Water, Water, Everywhere: On Venice’s Grand Canal

“General Grant seriously remarked to a particularly bright young woman that Venice would be a fine city if it were drained.”  Henry Adams in The Education of Henry Adams

“The best way to see as much as possible of Venice in a short time,” said Silvana the Guide, “is to walk from the Piazza San Marco to the Santa Lucia train station, then come back to the piazza on a vaporetto, via the Grand Canal.” That was probably the single best piece of touring advice we got on the entire trip.

The two mile Grand Canal is the main waterway through Venice, making an S shaped course from San Marco to the Santa Chiara Church, just past the train station. Many of the grandest palaces and churches, and all the hotels that I could never afford, are on the Grand Canal.  And a vaporetto — a public water bus — ride on the canal is the cheapest (our ride cost 7.5 euros) and best way to see (at least, their exteriors) them all.

The white boat is a vaporetto.

Instead of walking to the train station and riding back to San Marco, Patricia and I did it the other way around. We caught the Line 1 vaporetto at the San Marco station, rode up the Grand Canal, then wandering slowly back to our hotel.  That we decided on that route was completely a personal preference, but we learned later that there’s a strategic advantage to it. Although there are 6 stops on Line 1 before the vaporetto gets to San Marco, those stops are not very popular.  So the vaporetto was near empty when we started and not too long after we got on, we got seats right up at the front of the boat. It became squished standing-room only for folks who got on at later stops. And the vaporettos we saw leaving the train station going back toward San Marco were jammed.

Unlike General Grant, I don’t think that Venice would be better for having less water. But  I must say that if I were a Venetian, I won’t choose to live on the canal. Close-up, it’s not that appealing. Gliding down its center with eyes focused on the distance, however, it’s as lovely as any romantic soul can desire. It’s more Shelley than Grant: “Venice, it’s temples and palaces did seem like fabrics of enchantment piled to heaven.”

The pair of hands, coming out of the water to support the 15th century building that’s now the Ca’Sagredo Hotel, is an art installation called “Support.” Climate support scientists say that the Mediterranean is rising and that Venice could be submerged by 2100. The hands represent the power of humans to stop it.

The hotel was once a palace belonging to the aristocratic Sagredo family. Nicolo Sagredo was a 17th century doge of Venice.  Forbes says that it’s known for its “meticulous preservation of the palace’s original frescoes, stuccoes, paintings, and other works of art….”  Its least expensive room — a double with no canal view — starts at 435 euros a night. They don’t even give a price for their most expensive offering: the Grand Canal Panoramic Suite, which features two bedrooms and faces the canal.  Because, as we all know, if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.

The covered Rialto Bridge (above) was constructed in the late sixteenth century and is one of four bridges across the Grand Canal. It’s made of stone and there are shops inside.

The gondola in front of our vaporetto isn’t in the best place it could be. The Grand Canal is very crowded with boats of all kinds, and tourists have been killed when vaporettos hit their gondola. After a tourist’s death in 2013, the mayor of Venice proposed all kinds of waterway reforms. One was that gondolas wouldn’t be allowed to cross from one side of the Grand Canal to the other. But judging the number of gondolas that cut across our bow, that provision, at least, didn’t come to fruition.

This is the exterior of the 12th century Church of San Marcuola:

This is the interior (courtesy of Wikipedia):

I’d say that they chose to spend their money on the inside, wouldn’t you?

About 45 minutes after we’d gotten on the vaporetto at San Marco, we got off in front of the train station. By then it was around noon, so we went into the station, to use the necessity and see if we could pick up a quick lunch. There were lots of food options. We chose a largish shop that included a sandwich and salad counter and got a lovely salad that had enough to share.  Thus fortified, we were off to lose ourselves in Venice.

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4 Responses to Water, Water, Everywhere: On Venice’s Grand Canal

  1. Grant didn’t know what he was talking about. Drain Venice? It would lose all its charm.

  2. “To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.” – Alexander Herzen

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