Venice in a day? Not an easy endeavour but let’s try and make it work. Quickly ticking what all absolutely must be crossed off the bucket list in order – The Accademia Gallery, cruising the Grand Canal in a gondola, making your way to Rialto Bridge, cut southeast to St. Mark’s Basilica, pop in to Doge’s Palace next door and then take in the sunset from the Bridge of Sighs – and definitely do not visit on a Monday; things will be closed.
To have cover all these in good time, it’s imperative to begin as early as possible; be at the Accademia Galleries in Campo della Carità at Street Number 1050, by 08:10. The gallery will open in five minutes, and at this time will be relatively tourist free. The main attraction here is the famed drawing by Leonardo da Vinci – the Vitruvian Man. That’s said, the gallery is choc-full of treasures from other Italian masters, with their drawings and paintings exhibited chronologically. Two hours ought to be enough to cover this.
Outside, with the day getting warmer, a gondola ride on the Grand Canal is on the cards. It’s advised to refrain from arguing about the price even though it’s quite expensive; a discounted price will usually lead to a shortened ride time and fewer attractions. The ride will cruise over to the Rialto Bridge. Various bridges have occupied the place over the past thousand years; they used to be the only way to cross the Grand Canal on foot. Having stopped there, it’s a good idea to check out the Rialto Markets for souvenirs or even food. The bridge itself is one of Venice’s most photographed sites; it’s highly ornate, and has a high arch to let galley ships pass underneath. Once teeming with merchants, the bridge is now almost exclusively a tourist attraction.
A short walk, less than ten minutes, leads to St. Marks Basilica. Built to house the relics of St. Mark, the basilica was the doge’s own prayer chapel and closed to the public for most of it’s existence. Indeed, the building as it is seen today was built in 1063, a magnificent example of Byzantine architectural and engineering ability. The basilica wasn’t opened up to the public until 1807, at which point it began to serve as the city’s cathedral.
Exterior items worth checking out include the mosaics on the arched portals, the Winged Lion, the Greek horses and the Four Tetrarchs. While spend a long while just photographing the building’s beautifully ornate exterior might be tempting (and yes, it’s possible to get caught up in doing nothing but that), the inside is even more magnificent. Laid out in the Greek cross design, the church’s arms all have a central nave and a side aisle. 8000 square metres of gilded mosaics covering the Old and the New Testament, the gem crusted Golden Pall, the relic rich Tesoro all combine for a magnificent, awe-inspiring experience.
Two hours later, it’s time to exit the church and visit what is practically its next door neighbor – the Doge’s Palace. This was Venice’s seat of power for over for most of it’s dominant history – until Napoleon took over in 1797 and Venice finally joined Italy in 1866. The complete construction of the palace as it is seen today took 150 years from 1301 to 1450. The design is called Venetian Gothic – gothic with Byzantine influences. It’s highly ornamented – check out the historical and biblical scenes on the lower colonnade; the Justice and other figures on the columns; and the Winged Lion with Doge Francesco Foscari.
Inside, the inner courtyard will lead you to the Scala dei Giganti (note the statues of Mars and Netupe); keeping an eye on the ceiling is a good idea, as they’ll usually be decorated with some art; the Doge met foreign ambassadors in the Sala del Collegio, now a gallery housing the portraits of most of the Doges; the Grand Council Chamber was the meeting room for Venice’s VIPs and the most arresting feature of the room is a wall-length portrait – Tintoretto’s Paradise.
Though one can visit the cells to see where the prisoners were incarcerated, the more famous convict related structure is the last stop on this itinerary – the Ponte de Sospiri a.k.a the Bridge of Sighs – accessible from the Doge’s Palace. The Bridge spans the Palace River and leads into the New Prison from the interrogation rooms in the Palace. The name is supposedly derived from the sigh prisoners would exhale as they looked out of the Bridge’s window one last time before their long imprisonments. It’s said that if lovers kiss under the Bridge on a gondola during Sunset, their love will be eternal. From outside, the bridge really is a beautiful sight; 11 metres wide, Italian Renaissance white limestone construct with sculpted faces that look down on the river.