District-by-district guide to the ancient city’s profusion of art, architecture and artifacts integrated with its essential history and dominant cultural themes.
Ardent, art-loving travelers aiming to follow McGregor page by page through Venice will need not only resources but plenty of time. As with his take on Rome (Rome from the Ground Up, 2005), the author spares little effort here in presenting Venice’s amazing collection of wonders in full context of the theology, politics and mercantilism that molded the former Republic over the centuries. Founded in the sixth century as a water-bounded sanctuary for locals fleeing barbarian invasions, Venice evolved as a uniquely independent entity with vested theocratic clout following the a.d. 829 purloining by a party of Venetian merchants of the corpse of Saint Mark from its sepulcher in Egypt. This and a robust navy not only kept medieval robber-barons at bay, but served to prevent its own rulers from waxing despotic. “Finding a common artistic formula that expressed this unusual situation,” McGregor writes, “was a great triumph for Venetian political art.” While in fulsome praise of such landmarks as St. Mark’s Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale, the author points out the illusory results of a common restoration process known as “repristinization”—the attempt to strip away components of a structure that do not relate to its exact period of origin. Collapsing hundreds of years of a building’s history into “a single entirely fictive moment,” McGregor warns, too often manifests “a creature of the process rather than a historical reality.” With the city still perceptibly sinking, its lagoon hopelessly polluted, its population dwindling, its treasured structures slowly crumbling, the author observes that Venice seems constantly under threat of becoming a government-run theme park, yet in the face of such dire predictions, Venetians still manage to “carry on with beauty, energy and purpose.”
A thinking person’s guidebook, well supported by illustrations, maps and rich perspectives.