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Brief History of the City

Venice is probably the most fascinating City throughout Italy. Its charm stems from its unique shape and location, on the water. Venice is very quiet, people move only by foot or by small boats, used as a bus to travel throughout the city through its various canals. The best months to see the city are certainly the spring and the summer, when weather, and climate, are sweet and pleasing. If instead you go during the autumn and winter, remember that you could be submerged by the fog or by the phenomenon of the high water (tide), typically in February, and, for the latter, you should get a pair of boots, to stay dry, while walking around. When high water comes, there should be sirens, placed in the City, to warn people in advance and a City map, displayed at the waterbuses stops. Venezia was born from an archipelago of 116 islands, a lagoon (but some say 120), crossed by 45 channels and 130 smaller canals, connected by 416 bridges (though some say 430, or 450 or 480 depending on how they count) … a friend once told me that it is incredibly difficult to count all decks, stairs and all the steps up and down the channels. Outside, while navigating within the lagoon, you can see something that is a mix between a sea and a lake. Tell the whole story of Venice would be very long, but for now, I will tell you enough to imagine and visualize a little more of it, then, in the future, I will add more information to this guide, while I will find them. At the beginning of the Christian Era, the area around the Lagoon was inhabited by fishermen and hunters, gathered in small villages, between the fourth and fifth centuries AD, the barbarians from the north of Europe, bringing fear and distruction with them, penetrated inside the Veneto, so a lot of people, resident around, fled to the lagoon, in order to protect themselves. After the danger was past, these people settled there, especially in Chioggia, Malamocco Torcello, Burano and the island of Murano. At the time, it was about the 670 AD, the Barbarians conquered completely the Veneto, so a lot of other people took refuge in the lagoon, which became a stronghold against them. All those people, once politically loyal to Byzantium, they decided to unify their colonies under a new government, ruled by one man: the Doge. The first Doge was elected in the 726 AD. The new government was based in Malamocco, and for a little time it was still a bit subservient to the Empire, in later times, however, the Lombards (barbarians) were defeated by the German Emperor tedesco Charles the Great, whose son Pippin, in the 810 AD, collided with the Government of Malamocco. Pippin was not able to destroy the government , that remained standing, and moved to the island of Rivoalto. Rivoalto later took the name of Venice. In the eighteenth century, Venice became a Duchy, still within the Empire, but independent. An important step was taken when the remains of St. Mark was stolen from Alexandria by two merchants, Rustico da Torcello and Buono from Malomocco, and brought up to the lagoon. The work to build a large, and strange, Cathedral, to house the Saint, began immediately. This Church was destroyed and rebuilt three times and the third structure is the one you see now. The Protector of the city was replaced; from Saint Teodoro he became Saint Mark. Next to the cathedral of the City  the residence of the Doge was built: Palazzo Ducale. These two buildings have long symbolized the awesome power of the City. Venice year after year increased its trading power in the Eastern markets, opened with the help of the Empire and with that of other northern Italian Cities. Venice also increased its maritime military power, which was useful during some battles, won by the Serenissima (Venice) against the Pirates and the fleet of the Normans, who, at that time, dominated the sea in the south of Italy, threatening both Venice than the Empire. From that period onward, Venice increased further its commercial power, starting a “world trade on a global scale.” Later, during the first Crusade to Jerusalem, Venice was useful for the cause, with its fleet, and this support would translate into the openings of several new trade routes with the lands of the East. Meanwhile other Italian port cities vied for supremacy in trade with Venice: Genoa and Pisa; with which it began a few more naval battles. Venice in that period, around 1100-1200 AD, was becoming really powerful, diplomatically, commercially and militarily. At that time, a fourth Crusade began, to recapture Jerusalem, Venice contributed his ships, in exchange for money, a lot of money; the lack of money, to return to Venice, was exchanged, by the army, with a promise: it would have conquered a colony (Zara), stolen from Venice’s control by the king of Hungary. Instead of doing that, the army went instead to Constantinople, where