The most Serene Republic of Venice grew in power, status and territory for over a millennium, until Napoleon forced it to dissolve itself in 1797. But the political and social turmoil that ensued did not prevent artists, writers and musicians from continuing to flock to this most alluring and inspiring of cities, nor dent its appeal as the climactic destination for any European ‘Grand Tour’.
More recently, Venice has maintained a fiercely contemporary art scene. The Venice Biennale, Architecture Biennale and the Venice International Film Festival are among the hottest events in the global cultural calendar.
The city is divided into six sestieri, or neighbourhoods, each with its own character and history: San Marco, San Polo, Dorsoduro, Cannaregio, Castello and Santa Croce (now home to the main transport hubs and the only one not visited on this tour). It is through the lens of these distinct districts that our story of Venice is told.
San Marco is at the heart of the city, both geographically and historically. The Palazzo Ducale was the political and administrative centre of La Serenissima, where the Doge and the complex system of councils governed the expanding territories of the Venetian Republic. Their influence extended to the other seat of power, the Patriarchate of Venice in St Mark’s Basilica, where Venice was kept ideologically independent from the Vatican.
The sestiere of San Polo, across the Grand Canal, is home to ancient markets and many magnificent churches. Dorsoduro is very different in ambience, the streets quieter as tourists dissipate and the peaceful canals evoke a slower pace of Italian life. But it is also a thriving university district and home to significant art collections.
Finally, Castello and Cannaregio, the two largest areas. Being relatively less visited does not mean there is a shortage of splendour or historical significance: the shipyards of the Arsenale underpinned Venice’s naval supremacy; while the Ghetto, to which Jews were confined by the Doge in 1516, remains the heart of Jewish life in the city.
Fly at c. 1.15pm (British Airways) from London Heathrow to Venice. From the airport a motoscafo (water-taxi) takes you across the lagoon and through canals to your hotel.
San Marco. An introductory walk around the incomparable Piazza San Marco is followed by the Doge’s Palace, beautiful in its pink Gothic revetment and containing rich Renaissance interiors. In the afternoon, see the palazzi on the Grand Canal from the viewpoint of a gondola. In the evening there is a special after-hours private visit to the Basilica di San Marco, an 11th-century Byzantine church enriched over the centuries with mosaics, sculpture and various precious objects.
Dorsoduro, Giudecca. Start with a visit to Sta. Maria della Salute, the splendid Baroque church at the mouth of the Grand Canal, built in thanksgiving for deliverance from the 1630 plague. The Accademia is the major art gallery in Venice, where all the Venetian painters are represented. The afternoon is spent on the Giudecca, the southernmost and most tranquil of the islands. Here and on the neighboring island of San Giorgio are Palladio’s two great churches, S. Giorgio Maggiore and Il Redentore.
San Polo, Dorsoduro. San Polo is the location of Sta. Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The first is the great Franciscan church which houses artworks such as Titian’s Assumption and Canova’s tomb; the second is adorned with a magnificent cycle of dramatic paintings by Tintoretto. Two palaces on the Grand Canal provide very different experiences – the museum of the 18th century in the Ca’ Rezzonico and the Peggy Guggenheim collection of 20th-century art.
Castello, Canareggio. An Early Renaisssance morning. The church of San Zaccaria is the architectural masterpiece of the era and houses an outstanding altarpiece by Bellini, while the Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni houses the wonderfully engaging cycle of paintings by Carpaccio. To the sestiere of Cannaregio in the afternoon to explore the centuries-old presence and impact of Judaism in Venice, with a tour of the Jewish Ghetto and its synagogues.
By motoscafo to Venice airport. The flight arrives at London Heathrow c. 2.30pm. (Or for those joining Music in Venice: stay overnight in your chosen festival hotel, joining the festival the following morning; on the final day of the festival, 18th November, fly to London Heathrow arriving at c. 2.30pm).
Dr Susan Steer
Art historian specialising in Venice. Her MA concentrated on the city’s art and architecture and her PhD on Venetian Renaissance altarpieces. As post-doctoral researcher with the University of Glasgow and Neil MacGregor scholar at the National Gallery, she worked as a researcher and editor on the National Inventory of European Painting, the UK’s online catalogue of European paintings. She has extensive experience of teaching History of Art for university programmes in the UK and Italy.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £2,610 or £2,490 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,050 or £2,930 without flights.
By train: London – Paris – Turin – Milan – Venice: c. 13 hours or London – Paris – Venice (overnight): c. 17 hours. Contact us for more information.
If combining this tour with Music in Venice, add the price of arriving a day early on the festival (on 12th November).
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus 320); travel between Venice Airport and hotel by water-taxi, a vaporetto pass for the duration of the tour; luggage porterage from and to the airport; hotel accommodation; breakfasts and 3 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Splendid, Venice: delightful 4-star hotel situated half-way between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto bridge. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
The nature of Venice means that the city is more often than not traversed on foot. Although part of her charm, there is a lot of walking along the flat and up and down bridges; standing around in museums and churches is also unavoidable. The tour should not be attempted by anyone who has difficulty with everyday walking and stair-climbing.
Between 8 and 18 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.