Early morning in Venice
Venice Travel Blog› entry 1 of 2 › view all entries
I went to Venice again last month. I'm a travel writer - I write for the Times and Financial Times in London and a website called mp3cityguides.comand I wanted to go at my favourite time of year. In the summer it's hot, sticky and crowded - well even MORE crowded - but in the winter it's reasonably quiet and usually misty.
I woke up early - it was still dark as I was having a shower - but by the time I'd finished breakfast the winter sun was breaking through the clouds and mist was rolling off the canal in front of my hotel. All you could hear was the rumble of the Vaporetti coming along side the jetties and tap of feet as early morning Venetian commuters shuffled forwards to find a place to sit or stand.
I'd really recommend my hotel by the way �" the Santa Chiara in Santa Croce. It's good value, it's quiet and clean and the staff are friendly and helpful. It's near the railway station and just by the Piazzale Romana so if you arrive by bus from either airport it's very convenient too. You can see the sign on the top of the hotel from the Piazzale Romana.
Having left the hotel, I started walking through the empty streets. There was no about but the rubbish collectors, the delivery boys with their wheelbarrows �" a few hungry cats. Venice was silent and still and just coming to life.
My destination was the Piazza San Marco �" I wanted to see it before the tourists arrived en masse for a piece I was writing. In fact I got there at about 8.30am. There was no else about except two Carabinieri and the guy who puts up the famous flags of the Republic every day. I wonder what else he does for a living? Does he just sit around at home and then come back in the evening? Mist was rolling in from the lagoon and the first rays of the morning sunlight were just picking out the stunning gold of the Basilica.
I spent some time �" ten minutes? Half an hour? Just looking at this gorgeous riot of colour and decoration. Is it the most beautiful church on earth �" or a bizarre mess of styles and overwrought detail? I love the image above the right hand door which shows a man in a turban leaning away in horror from an open casket, holding his nose.
When I was hear a few years ago I overheard two girls talking about it and trying to work out from their guide book what it meant. Being a helpful, knowledgeable travel writer (OK, a bit of a know-all �" but only a bit, honest!) I explained the significance of this strange, almost comical scene.
St Mark was not the first patron saint of Venice. That honour fell to San Teodoro but as the city grew in wealth and importance during the ninth century it was decided that it should trade up in the saint stakes. The official story was that Saint Mark had been sailing on a boat in the lagoon when an angel appeared to him and told him that Venice would be his resting place.
The real story, which the Venetians are not at all ashamed of, is that two merchants were sent to Alexandria in Egypt where Saint Mark was entombed. They took the body - or its remains anyway - and brought it back to Venice where it lay in the first church which stood on this site on this site before being transferred to this Basilica.
It was said that the saint's body was hidden under joints of pork so that the Alexandrians who were Muslim and regarded pig meat as unclean wouldn't go near the contents of the basket. The main who is holding his nose is obviously horrified at the idea of encountering this store of pork!
The two girls thanked me for me help. I'm still not sure that they really believed that such a beautiful, historic building could have such a bizarre, cartoon-like story so beautifully recreated on its grand façade �" but it's true!