Tag Archives: Travel

Allure of the Sinking City.

I didn’t have my boots. But luckily I didn’t need them this time. There was no aqua alta. No water came up onto the streets, squares and court yards like I had witnessed when I visited Venice a few years ago for work. However, major flooding, covering almost 15% of the city, now occurs about four times a year when the converging high tides and sirocco winds push more sea water into the lagoon. And minor flooding happens more and more often. This beautiful city is sinking.

Venice pictured from the lagoonPart of the sinking is due to natural compaction of the sediments on the 118 islands that make up the city, but a slightly larger part is due to human activity, such as conservation and renovation of the historic buildings. Some say the huge number of tourists descending on the city center on a daily basis also contributes, at least indirectly, to the sinking. And it doesn’t help that the water levels in the Adriatic Sea are rising due to global warming.

st Mark's Square Piazza San Marco VeniceI felt a bit guilty being one of the about 30 million tourists visiting Venice annually. Tourism has clearly made it more difficult for the locals to live, and afford to live, in the city. Many have already moved to the mainland. And tourism contributes very little towards the overwhelming challenges of conservation and protection against the rising waters faced by the residents. I am all for an entry fee for visitors and all the other limiting measures now contemplated by the Mayor and local government of Venice.

cruise ship in Venice_edited-1I also believe that banning the huge cruise ships from sailing into the lagoon would be a good step in the right direction…just check the scale of this ship compared to the buildings next to it.

my waterbus in VeniceThese thoughts in mind, but happy it was not raining, I set out to navigate my way from the (in comparison) small boat towards Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark’s Square as we call it in English.

I passed the Doge’s Palace, which I had already admired from the water. It had housed over 1000 Doges, elected rulers of Venice, before the “job” was abolished in 1797. The palace had also contained the court, administration and the prison systems of Venice during the medieval and renaissance periods.

the Doge's Palace VeniceOnce at the Piazza, I was fascinated by the gorgeous, intricate details of the Basilica San Marco. I just walked around it and zoomed in on one detail after another.

the horses of st Mark Basilica cavalli di san marco venice

nativity scene at saint marks basilica in Venice

mosaics at San Marco Venice_edited-1

painting on Saint Mark Basilica in Venice_edited-1The sights around the Piazza were just stunning. One beautiful building,  statue, detail or pigeon next to another.

Piazza San Marco Venice

Doorway in Venice

Detail of a pillar in Venice

the clock ringers in Venice

pigeons at Piazza San Marco VeniceI stayed there for quite a while and came across this ancient “letter box” in the wall. It was not one of the famous Boca de Leons through which citizens could anonymously send accusations to the Doge. This one had a more serious clang to it. The accusations of crime had to be signed with the name and address of the accuser. If, after a thorough investigation, the accusation was found correct and a crime had been committed, the accused would be punished. Sometimes beheaded. But should the accusation be unfounded, the accuser would be punished. Ouch. Judging from the discolorations around the letter hole, it seems this method of getting justice had been used quite frequently.

letter box for accusations non-anonymous in VeniceThe “weatherman”, as Venetians call the angel at the top of St. Mark’s clock tower, predicted overcast skies and some wind but no rain for the day. Encouraged by this good forecast, I decided to take a gondola ride.

the weatherman at the top of the clock tower in VeniceI walked to one of the “Gondola stations”. I wanted to see the ordinary houses where people lived, and some of the 430 bridges, cruising through a few of the 170 narrow canals.

gondola station in VeniceAnd after a short wait I was onboard. My gondolier worked hard to get us out to the Grand Canal. It should be noted that it’s not easy to become a gondolier. While the license is often transferred from father to son, the aspiring gondoliers must go to gondola school, do a formal internship of 6-12 months and pass a practical exam in front of 5 gondola judges. Among the approximately 400 licensed gondoliers today, there is only one woman.

My gondolier in Venice

gondolas in venice_edited-2

in the gondola on the great canal in Venice_edited-1We passed many beautiful buildings and churches exhibiting more exquisite mosaics.

mosaic on a house wall in Venice

exterior mosaic painting Venice_edited-1From the Grand Canal we entered the narrow, residential canals, sometimes navigating through traffic jams of gondolas, residents’ boats and water taxis.

canal and gondolas venice_edited-1

my gondola navigates in VeniceBoats were “parallel parked” in the front of the homes just like we would see cars elsewhere.

street parking in VeniceWe glided under some of the beautiful large and small bridges.

on the water in Venice

venice canal and bridge

in the gondola in VeniceAnd I witnessed, with some heartache, the true romance of gondola rides…a musician and a soloist onboard entertaining a couple. But “O’ Sole Mio” didn’t help to bring out the sun.

gondolier musician and solist in VeniceThe gondola ride was a unique experience to say the least. After the ride, I visited a glass factory. Or rather a workshop and sales quarters of one of the producers of the famous Murano glass. They had a small workshop in the city, while their main factory was…on the island of Murano. I watched the Master create a vase, and of course ended up buying some small, but still fairly pricey gifts.

glassblowing venice

Murano glass in Venice_edited-1Walking back to the boat over numerous brides, I got lost. The best way to see Venice, according to some. I noticed I was surrounded by several restaurants and realized I hadn’t eaten since my light breakfast at 5:30 a.m.

bridge in VeniceAfter some pizza and a glass of red wine, I regained my bearings. …and encountered some of the mysteries of this unique city.

mask Venice_edited-1From behind my Volta mask, I wish you all a beautiful Sunday and a great week ahead.

