made by the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens. Entrance: 3€

San Simeone Piccolo

Chiesa di San Simeone Piccolo: with its green dome, this church will be the first thing that you see when you arrive in Venice from either the bus or the train station. The church is very simple, but we recommend that you ask the custodian to visit the crypt. The crypt of this church is a unique example in Venice, with a small candle you can walk around the small tunnels and see the old frescoes on the walls…an experience that you won’t forget! Entrance: FREE, to visit the crypt the entrance will cost 3€.

If you are interested in visiting many churches, you can buy the Chorus pass: it’s a ticket that will give you access to 18 churches. The pass costs 12€ for adults (8€ for students) and you can buy it inside the churches, at the tourist information offices or online.