"Venice is an impossible city. It shouldn't exist." This is how Mike introduced us to Venice this morning. While it's probable that he was making a commentary on how the city has survived despite all odds, I'd like to believe he was speaking figuratively; the morning light made this "gateway to the East" shimmer with an improbable kind of magic.
We started the day by walking to Piazza San Marco. Much to our professors' disappointment, we arrived without getting lost in the labyrinthian Venetian streets. Piazza San Marco is home to Palazzo Ducale and Basilica San Marco, our first two stops for the day.
Palazzo Ducale, or the Doge's Palace, was once home to Venice's rulers. Inside, we were taken through a series of rooms, some for the Doge and his family, and others for official meetings. The walls and ceilings were covered extensively in elaborate paintings and decorations, most of which are very expensive, imported materials. While the sumptuously decorated rooms boasted Venetian power and sophistication, the exterior was perhaps even more impressive; I felt as if I was being transported to the Arabic world through the architecture, and this raises an interesting question about the influence of the Islamic world on Venice.
Our second stop of the day was a quick exploration of Basilica di San Marco, which is known for its beautiful synthesis of East and West architectural elements, as well as its striking mosaics depicting biblical scenes and Venetian traditions. One such tradition is the story of the body of St. Mark being smuggled from Alexandria to Venice in a barrel of pork, and this is portrayed on the facade. Unfortunately, many of the attractions of the basilica were closed to the public, but we had many treasures to study nevertheless.
After a breathtaking vaporetto (water bus) ride down the Grand Canal, we stopped for a quick lunch before touring the Jewish Ghetto. The Ghetto, incidentally the first ghetto and the namesake for the English word "ghetto," was where Jews were compelled to live under the Venetian Republic. In the Jewish Ghetto, where the "Old Ghetto" is, bemusedly, newer than the "New Ghetto," the Jews divided themselves on ethnic lines and established five separate synagogues. We had the opportunity to visit the German Synagogue and French Synagogue in the New Ghetto and the Spanish Synagogue in the Old Ghetto. The synagogues were immensely interesting, especially in their differences from one another. For example, the Spanish synagogue was home to the Sephardic Jews, who were much wealthier than the Ashkenazi Jews of the New Ghetto, and this wealth was reflected in the rich decorations.
Tomorrow is our bittersweet last day of class before we have an independent day to explore Venice and then get on the plane to head home. I am excited to see all the good things our last two days will bring, and how the course as a whole will continue to impact us when we're home at Elon, and as we continue our world explorations in the future.