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Vintage Venice: 1999

Scanned 35mm slides from the penultimate year of the 20th Century show how Venice has changed (and not changed) over the last 20+ years.

Gondola on Grand Canal in Venice, 1999

ABOVE: A gondolier plies his trade on the Grand Canal in this 1999 photograph.

Not long ago, I was editing images from an old hard drive when I ran across a directory of photos that I'd scanned at random from 35mm slides in 1999 (two years before I bought my first digital camera). The scanned transparencies had a vintage look, thanks to the combination of Kodachrome film and an early-generation slide scanner.

I enjoyed browsing through those old slide images, and I'm sharing a selection of them here for the benefit of Venetophiles--and possibly a few nostalgic Venetians--who may find it interesting to compare pictures of Venice in 1999 with the city they can see today.


Grand Canal

BELOW: Water taxis follow a Line 1 vaporetto up the Canal Grande toward the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, which was built in the 1600s as a gesture of thanks to God for ending a plague.

(Tip for visitors: More than 40 hotels and B&Bs face the Grand Canal, and not all of them are expensive.)

Venice's Grand Canal with boat traffic, 1999


BELOW: Except for motorized boat traffic, the Grand Canal hasn't changed much over the last few decades (or, for that matter, over the last few centuries).

Grand Canal, Venice, 1999


Gondolas

In 1999, as now, gondola rides were popular with tourists. (In centuries past, gondolas were used as daily transportation by wealthy Venetians, who had their own boats and employed gondoliers.)

Gondola on Grand Canal, 1999


BELOW: The Squero di San Trovaso, in the heart of Venice's Dorsoduro district, was (and still is) a boatyard for building and maintaining gondole. It looks the same now as it did when this picture was taken in 1999.

Squero di San Trovaso, Venice, 1999


BELOW: Not all of today's (or 1999's) gondole are for tourists. This private boat was being painted red, in defiance of a 1553 law from the Venetian Republic that required all gondolas to be black.

Private gondola in Venice


Pigeons

BELOW: Until 2008, when feeding feral birds was outlawed, the Piazza San Marco was famous for its pigeons. Vendors sold grain to tourists and ornithophiles, who fed the pigeons for fun--or for family photo ops.

Pigeons and Cheryl Imboden in Venice, 1999

Pigeons in the Piazza San Marco, 1999


The Piazzetta and the Piazza San Marco

BELOW: A Line 1 vaporetto passes the Piazzetta, a narrow square that connects the Piazza San Marco to St. Mark's Basin. In this photo, you can see the Campanile di San Marco (Venice' s most famous bell tower) and the Palazzo Ducale or Doge's Palace.

(Trivia note: Two years before this photo was taken, a band of armed Venetian separatists hijacked a car ferry, drove ashore at the Piazzetta in a makeshift armored venicle, and seized the Campanile. They were quickly arrested by police without gunshots or injuries.)

Piazzetta from St. Mark's Basin, Venice, 1999


BELOW: The Basilica di San Marco was and is the undisputed star of the Piazza San Marco, a.k.a. St. Mark's Square. It's a remarkable work of Byzantine architecture with its five domes, gold mosaic interior, plundered artworks, and relics that are said to include the bones of St. Mark (which were smuggled out of Egypt in 828 A.D.)

On the right, you can see part of the Doge's Palace, which faces the Piazzetta between the Basilica and St. Mark's Basin.

Basilica di San Marco, Venice, in 1999


BELOW: At the time this photo was taken, the Campanile di San Marco was younger than some of Venice's older human residents. (The current bell tower is a replica of the original, which collapsed unexpectedly in 1902 and was rebuilt in 1912.)

Piazza San Marco and Campanile di San Marco, 1999


Gran Teatro La Fenice

BELOW: In 1996, the Gran Teatro La Fenice--Venice's historic opera house--was almost completely destroyed by fire. Three years later, when this photo was taken, reconstruction was already underway. (The opera house reopened in December, 2004.)

La Fenice reconstruction, Venice, 1999


BELOW: This photo, taken from the Grand Canal, shows a flock of tower cranes above the reconstruction site.

Tower cranes during reconstruction of the Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice, 1999


BELOW: During the eight-year rebuilding project, La Fenice staged operas in a tent theater on the parking island of Tronchetto.

Temporary tent theatre for Gran Teatro La Fenice, Venice, in 1999


Ospedale

Venice's Ospedale SS Giovanni e Paolo, a.k.a. the Ospedale Civili, looks more like a church than a public hospital. Behind its 15th Century façade is a former monastery, the Scuola Grande di San Marco, where courtyards and arcaded corridors lead into a complex of buildings (some quite modern) that offer the usual array of big-city hospital services.