The Last Day. Anno 79 A.D.

It was late morning on August 24, 79 A.D. The lively city of Pompeii was buzzing with activity. The main street leading to the Forum was busy with carts, carriages and chariots bouncing over the large cobblestones.

main street Pompeii

street PompeiiOn residential streets, pedestrians negotiated their way on narrow sidewalks. The sidewalks were raised because unlike Rome, Pompeii didn’t have a sophisticated sewer system and much of the wastewater found its way onto the streets. Crossing the street with produce from the market or products from the many flourishing shops around the Forum was a balancing act on the large, flat stones provided for the purpose of crossing with dry feet.

street and crosswalk in PompeiiAs usual, people were gathering around the many drinking wells around the city exchanging the latest news and some, without a doubt, also engaging in rumor mongering.

drinking well in Pompeii_edited-2Nobody worried about the fact that the water to these fountains was flowing through lead pipes.

another well in PompeiiThe bath houses were still busy with late morning bathers, men and women enjoying separate quarters. Their clothing neatly tucked away in the “lockers” around the bath.

wall art outside a bath house in Pompeii

inside of the bath house in PompeiiSome people were lingering in the colorfully decorated common areas of the bath house.

bath house frescos PompeiiThis Tuesday morning, life was going on its usual merry ways at the many hotels (and brothels), shops and bakeries in the city.

hotel 2 in Pompeii

bedroom in Pompeii

shop in pompeii

bakery in PompeiiThe morning rehearsals at the Grand Theater had just concluded and the spectators were leaving the venue. It was a perfect morning.

grand theater pompeiiThe smaller Forum was busy too. Young men were competing in athletics, their families cheering them on. Some were standing in small groups discussing politics.

smaller forum in Pompeii

floor mosaic PompeiiAt the affluent villas of the nobel class and newly rich merchants, the morning was spent leisurely around the house.

the floor plan of the latest opened house in PompeiiGuests were entertained in the larger atrium, where the rainwater had been gathered in a shallow “pool” for some cooling on this warm summer morning.

Atrium of the most recently opened house Pompeii

House of Sirico Pompeii

frescos in a house in PompeiiThe servants were busy dusting the frescos and cleaning the mosaic floors in and outside of the house.

most recent house interior mosaic floor Pompeii

floor mosaic pattern PompeiiInhabitants and guests of the most opulent villas facing the sea, could enjoy splendid views from their elaborate terraces and gardens.

view of house interior Pompeii

sea view from the house garden PompeiiThose less fortunate could enjoy the public green spaces sprinkled around the city.

garden 2 in Pompeii_edited-1But the busiest place this morning was the Forum. It was the economic, religious and political center of the city, where municipal buildings, courts, temples and commercial activities were located around the two-story portico.

busy forum in Pompeii

two story pillars at the Forum Pompeii

Forum in PompeiiThe northern end of the Forum was closed by the Capitolium, with Mount Vesuvius rising towards the sky right behind it.

the Forum with backdrop of Vesuvius PompeiiAn ordinary late summer day. Until … around noon, a “cloud of unusual size and shape” appeared overtop Vesuvius.

the eruption of Vesuvius starts PompeiiIt could be seen across the city. At first, there was curiosity. But an hour later when ash started falling, people begun to panic. Many rushed towards the harbor, others started running north or south along the coast, but some 2000 people were hesitant to leave their homes. They would ride out whatever was coming and chose to take shelter in buildings and underground cellars they deemed safe. But the eruption escalated fast. Around 2 p.m. ash and white pumice was falling over the city at a rate of 10-15 cm (4-6 inches) an hour.

vesuvius erupts 2 Pompeii_edited-1By 5 p.m. the sun was completely blocked and there was no light for the people still seeking shelter or running away from the city. Ash, bits of pumice and charred rocks were falling on the city. Fires were burning everywhere. Roofs started to collapse.

vesuvius eruption 3b pompeiiAnd then, in the morning of August 25, just before 7 a.m., a pyroclastic cloud of hot ash and toxic gas surged down on the city killing everyone who had remained in its vicinity. Not one was spared. Men, women, children and animals all perished.

dead woman PompeiiThe eruption buried the city under 4-6 meters (13-20 feet) of volcanic ash and pumice. Life as it had been on that late summer day in 79 A.D. was frozen in time for almost 1700 years.

a man in PompeiiPliny the Younger,  a Roman writer who managed to escape from the city in time, described the eruption in letters to his friend, which were discovered in the 16th century. The ruins of Pompeii were found only in 1748.

artifacts found in PompeiiAbout 80% of the city has now been excavated and as the work progresses, we learn more about that fateful day 1938 years ago.

About 700,000 people currently live around the volcano, which last erupted in 1944.

outer walls PompeiiAs I am starting to “unpack” my latest travels, I wish you all a wonderful week ahead.