the Christians made a great slaughter, robbing, killing, raping and creating a huge rift between them and the Greeks. Venice, meanwhile, was stretching her mighty hand over a large part of the Empire, with a few major ports under its control. Genoa, its worst enemy in Italy, made an alliance with the deposed imperial family. Meanwhile, the Byzantines recaptured Constantinople and Venice was put in a bad commercial situation, compared with Genoa, instead supported. Genoa and Venice fought some tough naval battles, then, the Genoese army also tried to storm the town, landing at Chioggia, before being rejected. In 1297, with an important act (block of the Great Council), the Venetians created their own constitution. In this new act, the non-noble families were ousted by the decisions of the City government, and all this has led, in the subsequent years, to internal divisions and problems. The birth of the Council of Ten, a very important organization for internal security, was created in order to suppress the rebellions against the Doge, like the one that put him in jeopardy with a battle for the control of the City, which took place in the middle of it , between a private army and the official one, and won by the latter. Between the end of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries Venice had survived the ” black dead “, which decimated more than half of its population; and then many battles, this time on land, against other powerful Cities such as Milan (Visconti’s dynasty) and Verona (Scaliger’s dynasty). At that time Italy was plagued by many political tensions and wars between the Cities were very frequent. the Republic of Venice, had expanded his territory, conquering many other cities such as Padua, Verona, Treviso and Ravenna. The new Doge Francesco Foscari, elected in 1493, was a real warlord; he fought very hard against Milan, through some well known commanders of his mercenary army, as Carmagnola first and Gattamelata then. Meanwhile the Turkish army began to threaten Venice, coming to conquer Constantinople before and, after passing through the Aegean Sea, also trying to take the Venice itself, unsuccessfully. Throughout Europe at that time Venice was considered very dangerous, aggressive, rich and powerful, and extended his rule over many territories, in Italy and on the Eastern shores. In 1508 Venice suffered some serious defeat by a league formed by Pope Julius II, the King of France Louis XII, the King of Spain, and the Emperor Maximilian, called the League of Cambrai. With a clever diplomacy, it however managed to handle the situation , maintaining its position. In the sixteenth century the two most important powers, enemies of Venice, were the Turkish Empire (Turks) and the Austrian Empire (Habsburgs), the Turkish Empire had expanded in the southern Mediterranean, while the Austrians had expanded in almost all of Italy. In this scenario, Venice was compressed between the two powers. Meanwhile, the new routes opened by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama to India and by the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus to America, gave to Portugal and Spain a new, strong commercial drive, which weakened the commercial supremacy of Venice. In those years, Venice lost some important possessions in the Mediterranean as the islands of Crete and Cyprus. Inside of Italy, in addition to the difficult relationship between Emperor Charles V of Austria, it also worsened its relationship with the Pope, whose temporal power had never been well accepted by Venice. In the following century, the fifteenth, Venice lived in peace, slowing its commercial and political domain; surviving quietly, between the two new superpowers’ skirmishes: the Austrian Empire and Napoleon, the new warlord of France. Something was about to happen … something that would forever change the political coherence of Venice .. and it happened! For once, to the powerful and respected, throughout Europe, Venice, the surrender was demanded, by Napoleon, who, had long been interested in the control of the city. On May 12th 1797, in Venice the last Council of Ten took place, and the French settled in Venice. Subsequently, the City passed from the French control to the Austrian’ , with a treaty (Treaty of Campo Formio), then to the French again, and later, after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo, to the Austrians again, until their defeat, by the Prussian army, at Sadowa. Venice suffered in this way, some dominations, and all these cultures, have helped to give it the appearance that can be today seen by millions of tourists, visiting it every year. Venice belongs to ‘Italy, since it was aggregated to its own country’s, with the founding of the Italian Kingdom in 1866 … but I prefer to say that it, or rather she, as one would say of a charming woman, belongs to the whole world, as all masterpieces of humanity belong to it.

