Venice is the greatest architectural repository in the world. All six sestiere of the city contain palaces and churches in the three most impressive styles Europe has produced: Gothic, Renaissance and the baroque. What makes Venice even more remarkable is just how many of these buildings there are. Palaces are crammed against each other and churches appear around every corner. However, Venice is also a city of squares (campI) which means that buildings are displayed to best effect in a series of leafy outdoor “rooms” that crop up one after the other. There are no long roads in Venice unless you count the Canal Grande, the city’s high street, but even that curves like a snake so that new vistas are continually revealed. The canals of Venice divide the city into many manageable chunks and turn what might otherwise be a narrow dark alleyway into a luminous border down which float shiny black gondolas full of camera- wielding tourists.
The city of Venice occupies a special place in history. It was the first great republic since Rome. It had an elected head of state (il Doge) and an insatiable appetite for both making money and then spending it on ostentatious decoration. At its zenith, it had the most powerful navy in the world and a virtual monopoly on European trade with the Orient. As it declined, Venice became a byword for decadence, a city-state addicted to gambling, sex and intrigue. It was always stylish even if it wasn’t always beautiful. Nowadays, even the scruffiest campus is still distinctly and proudly Venetian. Its citizens remain in their hearts a truly independent people.