The emergency entrance and ambulance piers are on the north side of the hospital campus, facing the Venetian Lagoon.

Note: The hospital faces the Campo di SS Giovanni e Paolo and (on the right below) the Basilica di Santi Giovanni e Paolo, which is one of Venice's largest churches.

Ospedale - Vintage Venice 1999


Cats and dogs

Venice was once known for its feral cats, which helped to control the rat population and enjoyed a fairly comfortable life in the car-free city. Nowadays, the stray cats have mostly been supplanted by pet dogs.

Cat in Venice, 1999


BELOW: The animal welfare and rescue organization Dingo di Venezia still cares for Venice's stray cats, although neighborhood shelters like the one below are mostly gone.

DINGO cat shelter, Venice, 1999


BELOW: Although feral cats may have ruled the roost in 1999, there were plenty of domestic dogs to keep them company.

Dog on boat in Venice, 1999


Churches

Venice's centro storico, or historic center, has more than 100 churches. Some have been deconsecreated and put to other uses over the years, but it's still easy to find a church in nearly any neighborhood where you can look around, say a prayer, or light a candle--although, in many churches, the candles are likely to have electric filaments these days.

One of the most prominent churches, which we've already mentioned, is the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. In 1999, the "plague church" was undergoing renovation, with scaffolding covering parts of the exterior. However, the church's details were as impressive as ever.

Venice's Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute with scaffolding in 1999

Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, 1999

Salute Church detail, Venice


BELOW: One of our favorite churches in Venice was (and remains) the Chiesa di San Giacomo dall'Orio, a small church with an unusual "keel roof." It's one of the oldest churches in Venice, and it has stood in its current form since 1225 A.D.

San Giacomo dall'Orio is on a pleasant neighborhod square with park benches, restaurants, bars, and a small COOP grocery store. It hasn't changed much on the outside since we took this photo in 1999, but the interior (including artworks) has been restored.

You can visit the church by purchasing a ticket or a Chorus Pass, which gives you discounted admission to 16 churches in Venice.

Venice's Chiesa di San Giacomo dall'Orio, 1999


BELOW: Another "must see" attraction is the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore, which was designed by Andrea Palladio. You can reach it by taking a vaporetto to the San Giorgio ACTV stop, just as we did when we took this photo from a public water bus back in 1999.

San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, 1999


BELOW: Today's view from the campanile or bell tower of San Giorgio Maggiore is almost identical to this view from 1999. Even the Lido-Venice car ferry looks the same.

Here, the Line 17 ferry from the Lido di Venezia is cruising through St. Mark's Basin and is about to enter the Giudecca Canal.

View from campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, 1999


Local transportation

BELOW: The Accademia vaporetto stop is one of 76 ACTV boat stations in Venice and the Venetian Lagoon. (ACTV is the local transit agency.)

In this photo, a motoscafo water bus pauses at Accademia on its way up the Grand Canal.

You'll note that the boarding platforms are on the water. These floating pontili, or piers, can be moved to new locations during pavement renovation or as transit needs change.

Since 1999, some of the ACTV's pontili have been replaced by large stations with permanent piers. (San Marco Giardinetti, which serves the Piazza San Marco, is a good example.)

Accademia vaporetto stop in Venice, 1999


BELOW: Venice has several types of water buses. On the Grand Canal, you'll mostly see large flat-decked vaporetti such as this Line 1 water bus, which stops at 21 stations during its 58-minute trip up or down the canal.

Back in 1999, all of the Line 1 vaporetti had open seating areas in the bow. Some of these older boats are still in service. (On newer boats, the pilot's cabin is farther forward and the only open seats are in the stern.)

Linea 1 vaporetto, Venice, 1999


BELOW: In 1999, ACTV land buses were mostly orange. (Today, they're white with accents of blue, green, and orange.)

You'll find land buses in the Piazzale Roma, Venice's gateway for buses, taxis, trams, cars, and other wheeled traffic.

ACTV orange bus, 1999, Venice


BELOW: ATVO airport buses have also changed their livery over the last couple of decades. You'll still see a few older blue or grey-green buses, but most are now white.

The blue ATVO bus in the foreground is arriving at the Piazzale Roma. The white building is a parking garage for cars.

ATVO airport bus in Venice's Piazzale Roma, 1999


BELOW: The Piazzale Roma still has an ACTV office where you can buy transit tickets and passes such as the Tourist Travel Card. In 1999, the signage was different, and pay phones hadn't yet been displaced by cellulari.