The City

I think Venice is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and amazing cities around the world. Its history, its architecture, perfectly preserved over the centuries, and its location on the water, make of Venice a real dream come true. Italy is certainly full of fascinating and antique towns, full of beautiful monuments and artworks, but Venice is something different. You will not see neither cars nor motorcycles, but only thousands of people walking everywhere, and many small, and medium sized, boats, that go up and down through its many channels. Venice is, for me, the best representation of uniqueness in Italy, based on art, history, culture and gastronomic wealth. There you will find all of these four elements, without scarcity. There is only one way to visit Venice: walking … it is not passable by car, is a city for pedestrians only, even though accessible by air, by car or train. On arrival in the vicinity of the island, you get to Venice with your feet, and you visit it through them. Venice is a large island, or rather a lot of small islands connected by ancient bridges to form a big, single island, crossed from a larger channel called Grand Canal . On the two sides of the Grand Canal, there are six districts, called “Sestieri” San Marco, Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro, Castello and Santa Croce. Each district contains a huge number of real artworks, from the Churches to the extraordinary, large and small, squares, often called “fields”, surrounded on all sides by old houses and buildings attached to each other. Through the alleys and streets wider, often called “Calli”, you walk through the centuries, and many beautiful views will open up in front of your eyes. You will walk over the Rialto Bridge, the oldest and largest bridge of Venice, built on 12,000 wooden piles and still supported by them, then down to the square of the old fish market up to the beautiful Church of St. Jerome, with its magnificent facade of carved stone, both near the bridge. Continuing to walk away you will reach the famous La Fenice Theater, so called because of the numerous fires that have destroyed it, and from which it is always reborn. Then you will reach the huge, amazing Piazza San Marco, with the Doge’s Palace and other buildings surrounding the enormous space, as the Old and New Procurazie, once destined to be administrative buildings of the Authority. Continuing to walk through all these wonders, you will pass through the area of the ​​Haberdashers, an intricate maze of shopping streets, with many shops, restaurants and bars. Then do not miss a stroll on the charming “rafts”, a large and famous sidewalk, along the Grand Canal. Below we list some of the buildings that you should definitely see,once in Venice.

Cannaregio district

And ‘the northern district of Venice, located near the train station, with the noisy areas, such as List of Spain (via Ambasciata di Spagna), and the quieter areas, such as those further away from the Grand Canal, like the Jewish Ghetto . In this neighborhood there are lots of important buildings, but these are not to be missed: . Church of Saint Mary of Nazareth, also called “The Barefoot” ( Gli Scalzi ) (1672 A.D.) that contains the body of the last Doge Ludovico Manin; . Jewish Ghetto, about 1400 A.D. (old and new) consists of a few low buildings, where Jews from all over Italy, and Europe, gathered during their years of harsh persecution. The Jews, of different nationalities, created, during the sixteenth century, their schools / synagogues (the German school, the Spanish school, the Italian School, etc …); . Madonna Dell’Orto, Gothic Church (1351 A.D.) is famous for hosting the tomb of Tintoretto and his sons’, and to have a statue of Saint Mary, located in an orchard near his position, famous for having done miracles and to which the Church was, for this reason, dedicated. The Church, for this reason too, contains precious paintings by Tintoretto; . Ca ‘d’Oro (1400 A.D.) is a famous Byzantine-Gothic palace, built for a wealthy Venetian, whose facade on the Grand Canal, still shows its precious paintings in gold and blue; . Campo (Square) of Moors; it owes its name to a famous family of merchants, the Mastelli, from the Morea (Peloponnese), close to this beautiful square stands the final resting place of Tintoretto. . Santa Mara Assunta Church (1700 A.D.), usually called “The Jesuits” is a large building with a beautiful interior and a famous painting by Titian, the famous painter who lived in a house near this church. . Santa Maria dei Miracoli Church (1480 A.D.) is a little gem, not to be missed.

