Photo: Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco, Venice’s famous landmark, is delightfully quiet in the early morning.

Photograph by Theo Westenberger

The ethereal city of water and stone rises like a dream from the waters of the lagoon. Regional inhabitants founded Venice as a marshy haven from invading barbarians, and the city’s waterways became the heart of both its defenses and its eerie beauty. Ornate palaces line the Grand Canal, testament to the wealth and power of the Republic of Venice, which spanned nearly a millennium. St. Mark’s Square, designed to be approached from the water, has drawn a steady stream of awestruck travelers and artists for centuries. “A realist, in Venice, would become a romantic, by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him,” observed Welsh poet Arthur Symons. For modern visitors, part of the city’s unique appeal is its human scale and anachronistic carless infrastructure, with its narrow, mysterious streets and captivating canals, crossed by hundreds of gracefully arched marble bridges above and gliding, silent gondolas below. But La Serenissima, the most serene, has long struggled to maintain its moniker in the face of mass tourism, a declining resident population, and the physical decay of its buildings.

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