ACTV ticket office in Venice's Piazzale Roma, 1999


Ships

BELOW: Venice has been a seaport since at least the 12th century. In 1999 (as now), the city and its mainland districts were served by a variety of passenger and cargo ships.Here, you can see a Minoan Lines ferry passing the San Giorgio Maggiore Marina on its way to Greece.

Minoan Lines ferry in Venice, 1999


BELOW: MV Viking Bordeaux enters Venice's Giudecca Canal on its way to the cruise port.

The ship, which sailed as the Bremerhaven and Stella Maris 2 in its earlier incarnations, was renamed Madagascar in 2005 before being scrapped in 2008.

Viking Bordeaux in Venice, 1999


BELOW: In 1999, it wasn't unheard of to see rusty cargo ships tied up in the Marittima cruise basin. (Even now, most ship traffic in the Venetian Lagoon consists of tankers, freighters, and other industrial vessels.)

Rusty cargo ship in Venice's Marittima cruise basin, 1999


Canal maintenance

Venice's centro storico or historic center consists of more than 100 islands divided by canals. There are about 150 canals in all, ranging from the large S-shaped Canal Grande (a former river) to dinky side canals that are navigable only by small boats.

In past decades, locals threw everything from trash to worn-out appliances into the canals. Even today, you may see a Venetian picking up dog feces from the paving stones, bagging them in plastic, and nonchalantly tossing them into the nearest canal.

Venice's canals are also used as public sewers. (Look carefully, and you may see "black water" beng flushed from outlets on buildings alongside canals.) Eventually, the sewage sludge and the trash need cleaning out. Municipal workers or contractors then dam the canals and scoop out the muck. Building foundations and utility lines are renewed at the same time.

BELOW: Before a Venetian rio or canal is drained, workers install a a cofferdam to hold back water from a neighboring canal.

Cofferdam in Venice, 1999


BELOW: New blocks of Istrian stone are used to repair the walls and landing steps of a canal in Venice.

Foundation repair in Venice, 1999

Istrian stone canal walls and steps, Venice, 1999


BELOW: A worker mixes cement in a drained canal.

Canal repair, Venice, 1999


BELOW: A crane lifts a utility pipe into place during canal and foundation maintenance.

Utility pipe installation in a drained Venice canal, 1999


BELOW: In 1999, the seawall and foundations of the Giudecca Canal (a major shipping channel used by car ferries, water buses, and cruise ships) underwent a major reconstruction.

Seawall construction, Venice's Giudecca Canal, 1999


Shopping

BELOW: Locals and visitors shop at a food market near the Rialto Bridge.

Rialto fruit stall, Venice, 1999


BELOW: A produce vendor sells vegetables from a barge. (The number of greengrocers' barges has dropped since 1999, but we know of two that still exist: One near the Campo San Barnaba and another in the eastern reaches of Castello.)

Greengrocer's barge,  Venice, 1999


BELOW: In 1999, a shop on the Campo San Stefano featured Doge mannequins. As far as we know, it still does.

Shp on Venice's Campo San Stefano, 1999


Miscellaneous photos

BELOW: The pilot of a delivery barge tosses bottles to a colleague on the Fondamenta del Forner in Dorsoduro.

Men toss bottles from a boat in Venice, 1999


BELOW: In 1999, as now, workboats with hydraulic cranes were used for building renovation.

Workboat with crane, Venice, 1999


BELOW: Venice may look like a city of brick buildings and paving stones, but it has innumerable courtyards and gardens (most of them hidden from public view).

Apartment courtyard in Dorsoduro, 1999

Cheryl Imboden eating spaghetti in Venice, 1999


BELOW: In 1999, a section of wall overlooking a bridge in Dorsoduro was covered with chewing gum. The gum has since been removed and the building wall repainted.

Gum wall, Venice, 1999


BELOW: In Venice, university graduates celebrate at bars like this one on the Campo Santa Margherita. (Here, chairs have been set up for the graduation party, where the student's peers will sing an obscene song titled "Dottore, dottore" between sips of Spritz and other drinks.)

Campo Santa Margherita "Dottore, Dottore" party,1999


BELOW: Outdoor dining is still a tradition at the Trottoria Pizzeria San Tomà in Dorsoduro's Campo San Tomà. (The churchlike building behind the outdoor tables is a public library.)

Campo San Toma, Venice, 1999


BELOW: Smiling pizza faces decorate a restaurant's display window in this 1999 photo.

Pizza faces in restaurant window, Venice, 1999


BELOW: Venice's Naval Historical Museum dates back to the 1600s. Here, in the Ships Pavilion, you can see a ceremonial barge from the heyday of the Venetian Republic.

Naval History Museum, Venice, 1999