Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Venice Jan 2005 - Part II

We walked around the square to get our bearings and to allow the admittedly small queue for St. Mark's to become smaller. I was disappointed by the no-photography rule inside, especially given that this was one of the reasons I was here. I have photographs of mosaic work from Sicily, Greece and Turkey where no one forbids it. Now I had come on what was essentially a mosaic holiday and faced "no photography" signs. This was a bit down heartening. OK - if I cannot take pictures, St. Mark's still has one thing to offer me: atmosphere.

St. Mark's is meant to have been constructed on the same size and plans as the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. This was another of Justinian's exercises in supersizing Constantine's churches. While we can still see three of Justinian's churches in Istanbul today, the Church of the Holy Apostles fell into disrepair and was already in ruins at the time of the fall. It was taken apart and used as spolia by the Ottomans for their Fatih "Conqueror" mosque. There are very few churches of this size and floorplan still around, and now I was getting the opportunity to look inside a church with the floorplan of the Holy Apostles, and with mosaic decoration, which should also give an idea of what Justinian's church was like.

On entering, I was struck by the size and spaciousness, but that was all. What disappointed was the mosaic work. Compared to the works in Constantinople of the same time, or even of Palermo, what I saw in St. Marks left me with a feeling that I had been cheated. The hype was such that when I got there and craned my neck up, I felt unsated. It's not so much the workmanship on the figures themselves so much as the programme - there are great empty spaces of gold ground which would have been so much better filled with vines, tendrils, geometric shapes, and the like. I was not prepared for so much gold ground and unimpressed by it when I saw it. No doubt the Frankish knights of the fourth who came to ask for carriage to Alexandria in the very early thirteenth century were suitably impressed by this show of gold. I wouldn't have made a good Frankish knight.

Speaking of which, we visited both the treasury and the Pala d'Oro, and then the space on the upper floor with the horses and an exhibition on the history of restoration work. The balcony gives an impressive view over the square and across to the Lido. The horses gave mixed emotions, as I wanted to believe that I was in the presence of a Pheidias original, but the exhibition texts talk of first or second century creations. We will never know. These horses in front of me are those same ones which Porphyrius the charioteer and Theodora's father raced around when they sat on the spina. No doubt some of the Nika rioters would have died with these horses as the last thing they saw, while being charged down by the horses of Belissarius' cavalry. Noise - the statues lived surrounded by noise in the mother of cities, and now they had the quiet of St. Mark's and the hushed voices of the passing tourists to keep them company.

I have highlighted a little original building-work peeping through here in the side of St. Marks.

Leaving the cathedral, we picked up our bags which we had been asked to leave just off the little square of the lions. We began a westwardly stroll without any destination in particular, intending to reach at some point the Rialto Bridge. We passed many art exhibitions which seemed ridiculously overpriced to us, especially the Turner whose works one does not pay for in London. I am not sure which way we went and how we eventually go to the Rialto Bridge, but we ate at a restaurant near the theater on the way, called al Teatro, which was decent enough, without being something overwhelmingly special. There were building works going on nearby which started up with their pneumatic whatsits soon after we started eating and the staff were very apologetic, despite it not being their fault at all.

The Rialto Bridge area was very busy with tourists and locals alike. I was fascinated by the mareometer on the main vaporetto stop which barometer-like recorded the height of the sea throughout the day. I had read about the flooding and read the posters outside St. Zacharia showing flooded Venice, but since all the days we were there the water seemed to be quite low, nothing drove it home more than the mareometer, except perhaps the "moss-line" visible all over the town about half a yard above the sea level. This is a green line on every wall in the city above which the wall is normal, and below which grow mossy sorts of plants which give the impression of the sort of plants which need to be in water to survive.

It was here at the Rialto area that I decided to talk to one of the gondoliers as we were still debating with Korinna whether or not to take one of the 60 Euro rides.

I wanted to find out a bit about the Befana Regatta which ended at the Rialto - like what time it starts and where a good place to watch would be. The gondolier was a glum fellow and gave us the information I asked for grudgingly. I don't know whether this was because he realized we were not going to ask for a boat trip, or whether it was his nature to be a glum and grudging source of information about local customs to tourists. We did not take a gondola ride.

We walked about town after dusk and nightfall and stopped at a café which really did seem to be patronized by the locals. They had the Eraclea Antiqua brand hot chocolate, to which we are both very partial and we sat reading here until we decided to get on a boat back to the Lido. We did the Grand Canal by night this time, having walked up a little distance in the day and returned to the hotel.

We had supper in a pizzeria up the central perpendicular street which starts at the vaporetto stop. The pizzeria happened to be almost full of an American school group, but the pizza was good enough.

1 comment:

Mandup L said...

I am glad that you posted pictures.