The Most Serene Republic

We’ve had – over the last day or two – the final optional travel component of our time in Rome.  Some students traveled to Venice, others to Castel Gandolfo, to Pompeii, to San Marino, Turin… This is the last hurrah before a pretty intense two week stretch to the end of our time in Rome and the sprint to the final review.  We’ve still got lots to do (and see), including 5 more lectures (by the inestimable Antonella and the brilliant Paolo), a few more sites to see (including Tivoli, Villa Adriana, The Vatican Museum…), a lot more drawing to do, more calzone (and tiramisù) to eat.

I’ll ask students to contribute some of their thoughts and reflections on their recent trips, but one of the reasons that Venice was on the docket is in part because of its important connection to Constantinople, to Istanbul, to the shared intellectual, cultural and architectural histories of both of these cities.  Both are cities on water; at moments in Venice -on a vaporetto in the lagoon – if you close your eyes, you are transported to the Bosphorus, all blue-green, ferries.  Both are cities of the sea.

“The moon rules Venice. It is built on ocean shells and ocean ground; it has the aspect of infinity. It is the floating world… The rhythmic intelligence of the Venetians has informed much of the architecture of the city. The oncoming sea changes the perception of the structure along the Venetian canals, where the buildings seem more delicate and attenuated. The facades of the churches undulate, weightless and unstable, against the surface of the water like shells at the bottom of a rock pool on the seashore. The architecture of Venice is horizontal in mass, like the sea. From a distance across the lagoon, the impression of the city is of flatness along the horizon. It is perpetually in motion. It is baroqe and mannerist rather than classical; it shimmers, as if seen through water, it is encrusted with ornament like a coral reef.” – Peter Ackroyd, Venice: Pure City

We visited St. Mark’s Basilica – where the four hourse sculptures from the hippodrome of Constantinople were moved to after Enrico Dandolo bankrolled the Latin crusade of the early 13th century, where the statue of the Four Tetrarchs (from the Philadelphion in Constantinople) were installed – with its golden echo of the Hagia Sophia, with its view of Piazza San Marco from it’s upper loggia, the lagoon and Palladio’s San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance.  Tomorrow we’ll visit Santissima Redentore, the Palladian church in the Guidecca that Deborah Howard writes of as being influenced, in part, by Marc Antonio Barbaro’s encounters with the Ottoman architecture of Sinan in the 16th century.  We visited Venice’s Island of the Dead – San Michele, with its red walls across from the Cannaregio. We sought out the master Carlo Scarpa and found him in the Olivetti Showroom, the Fondazione Querini Stampalia, the Accademia, the campus of the University.  We visited with the oldest forcole (the spectacular oar locks made for controlling the very specific movement of an oar) craftsman in Venice (one of five left in the city), for a lesson in tradition, craft and making (and patience).  We’ve been walking (and drawing) in Venetian campi and and fondamenti, along canals and in piazzas.

Venice is strange and surreal, beautiful and gritty, silent and theatric. That changes tomorrow; Carnevale begins and decorative ribbons of street lights came on this evening (remember this when we walk the streets of Beyoglu and Istiklal Caddesi), mask-sellers are doing furious business, and “La Battaglia delle Due Bestie Musicanti”  kicks off tomorrow on the banks of the Cannaregio.

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