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American Novelist Truman Capote said it best: “Venice is like eating an entire box of chocolate liqueurs in one go.” Venice is all luxury and love. A gem among cities renowned for its dazzling and dizzying carnival and it’s stunning water canals.
Let’s take a tour through the winding pathways of some of Venice’s most sensational historical facts!
Table of Contents
Carnival first began as a tradition for noble people to hide behind masks and elaborate costumes to mix with the commoners. It was a way of bridging social classes and allowing everyone to dance and celebrate together. Social boundaries be gone!
Carnival reached its maximum height in the 18th century, a time of resplendence and grandeur in customs and fashions. However, when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Venice in 1796 it all came crashing down. Good ol’ Napoleon forbade carnival from being celebrated. He was afraid that conspiracies would be formulated or plans would be hatched amidst all the masks and festivities.
Now how did carnival get its name? Some king probably named it after himself right? Actually, no! It comes from the Latin words “carnem levare” which translate to “remove the meat.” Does that mean vegetarians celebrate carnival every day? It took its name because it refers to the final banquet before Ash Wednesday which marks the period of fasting for Lent.
Well, actually back in earlier centuries maybe it was! Back in the day, there was a classic type of mask and costume for carnival, the “Bauta” which was the white styled mask and the “larva” which was a black three-cornered hat (think, pirate!) and dark black cloaca (think, Dracula!).
Apparently, the citizens of Venice got a little too hooked on their mask wearing habits. The tradition of wearing masks wasn’t just limited to the carnival but to other special celebrations all throughout the year. This created some problems here and there with so much anonymity. So the government had to step up and change the law a few times throughout history, such as in 1339 when it was illegal to wear masks at night and in 1600 when people couldn’t wear masks in churches.
There are two classic types of sweets that are crafted each year by every bakery and patisserie in the city of Venice. Frittelle and Galani are only available during Carnival! The magic of carnival brings out the best in bakers. Let the powdered sugar fly!
Thousands of tourists flock to Venice each year to don a mask and celebrate carnival. However, the truly best carnival parties are on an invitation-only basis. They are basically limited to locals only. Any tips on how to get into these private parties? Email me!
P.S. – These are the BEST areas to stay in Venice, Italy!
It’s hard to draw an image of Venice to mind without thinking of the canals. These 150+ waterways are a huge symbol of Venice. You can drift through the splendor of the city by water! Magic!
When Venice was settled by mainland villagers in the 5th century, the canals were simply naturally occurring inlets in between the marshy islands. Can you picture a marshy Venice? The struggle is real! The original settlers built on top of piles of tree trunks mixed with sand and clay. Venice wasn’t always fancy.
Recommended article – Venice’s 25 Best Museums (some that tourists never see)!
As Venice grew, so did the need of tree trunks to make wood pilings to build on top of. Poor Venice was running out of trees! They had to buy wood from Slovenia. And curiously enough, many of the wood pilings still in use to this very day came from Slovenia hundreds of years in the past. Slovenia stocked Venice up nicely!
Okay, we covered the stick problems but then there was a stone problem. The marshy canals couldn’t accommodate construction and commercial water traffic, so the had to fix their problems by deepening and widening the canals and then lining them all with stones. We all know how brutal rush hour traffic can be!
You may know that there are 150 waterways, but did you know there are 400 bridges? I guess it makes sense that to cross a canal when not traveling by boat you’d have to use a bridge. Another fun number for you is that the Grand Canal is lined with more than 170 buildings which include many of the most beautiful architectural gems the city has to offer!
The trademark watercraft in Venice are the oh so romantic gondolas. If you’re not familiar, it’s the slim black boats that are poled by gondoliers. Yes, usually donning striped shirts and those sultry wide-brimmed hats. The locals used to use gondolas, but as tourists flocked to Venice the locals ditched the boats and left them for the foreigners.
Like AMAZING hotels? Check out our guide to the coolest hotels in Venice – for all budgets!
