Venice, Piazzas, Palazzos and Padlocks

Venice Italy

“To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.”                                                                                                                                 Alexander Herzen

The Hotel Grand Italia provided a splendid breakfast and after we had had several plates of excellent food we gathered together at the reception desk and when we were all accounted for we made our way to the railway station.

Padova Stazione is one of those grand public buildings that are a legacy of the fascist era in Italy and Mussolini’s principal architect Angiolo Mazzoni Del Grande.  His public buildings are iconic features of twentieth century Italy and they have an impressive functional design and layout that makes them a pleasing monument to an otherwise unpleasant era of Italian and European history.

The fare was reasonable and the short journey took about forty minutes and at half past ten the train pulled in to Venice Santa Lucia Stazione  and we stepped outside the passenger terminal to look across the Grand Canal to a city that on the surface seems more to resemble a theme park than an important regional capital because looks deceive and Venice is a city equally famous for  both tourism and for industry, and is the capital of the region Veneto.

The name is derived from the ancient tribe of Veneti that inhabited the region in Roman times. The city historically was the capital of a powerful and successful sea-born independent city-state. Venice has been known as the “La Dominante”, “Serenissima”, “Queen of the Adriatic”, “City of Water”, “City of Masks”, “City of Bridges”, “The Floating City”, and “City of Canals”.  It stretches across one hundred and seventeen small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea and the saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po (south) and the Piave (north) Rivers.

Venice Canal Italy

The plan was to take a Vaporetti, which is a sort of public transport water bus, along the Grand Canal to St. Marks Square but inflation seems to have had an impact on the fares and at €7 each for a ticket that was only valid for an hour this seemed rather expensive to me even if it is a good way to see the Grand Canal so rather than fork out for a boat ride we decided to walk instead and crossed the Ponte Degli Scazi and slipped into the labyrinth of narrow alleys of the district of Santa Croce and followed signs for the Rialto.

As we walked through the narrow streets and small piazzas, each one similar but every one different, I was reminded again of the Shakespeare connection because it occurred to me that almost any campo here would serve as a backdrop for a Elizabethan street scene, any palazzo interior a setting for witty or romantic dialogue because there is possibly no other city in Europe so little changed since Shakespeare’s day.  The Rialto Bridge may then have been made of wood but the Erberia and Pesceria markets, dating from 1097, continue to supply the city with fresh produce and a view from any of the bell towers across the canals and the lagoon must look the same as what Shakespeare would have seen – had he ever been here of course!

We didn’t have any sort of structured plan so we just ambled through the streets, at one point getting in the way of a film crew and Nigella Lawson recording an episode for her TV series on Italian cooking and then passing through alleyways and around surprising corners, wandering through San Polo with its pastel coloured apartments until we came close to the Rialto and stopped for mid morning coffee in a back street café serving biscuits and cakes and smelling delightfully of roasting coffee beans.  Everyone ordered their favourite but I don’t really like coffee so I had a Peroni beer instead!

The Rialto is the mercantile hub of the city and although the market traders were now packing away and disappearing for the day there was still a atmosphere of frenzied commercial activity as we pushed our way through the busy streets and out once more onto the Grand Canal, carving its way in a regal curve through a parade of palaces and  where the water was alarmingly high and lapping over the stones which should have marked the boundary between pavement and water but were now sunken as one simply merged into the other as the water leaked without hindrance onto the footway.

Venice Italy Gondola

The medieval Rialto Bridge links San Polo with San Marco and together with hundreds of others we made the crossing through the unlikely parade of shops and the railings covered in love lock padlock graffiti which seems to have become an irritating epidemic all across Europe.  This is a lover’s plague where by signing and locking the padlock and throwing the key into the river they become eternally bonded.  Now, this is an action where I would recommend extreme caution because it sounds dangerously impulsive to me; I think I would further recommend taking the precaution of keeping a spare somewhere in case I needed to release myself later.

This might sound all rather lovely but apparently all of these love tokens do lots of damage to the bridge because as they age and rust this spreads to the ironwork and thousands of padlocks need to be removed every year and which the city authorities consider to be an act of vandalism.

To anyone who thinks this is mean spirited please bear in mind that in June 2014 the ‘Pond des Arts’ in Paris across the River Seine collapsed under the weight of these padlock monstrosities and had to be temporarily closed.  They are not just unsightly – they are dangerous!

To deter people there is a €3,000 penalty and up to a year in prison for those caught doing it and that is a much, much higher price than I would be prepared to pay for eternal bondage!

Actually, it may be that there is some truth in this tale about commitment and everlasting love because according to ‘Eurostat’ even though the divorce rate has doubled recently Italy still has one of the lowest rates in the European Union. Sweden has the highest and although I don’t know this for a fact I am willing to bet that across all of Europe the Vatican State probably has the absolute lowest!

‘This is most apparent on the Pont des Arts, which has been terribly degraded, both visually and structurally.   In a few short years, the heart of Paris has been made ugly, robbing Parisians of quality of life and the ability to safely enjoy their own public spaces along the Seine, which has itself been polluted by thousands of discarded keys…. The time has come to enact a ban on ‘love locks’ in order to return our bridges to their original beauty and purpose.’          Petition Against Love Locks, Paris.

Grand Canal Venice Rialto Bridge


Other posts about Italian Fascist architecture:

Fascist architecture and the rebuilding of Kos

The Post Office at Pula, Croatia

Palermo, Sicily


6 responses to “Venice, Piazzas, Palazzos and Padlocks

  1. I learn something with every post Andrew. Illegal love locks ….what am I to do with all those lovely photos I took in Venice? You have great shots of the city we spent most of our time blissfully lost. Bring on the Peroni and coffee.

    • There is also a fine for attaching them to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. At Juliet’s House in Verona it is illegal to attach them to the building but there is a special area of wall that is provided for people who are so minded. I also saw something similar in St Petersburg where the city authorities had provided metal tree sculptures and invited people to attach padlocks there and hopefully leave the bridges alone.
      Personally I can’t see the point of going to the expense of buying a padlock, locking it and throwing away the key, I’d prefer to use it to lock up my bike!

      • You are a practical thinker Andrew. I wonder about the hike between the villages in Cinque Terre. There are a million or so locks there as well. So many bikes left feeling unsafe 🙂

  2. A year in jail for lovelocks? Ho ho ho! Not very macho if you had to explain what your crime was to an armed robber!

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