Today we arrived in Florence. Our train from Venice to Florence left at 10:24 a.m. and we arrived at 1:00 p.m. Venice was so beautiful, it’s hard to describe it with words or even pictures. We were here for four very busy days. We saw many of the sites synonymous with Venice: the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto Bridge, the San Michele cemetery, Murano, and of course, the Grand Canal. It was incredible. Venice consists of more than a hundred islands, and has been inhabited for the last millenium. While some of the city is in fact built upon these islands, much of it is built on man-made tiers of pine, rock, and sand. Historically the city was ruled by the Doge, and was an empire and center of trade. In the last few centuries, however, it has lost much of its political power and has become a destination for tourists and exiles. This was the Venice Lord Byron knew and loved.
Venice was incredibly important to Byron. He came to town after his messy divorce from Annabella Millbanke, running from rumors and scandal. He enjoyed a freedom in Venice he didn’t have in England--both poetically and sexually. Venice was a city he loved dearly, a fact which is reflected in the poetry he wrote during his time here. He also spent time with his dear friend, Percy Shelley. Aside from the poetry and parties, Byron learned Armenian and pursued goals of social justice. He worked with a number of Armenian monks to create an Armenian-English dictionary, which required he cross the lagoon each morning via gondola--an arduous journey. So as much as we think of Byron as the playboy poet, we have to recognize the good he did.
For Byron, Venice was a place to get lost. After spending a few days in the city, it is easy to understand why. On a surface level, Venice is confusing. Buildings are so close together, streets aren’t always through, and it’s not built on a grid like most cities we’re used to. While maps are necessary to help navigate through the twisting streets, they are often less helpful than the signs posted on the buildings--mostly the yellow signs that indicate the direction of certain landmarks, such as Ferrovia, Rialto Bridge, and San Marco Square and Vaporetto stops (the water taxis). On another level, Venice is a place to get lost figuratively. A place where time stands still as you wander--possibly with gelato in hand. We looked at the stars from Rialto Bridge, and the Adriatic Sea from Lido Beach just as Byron and Shelley would have. Even when exploring the city as a class, we spent more time window shopping, retracing our steps, and improvising than we have up to this point. It is easy to see why Byron fell in love with the city, and--while we look forward to the rest of our trip--Venice will be missed.
Until next time,
Jonathan, Emma, and Grant.