The Magnificent Grand Canal of Venice
Many people readily associate Italy’s city of Venice with love and romance, picturing a gondola slowly making its way along the city’s canals while the couple being ferried gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes. There is little doubt that the canals of Venice are a major attraction of this picturesque city and you certainly don't have to be part of a couple to enjoy exploring the canals. The Grand Canal winds its way through the city in an “S” shape, with a network of smaller canals meeting up with it at various points. In the past the canals were the life-blood of the city and still serve as a means of getting around, with water buses and water taxis providing public transport. The majority of visitors to Venice prefer using the gondolas which allow them to see some of the many attractions of Venice in a leisurely fashion.
It is believed that the Grand Canal follows the route carved out by an ancient river as it flowed from Saint Mark Basin into the lagoon near the Santa Lucia railway station – a distance of 3,800 meters. During the rule of the Roman Empire, later followed by the Byzantine Empire, the lagoon of Venice became strategically important, and early in the 9th century the chief magistrate of the city, known as the Doge of Venice, set up residence there. At that time the city consisted of small islands connected by wooden bridges, but with the shift of authority to this area and the development of trade, buildings soon sprang up. In the 13th century wealthy families constructed elaborately decorated houses, known as “fondaco” houses, many of which can still be seen today along the Grand Canal.
As time went by, different styles of architecture made an impression on Venice, including the Venetian-Byzantine style, Venetian Gothic, Renaissance, Venetian Baroque and Neoclassical. Sadly, following the fall of the Republic in 1797, many historical palaces were pulled down. Quite a number of these were restored to their former glory after the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The most important of these historically significant buildings are publicly owned, housing museums and other cultural institutions.
Each year on the first Sunday of September, thousands of spectators line the Grand Canal to watch the “Regata Storica” (Historical Regatta). Festivities begin with a “Corteo Storico” (Historical Procession) that sees gondoliers dressed in costume steer their 16th century style boats behind the Bucentaur, a replica of the state galley of the Doge of Venice. After this regal procession, Venetian boats compete with one another, while crowds cheer on their favorites from the sidelines. This festive occasion is certainly a highlight on the social calendar of Venice and not to be missed by visitors to this charming Italian city.