Venice: la Serenissima
When I heard that Venice has been known throughout its most recent history as La Serenissima, I immediately trivialised its interpretation. I imagined, of course, it had to do with the relative silence of the city (no traffic) and the apparent lack of stress (nobody hurries anywhere). The speed of life is reduced to walking pace and the meanderings of the tourist gondolas, which never seem to be going anywhere with any purpose.
Once you step over the bridge from Piazzale Roma, you enter not a living community but a museum. Some would disparagingly say that Venice has been ‘Disneyfied’ into a theme park: vital and throbbing during the day, maybe, but
once the sun sets, the life is drained away, the lights go out, the huge army of service workers depart to their distant suburbs. Nobody actually lives in Venice. Why? Well, properties are horrendously expensive, mostly owned by absent millionaires, and at night very few buildings show evidence of any life.
Even during the daytime, if you wander off the main tourist routes, you can get hopelessly lost in a warren of uninhabited backstreets, many of them forbidding and menacing by virtue of their very emptiness. When you go to Venice, you will get lost. You will find yourself going around in circles, following the signs to Piazza San Marco or Ponte di Rialto, and you never seem to get there. I understand there is no absolutely accurate map of the historic centre of Venice. A blessing in itself, some would say, because getting lost is part of the magic of Venice.
But why was it called La Serenissima, I hear you say? Today, we think of Venice as a city, but it was once the centre of a huge trading empire, a sovereign state in its own right. To call a state Most Serene was in acknowledgement of its right to be seen as sovereign.
If a visit to Venice is on your ‘bucket list’, go before it sinks and disappears beneath the waves. Our cruise ship was one of the last to be allowed to dock at Venice because of the damage being done to the lagoons and port area. This is very bad news for Venetians. Cruise ships bring tens of thousands of visitors to the heart of the city every year.