When you look out over the rooftops of Venice, you look at the most perfectly preserved cityscape in Europe.
You become a medieval Venetian when you enter this unique city. Cars are banned, so everyone takes to the narrow streets just as they did 800 years ago. Travel is still by water with vaporettos taking the place of the thousands of gondolas that used to ply the Bacino San Marco. And the silence is palpable - broken only by the tramp of feet, church bells, and toots from vessels in the Adriatic.
To get even closer to the history of this city, a visit to the Musei Correr (City Museum) is a must. Combine this with a trip up the Campanile, it rounds off the sights in the Piazza San Marco. Until, of course, the next time you get the urge to visit Venice..
Musei Correr - 9.00am-7.00pm
The Musei Correr is linked with a combined ticket with the Palazzo Ducale for about 18,000 lira so you may find yourself visiting it just to get your money's worth. It is situated in the Ala Napoleonica on the western edge of the Piazza where you step through the colonnades to enter western Castello and the route to the Academia. It once served as the offices of the civil servants who ran the Venetian Empire. The entrance is under the Procuraties and up a marble staircase.
There was something of the drawing room in this museum which housed the cities bric-a-brac and each gallery is covered in portraits of dour looking Doges. Venice's relationship with the sea was commemorated with models of galleons and watercolours of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The maps on the wall were very interesting including an aerial one of Venice in 1500 where I could pick out the passageway which housed my hotel. And a globe from 1688 which showed the world without Argentina, California and Australia.
The weapons on display were memorable with plenty of halberds, swords, helms and polearms. And the Libraria Sansorvino was epic with gilt ceiling and parquet floor. But I felt there was something empty about the Musei Correr. I wanted to know how the people lived and what life was like hundreds of years ago and despite the treasures on offer it did not accomplish this. It is in no way as good as the Budapest Historical Musuem or Museum of London. You may see the Musei Correr as it is combined with the Palazzo Ducale, but I would seriously save it for a rainy day.
The Campanile (9.00am to 7.00pm, 10,000 lira)
You can't say that about the fabulous Campanile. I originally wasn't going to visit it as everytime I passed it the queues were horrendous and it seemed just that little too much of a tourist cliche. But after chatting with other hotel guests I felt I had to visit and I was so glad I did.
I chose early morning on my last day when Venice was laced with rain clouds. It is slightly expensive at 10,000 lira but worth every penny.
This is the tallest building in Venice and the original one dates back to 1514 when they used to dangle criminals in cages from the summit. In 1901 the whole thing collapsed into a perfect heap and it was rebuilt to include an elevator/lift. At any time day or night the queues for the lift/elevator are horrendous, but stick with it because after you crowd into the elevator and ride to the top the views are sensational. You will have to share them with dozens of others but once you get a clear view you can see as far as the Dolomites a hundred miles away.
As you look down to the north is the Piazza, grey in the rain but with red rooftops reaching to the horizon. The view stretched as far as Tronchetto where cruiseliners could be seen in the distance. To the south is the open sea with Salute and the Grande Canale looking ethereal in the mist (see photo). The Molo was impressive from this height with the columns, gondolas and an identical Campanile in Islola Maggiore staring back at us. To the east you can actually see into the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale, and next door the Eastern domes of the Basilica looked like they were from the 'Arabian Nights'. But all around us were the rooftops of Venice hiding thousands of passageways and canals. We aren't in Italy anymore, we are on a different planet.