Is Venice open for travel?
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.
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.
(Tip for visitors: More than 40 hotels and B&Bs face the Grand Canal, and not all of them are expensive.)
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).
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.)
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.)
BELOW: This photo, taken from the Grand Canal, shows a flock of
tower cranes above the reconstruction site.
BELOW: During the eight-year rebuilding project, La Fenice
staged operas in a tent theater on the parking island of
Venice's Ospedale SS Giovanni e Paolo, a.k.a. the , 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, which is one of Venice's largest churches.
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.
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
BELOW: Although feral cats may have ruled the roost in 1999,
there were plenty of domestic dogs to keep them company.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
BELOW: New blocks of Istrian stone are used to repair the
walls and landing steps of a canal in Venice.
BELOW: A worker mixes cement in a drained canal.
BELOW: A crane lifts a utility pipe into place during canal and
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.
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
BELOW: In 1999, a shop on the Campo San Stefano featured Doge mannequins. As far as we know, it still does.
BELOW: The pilot of a delivery barge tosses bottles to a colleague on the Fondamenta del Forner in Dorsoduro.
BELOW: In 1999, as now, workboats with hydraulic cranes were used for building renovation.
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).
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.
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
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.)
BELOW: Smiling pizza faces decorate a restaurant's display window in this 1999 photo.
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.
Copyright © 1996-2021 Durant & Cheryl Imboden.