We checked out and left our luggage at the hotel, then used our twenty-four hour pass to ride the vaporetto back to Piazza San Marco.
The sky was still grey, and mist shrouded the water in a few places, giving an effect of distance. On Monday morning all of Venice was out in boats. It's wonderful to see this waterborne economy! Boats deliver the mail, serve as buses, taxis, ambulances, police cars and ferries, bring produce and demijohns of wine to restaurants, dredge the canals and carry building materials. We spotted a special fleet of boats owned by the regional authority of Venice -- apparently used to give bigwigs a special waterborne tour of the city.
The rules of the road are different in Venice; it's a little bit of experienced seamanship and a lot of every man for himself. The unpowered gondolas and traghettos should have the right of way, but occasionally they have to use the oars quite vigorously to avoid a collision with a vaporetto.
Incidentally, it's quite fascinating to watch the gondoliers work; they Canal scene use a single long oar as a combination scull and rudder, with a very ingenious curved post aft which braces the oar for a variety of different pushes and pulls.
Apparently there is one company, called Paul & Shark, Yachting, which handles all the bookings for the gondoliers and traghettiers. Their enameled green and gold signs can be seen all over the city.
There are some beautiful Venetian buildings which must be seen from the water to be appreciated. Unfortunately, we don't have a manual shutter speed control on our digital camera, and we haven't figured out if we can somehow compensate for the motion and vibration of a moving boat; so all of our pictures taken from the boats seem to have a little blur.
The Salute Church is across the canal from Piazza San Marco. We didn't go in, but the exterior is quite impressive.
As we went ashore, we saw the high water lapping over the sidewalk in front of the Ducal Palace, and stopped on a bridge to watch an impossible looking jam of boats in the canal under the Bridge of Sighs. Then we paid our admission to the Ducal Palace. Although this was the residence of the Doge, or Duke of Venice, it was much more of a government center than living quarters.
The huge building has been under continuous repair and modification since its construction, and it was the active seat of government for Venice until the middle of the nineteenth century, so it presents great challenges for archaeologists and art historians. The records of the maintenance office have been of great help. There is still much restoration to be done, and the museum authorities have closed off parts of the building so that decay may be arrested.
The museum displays the capitals, each with a different sculpture, of the fourteenth century stone columns. Then the visitors proceed to the inner courtyard, which has some beautiful sculpture and a huge formal stone staircase. The Doge's Palace
The visitor climbs to the upper levels through the Golden Staircase, so called for the cream and gilt ceiling, to the ducal apartments. These consist of just a few rooms, highlighted by a T-shaped map room. There on the walls are the painted seventeenth century maps showing the Venetians' worldwide trading interests. The maps are a little confusing at first, because the map of Asia has the south side upward, and the map of the Middle East has the east side upward (the other six or seven have the north side upward.) Also in the center of these rooms are two globes, about four feet in diameter, from about the same period.
Venice, which was founded around 800 when the body of St. Mark was stolen from Alexandria and brought to St. Mark's basilica, was always governed as a republic. The position of Doge was not hereditary, and when the old Doge died, his family hauled out the furniture while the new Doge moved in his stuff.
After leaving the Doge's apartments, which were evidently used as much for official visits of state as for personal residence, the tour went through a succession of official governmental rooms, for each of the various governmental bodies. There was a senate, a council, three groups of sages, four or five groups of magistrates, an inner council, a group of ten, a naval reserve, and they each had a room to meet in the ducal palace, the size of the room being appropriate to the size of the group. Somehow these various groups were checks and balances on one another, so no one group had too much power. They all had different terms of office, with various periods of contumacy to go along with them. The largest governmental body consisted of all the patricians, numbering almost 2000 at their maximum, who shared power in the city. The meeting room for this group could hold all of them.
Each room had an explanation of the function of the body that met there, leaving the visitor hopelessly confused by the end of the tour. The situation is rendered even murkier by the fact that these different governmental bodies came into being at different times in the history of the city. (There is no mention of any governmental bodies being disestablished, but we may assume, given our understanding of governments in general, that none were.) The Venetian government continued in power until 1865, the time of Italian unification under Garibaldi.
