“If you’re in Venice, you might not enjoy it so much if you follow a tour-guide route that gets you to the main attractions.” So says Youtuber Manuel Bravo — whom we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture for his videos on Pompeii, the Duomo di Firenze, and the Great Pyramids of Giza — in “Venice Explained” just above. “But if you get off that road, the charm of Venice is that it’s such a tangled mess that nobody ventures out there” — out, that is, into the “wonderful little neighborhoods with little squares with cisterns and little cafés.” Diminutive though that may sound, Venice comes off in Bravo’s analysis as an entire, unique urban realm unto itself.
“Historically, Venice is really detached from Italy proper,” Bravo says. “It was not a Roman town. It does not have the detritus of Roman ruins scattered around. It does not have remnants of a Roman town plan with cardo and decumanus. It does not even have, well, land.”
Indeed, Venice is famous for having been built in the Adriatic Sea, on a “new fortified ground plane” made of strong trees imported from Croatia. As its political and economic importance grew, so did its “incomparable medieval urban landscape that has remained practically unchanged.” This built environment is full of architectural styles and details seen nowhere else, to which Bravo draws our attention through the course of the video.
Though he recommends departing from the tourist-beaten paths, he doesn’t ignore such world-famous Venetian structures as the Ca d’Oro, “perhaps the most beautiful building in Venice”; the Doge’s Palace with its “antigravity” architecture; and — in detail — the Basilica and Piazza San Marco, “one of the most memorable spatial complexes in the history of urban planning.” No first visit would be complete without some time spent at each of these sites. But “Venice is a city of light,” and in order properly to enjoy it, we must “see it at different times of the day and experience all the nuances that it offers”: good advice in this “most visually seductive of all the cities in the world,” but also worth bearing in mind as a means of appreciating even the less majestic places in which most of us usually find ourselves.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.