All it takes is a high society Venetian family to live in Venice, for a house to become a museum. Well, not precisely. But there are a few residences of important Venetian noble families, such as the Ca’ Rezzonico and Ca’ Pesaro, that have become Museums.
The Murano Glass Museum was founded in Venice in 1861. This incredible museum recounts the history of the art of glass. The exhibitions are unparalleled in their delicate, glassy beauty. There are even opportunities in the museum to watch glass-makers and glass-blowers making glass art right then and there!
Teodoro Correr was the last heir of a noble Venetian family who died in 1830. He bequeathed the city of Venice his behemoth art collection and thus the Museo Correr was born! Teodoro amassed quite the collection of art pieces from the 15th century through the 19th century, the city of Venice was lucky to acquire it!
The Museum of Oriental Art is housed in Ca’ Pesaro and has a giant collection of 30,000 works of art. This collection was gathered and compiled by Henry of Bourbon during his trips to Asia in 1887 and 1889. Henry of Bourbon collected fine art objects that dated from 1868 all the way back to 1630. In the whole world, this is the largest collection of Japanese art that covers that long of a historical period. Who knew!
The Venice Museum of 18th Century Art is housed inside the Ca’ Rezzonico. It has been open for public viewing since 1936. The museum is designed so that the artworks are displayed as if they are part of the furnishings of the palace itself. The museum is a historically faithful reproduction of what a true residence for Venetian nobles would look like in the 1700s.
The Venice Naval History Museum was opened in 1923 and tracks the maritime history of Italy and Venice. There are wonderful displays of different maritime equipment as well as models of traditional Italian boats. When you think of Venice, you think of the waterways, so it’s probably a good thing that they have at least one museum dedicated to naval history, right?
Further Reading – Have a look at the most AWESOME things to do in Venice!
In the 15th century, Venice had its own unique and influential art movement that all began with the Bellini brothers, Giovanni and Gentile. It was in their workshops that the Venetian big shots apprenticed such as Giorgione and Titian.
The Venetian school of art is known for giving more importance to color over line and for placing emphasis on nature as a setting. Venetian art is also known for softer styles and glowing, almost silken colors. Common adjectives used to describe the school of art are sensual and poetic.
I’ve already mentioned that Giorgione and Titian were apprentices at Bellini’s workshop. Apparently, their styles were nearly identical so it’s difficult for contemporary art historians to assign authorship! You might not recognize Giorgione’s name, but Titian went on to become one of the greatest Venetian School painters! The most famous of which is Titian’s reclining Venus, the Venus of Urbino.
In fact, Titian is credited with establishing the reclining female nude as a key subgenre in art. Good call, Titian. He became famous for them. His paintings began to symbolize luxury and wealth, and he had solid patrons in Emperor Charles V and Philip II of Spain.
The reason why Giorgione isn’t as widely heard of as Titian is because he had an early death. Despite his promising early career, he didn’t leave many paintings behind. But the few that are left behind by him were profound are what made him a “short-lived master.”
The Venetian School was certainly known for colorito, which is using color to create form. But what is less known is that the artists worked predominantly in oil paints on wood panels, but they then pioneered the use of canvas. Why canvas you ask? The switch to canvas was because of the humid climate of the city!
Venice: the city of carnival and canals! And home to a strong art movement whose claim to fame was color and reclining nudes. I guess Venice is the city of putting on masks and costumes and of some not so elaborately adorned people in paintings, eh? Sitting in the Adriatic Sea with a winding history since the very marshy beginning, Venice really is a city of magic.
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Gin lover. Coffee addict. Nicola has traveled the world for 7 years and is a staff writer for Hotel Jules. Born in London, Nicola first got the taste of travel studying abroad in Barcelona. Since then she's been hooked - traveling the world non-stop. Passionate about green travel and vegan lifestyle, Nicola spends more of her free time staring at maps wondering where she will head to next!