Venice is truly one of a kind. It oozes with history; it is almost a huge ruin, a floating wreck in the sea. Yet somehow the cracks, the moss, the fading paint create this alluring atmosphere: a movie set, an eternal city.
Before traveling to Venice, I read the book Venice, An Interior by Javier Marias. The book immaculately described the sense you get from the city. As Marias points out, Venice is a unique city that is timeless in the sense that it lays its past, present, and future before you all at once. Venice may go under restoration and maybe a few slight changes: a new bridge here and a fairly young building there, but in essence, the scene never changes.
Not only the timelessness of its architecture but also the experience of a city built on waterways is breathtaking. It is extraordinary how an urban environment can become unique through a simple switch from concrete to water motorways. Although the main island of Venice (previously known as Rialto) has almost no greenery, the presence of nature in the waterways bring a sense of serenity to the city.
In Venice, private and public spaces are very much intertwined due to the labyrinthine denseness of the urban settlement. In this extremely dense urban environment, the issue of privacy for residents is crucial. It is easy to observe the general antipathy of the locals towards tourists; even shop owners don’t hesitate to scorn customers. Venetians are not exactly welcoming, but in their defense, they do have to put up with nosy strangers from around the globe congesting the already narrow streets they live on. Tourists are everywhere throughout the year on the island, and of course, as a tourist here myself, it is hard to distinguish the boundaries between residential and private areas versus public and touristic areas. It is obvious that Venetians don’t have much space left to themselves as the small area of the island is overflowing with hotels, tourist attractions, and visitors. But of course, it seems as though Venetians have found inventive ways to prevent flocks of tourists roaming in their territory.
The first strategy I’ve noticed is using the canals as a tool for disconnecting from the land where tourists roam. Even the narrowest canals provide enough privacy to the apartments emerging from underwater. These houses have doors by the water so that only they can get in from their boats; they don’t have to deal with any strange faces around their front door.
The second method is through narrow streets with walls or doors at the end that makes the street look like a dead-end. As only the more adventurous and curious tourists would stroll down a shady and narrow dead end, nearly no one other than the residents themselves occupy these pathways.
Another method is diverting the tourist pathway by building bridges that only connect to the door of a house. Even though some bridges are right in front of a major tourist attraction, barely anyone walks by or past them because the sense of privacy is very obvious.
Furthermore, Venetians seem to isolate their residential areas in between canals. It is commonplace to come across a street that looks like its impossible to be reached as it is strategically placed between two waterways. It is easy to assume only the ones who have master the maze-like walkways of Venice would be able to fathom such destinations.
I’ve also noticed some very narrow and low passageways leading into large open squares for the residents. This is especially visible in the Jewish neighborhood in Caneraggio: the doorway into the place is quite small, old and shabby, however, once you pass the narrow street, the passage opens up to a large public square intended for use by the Jewish residents of the area. Hence, as a tourist, you can easily feel unwelcome as the public square is private for the community to use.
Yet sometimes, the narrow streets are not deterrents enough for nosy tourists, streets so narrow that they can barely fit one person at a time become busy pathways. In such cases, the tourists tend to follow the path with more iconic architecture, moving towards the better-looking bridge or the photographic canal view. So sometimes, the seemingly more private narrow streets become more public than a bridge or an open area.
As seen below, the bridge is has become a place of stationary action; a meeting point, a place to stop and chat. On the other hand, the narrow street behind is as busy as any other tourist path.
Finally, if none of these strategies work out, Venetians simply place metal gates in front of their property. Sometimes even double doors. Although a very simple solution, it is certainly effective.
Whatever method Venetians attempt to disguise their lives from the curious eyes of tourists, their laundry hanging out of their windows gives it all away 🙂