District of San Marco

In the heart of Venice, surrounded by the Grand Canal and located in the central part of the City. It was here that the first inhabitants of the City, coming from other smaller islands, fled, to escape from the Huns. Here they were founded the Ducal Palace and the Saint Mark, Cathedral, the two most important buildings throughout the City, where the power of the Republic grew year after year, establishing a record of strength and wealth in Europe. Here is a list of places you must absolutely see: . The Saint Mark Cathedral. It was built to commemorate Saint Mark, Patron of the city, buried under its altar. Saint Mark was built, and destroyed three times between 831 and 1094 A.D. . The last, the today’s Church, is, in a certain way, unique and extraordinary. It was inspired by Byzantine architecture, and it’s a sum of different and heterogeneous styles, as the Byzantine and Gothic. Lots of beautiful, and colorful, mosaics are located outside and inside the Church, on the walls, the ceilings and the domes, to represent Biblical scenes of life of the Saints. Many stone statues are placed anywhere, to decorate the building, with the aim of showing all the power of the Doge. This huge, beautiful church in oriental style, is probably the true symbol of Venice around the world . . Saint Mark Square is a huge square, on which, many of the most important  and fascinating buildings of Venice stand. This wonderful square, bustling with thousands of tourists, is the place where you can find ​​some very famous and expensive bars and restaurants.   . The Ducal Palace was the center of the Political Power in the Venice of the past. As The Saint Mark Cathedral, it has many architectural styles, with a tendency to the Oriental Gothic. It ‘a beautiful and enormous building, built and destroyed several times by fires, from the nineth  to twelveth century , then modified, and again enlarged in later centuries. The main entrance is called the “Door of the Paper”, from here the tour begins. There are many rooms, where, in the past, political and juridical functions  were exerted. Here there is  the apartment of the Doge, extending in various rooms such as the Grimani hall, the Erizzo  hall, the Philosophers’ hall and the Room of  the squires. Here there is also the Four Doors’ hall, where the Council of the Republic gathered, and the College’s hall, where the Council (The Doge, 16 senators, three supreme judges, and six counselors), which chaired the Senate, gatheder. The Grand Council’s  hall, which was the Voice of the People, was the meeting place of all the Patricians of Venice, more than 2000 people could have been contained here, although, rarely, they have reached that number. Farther, there is the room of the Council of the Ten, that is the room where the Council had to discuss the problems of State protection. Other rooms, then,  follow one another; rooms where judgments and lawsuits took place;  rooms that housed the prisons: some on the ground floor, for the worst crimes, called “the Weights”, and some in the attic of the Palace , for the minor crimes, called “the Wells”. Other prisons were also outside the building and connected to it by a very famous bridge, one of the most famous of the whole city, called “the Bridge of the Sighs”, so called because of the sighs of the prisoners, convicted and led from the Ducal Palace to the prisons.    . The San Mark Steeple: (1490 A.D. about) is the tallest building in Venice (99 mt.), once used as  lighthouse in the ancient port.  Its five bells rang to signal the different moments in the life of the City: one for the meetings of the Grand Council at Ducal Palace, one to signal to the Noon, one to signal the beginning and end of each working day, one to announce  the Senate’s meeting and the last to announce the executions.  In the early years of the twentieth century, the tower collapsed, but in a few years it has been perfectly rebuilt.   . the Patriarchal Palace (800 A.D.) was the official residence of the Doges, it is itself a very beautiful building, located in Saint mark Square too.   . the Tower of  the Watch: (1490 A.D. about) houses a wonderful and complicated clockwork, which is located inside the tower. Outside, at the top there are two bronze statues of two Moors striking a bell. During the week of the Ascension, the statue of an Angel moves, sliding behind those of the Magi, passing by the statue of Holy Mary and bowing to Her.    . the Old Procuraties (1500 A.D. about) was the first residence of the Venice State Magistrates. They were about nine people, who, with the Doge, managed and administered the City.    .The New Procuraties(1580 A.D. about) became afterwards the new home of the Prosecutors, who moved here from the Old Procuraties. This building was later connected to the former, by the stepson of Napoleon,  constructing a new building called the Napoleonic Wing    . The Sansovinian Library: (1538 approx.), built by the famous architect Sansovino, is one of the most ornated, painted (Tintoretto, Veronese, etc …) and rich Palaces of the whole Venice. It contains a collection of precious, ancient, classical books.    . The Church of Saint Salvador (1176 approx.) is a very large Church, as many others in Venice, it has been amended and revised several times over the centuries. Inside there are some important paintings by Titian, and also the tomb of Catherine Cornaro, very famous in Venice for having been the Queen of Cyprus, which she donated to the Republic after the death of her husband.    .The Squares (Fields): There are many squares in the District of Saint Mark, all beautiful, all with their Churches, all named “Fields”, as almost all the squares of Venice. The best are:  Saint Bartolomeo Field,  large and crowded; Saint Luke Field, quiet and silent, which houses the tomb of Pietro Aretino, a very famous Gossip writer in the 1500; Saint Samuel Field, near the majestic  Grassi Palace, famous for its great Fairs and  birthplace of Giacomo Casanova (writer, and famous heartthrob).