What was clear was the handsome carvings and ceilings of these governmental rooms. We were especially reminded of the Rathaus in Hamburg, that splendid edifice whose rich decoration gave physical testimony to the wealth of the burghers. It's quite probable that the city fathers of Hamburg had seen the ducal palace in Venice!
After visiting all the state rooms, we went to the armory. This was an unexpected surprise -- five rooms filled with a priceless collection of rare arms and armor, generally from the fifteenth to seventeenth centuries. Most grisly looking are the halberds -- long poles with vicious-looking multi-bladed ends, designed to work into the chinks of armor and then do mortal damage. There were plenty of old firearms, too, chiefly arquebuses and Venetian pistols. The two-handed swords looked as if an ordinary human could not swing them.
There were special displays of suits of armor, some of which were so thick they must have been incredibly heavy. We saw armor to protect the head of the horses, one of which had a hole in the middle. Included in the collection was the royal armor of King Henry IV, in a glass case.
Well, we were just getting over being enthusiastic about the armory when we entered a room, with no fanfare, containing the collection of works by Hieronymus Bosch owned by a Cardinal whose name we did not write down, and donated to the Ducal Palace by his will.
You may remember how struck we were with the Bosch triptych we saw at the Akademie der Bildenden Kunste in Vienna in September. We feel that Bosch was an early surrealist painter, and that his creative imagination is without parallel in his time. He actually produced very few works, and we have never seen more than one or two of his pieces at a time. Yet here in the Ducal Palace in Venice, in a plain small chamber, were no fewer than four great works by Bosch -- two triptychs and two large paintings. Three of these four works showed Bosch's imaginative representation of demonic figures; the fourth was a "normal" religious painting.
Next our tour led us across the Bridge of Sighs to the prison. The Bridge supposedly got its name because the prisoners would sigh as they got one last look at the incomparable beauty of Venice before being thrown in a cold, dank cell.
And cold and dank the cells were, with narrow stone passages and heavy iron bars. It was probably the most dismal prison we've ever seen.
The researchers had preserved the walls from some of the cells, which were covered with graffiti. It was obvious that some of the writing was quite new; in fact there was quite a bit of graffiti from the year 2000 on other walls of the prison. But the preserved sections of walls contained inscriptions from at least 200 years ago, interspersed with later writings.
The trail led through the open prison courtyard and back over the Bridge of Sighs to the main portion of the palace, where we came to the bookstore and gift shop. We were disappointed that of all the books for sale, there wasn't a single one about the Venetian system of republican government. Evidently most of the tourists are primarily interested in books about Venetian art, not government. But the many rooms in the Ducal Palace with governmental functions have whetted our interest in the Venetian Republic. So we have another search for knowledge!
We had one more sight to see: the Franciscan church I Frari. To get there we walked through the streets and alleys to the Rialto Bridge, and then took a vaporetto to San Toma, where we walked through some more alleys to the church. We felt we were getting to know our way around Venice, at least a little bit!
The Basilica was endowed by some wealthy patricians, who had enormous funerary sculptures placed in their honor, but the principal attractions are some of the religious art, most especially the painting behind the main altar, Assumption of the Virgin done by Titian.
We walked through some more of the maze of Venice and decided that we really didn't know our way around that well, but we could follow signs to the Ferrovaria (train station).
The train ride back to Milan was mostly uneventful except that about ten railroad guys got on at one station and off at the next. They decided to crowd into the four seats opposite us: that is, four of them sat down, and the other six stood around while they all spoke Italian at once (or so it seemed to us!) They were very interested in our computer, which we had open, jotting down notes for our trip report.
As soon as we reached Milan, we could tell we were back in a working city. In Venice it seemed as if the entire city revolved around tourism; Milan, whose sister city is Chicago, likes to make money the old-fashioned way.