Castello District

The Castle ( Castello ) district, bordering the Districts of San Marco, Santa Croce and Cannaregio (eastern districts). The most important monuments to see are:    . The Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli (1480 AD) is a little gem, one of the finest churches of the city, the multicolored marble exterior are tastefully decorated. Even within the Church is lined with beautiful marble and has some beautiful statues and paintings. . The Church of Saints John and Paul also called Zanipolo (1333 AD), is the principal monument of this district, is a very beautiful Gothic church, built by ‘Order of the Dominicans. Inside, this great building is a sort of sacred graveyard, you are indeed the tombs of many Doges: those belonging to the family of the Doge Mocenigo to those of Andrea Vendramin, Mark Corner, Doge Giovanni Dolfin, and some others. Outside the Church there is the homonymous field (Field), with a large sculpture dedicated to the famous condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni, a mercenary who fought many years for the army of Venice. . The Church of San Giorgio (1539 A.D.) is also called a Church Church of the Greek Orthodox because of its nature. Inside this church you can see some very old paintings and statues of Byzantine art. . The big School of Saint Mark (1470 A.D.) was one of the Big Schools, and, after the suppression of such schools, became the Hospital of Venice. Its facade is a beautiful example of carved prospects.  . The Shore of the big Slaves (Riva degli Schiavoni) is a popular broad sidewalk that runs from Piazza San Marco to the Arsenal area, at the beginning of the Eastern District of St. Helena. The walk is very nice, now, often crowded and full of hotels and restaurants. Its name comes from a very ancient tradition and sad for the purchase of slaves, who came here from many foreign countries, and that took place right here. . The Church of Saint  Prosperous Mary (Formosa) (1490 A.D.) is located in the center of  Castle district. Originally built around 600 A.D., it was dedicated to Saint Mary Prosperous, dreamed by a Bishop. The Church was decorated and changed a few times over the centuries. Above all, to see, its two facades built in the sixteenth century and a weird face, ugly and entertaining, stonemade, placed under the bell tower. Around this beautiful building is a fascinating field.

Dorsoduro District

Dorsoduro, enclosed among San Polo, San Marco and the Marittima Station, is a zone full of wonderful residential Palaces, whose most important building is the Accademy, to see, in this district, are:   . The Accademy Galleries (1342-1440-1561 A.D. ), resulting  from the union of three buildings: 1) the Charity School ( one of the six, big Venice schools ); 2) Saint Mary of the Charity Church; 3) the Monastery of the Laterans. Once prestigious home of the school of Arts, now declined, and new home of the Accademy Galleries, a stunning paintings  Gallery. Its passing rooms are full of priceless paintings, from 1400 A.D. to 1800 A.D. , of famous painters, as Giorgione, Veneziano, Tintoretto, Mantegna, Lotto, Tiepolo, Carpaccio, Bellini, Veronese and some others.   . Saint Mary of the Healt Church ( 1630 A.D. ab.) is a particular Church since owe its name to a plague, from which the City came out. It’s located at the edge of the Grand Canal, almost in front of Saint Mark square. This big and important Church is consacrated to Holy Mary, who saved the City of Venice.    . the Big School of the Carmins: it’s a famous religious building, with important paintings of Tiepolo, once seat of the Carmelites-Marian friars, with its nearby sixteenth century Church and its square ( field ) , it is close to the more famous and frequented Saint Margaret Square.   . Cà Rezzonico: huge and grand mansion, seat of the 1700’s Venetian Museum   .  the Zattere: from Marittima Station to Punta della Dogana, there is this very long, and wide sidewalk. A lot of historical buildings overlook this wonderful walk: Palaces, Mansions and Churches, as Saint Trovaso, Holy Spirit and Saint Mary of the Visitation Here you can find some squeros, the old shipyards where gondolas were, and still are, built.


Santa Croce District

This zone is not so historically renowned, as the others  above mentioned, but it is anyway  part of this incredible City, and, as a part of it,  it contains some important masterpieces:   . the Arsenal: the Arsenal, with its famous four, antique lions, placed at the entrance, has probably been the first European industry. Born around the 12th century for building and repairing boats, it spreaded always more till the 16th century with a huge, for those times, number of workers ( around 15.000 ). In the end of 18th century Napoleon destroyed it, and in the 20th century it has been rebuilt, but it had by then, lost its prestige ed importance. Today its spaces are used for hosting exhibistions ed expositions of the most important Venetian Art Fair: the Biennale ( the Biennial ).    . San Peter Church: this building was planned by the very famous venetian architect Palladio, who planned and drew the Church in the 16th century.   . Public Gardens: here you will find the Venice Public Gardens, where the pavillions of the Biennal Fair ( the important international Art Fair well known all over the world ) are set up. The majority of the expositions are held here, and for this reason some foreign Country have built here their own buildings, destined to host their most valued artists, during the Fair.   . Saint Helen Quarter: it’s the extreme oriental ramification of Venice, once kind of a park and now the site of new blocks of residential buildings, raised up among green areas. The beautiful Saint Helen Church, dedicated to the Holy woman, mother of the Emperor Constantine, whose sacred body was buried here, approximately in the 13th century, stands here, nearby the seaside   . Saint George of the big Slaves ( Schiavoni ) School: this building was built by the some slaves ( Slavs), that built it as a representative building of their ethnicity. Inside you’ll find fine paintings of Carpaccio.