Historical journey: Discover the architectural legacy of Venice

For centuries, the City of Water was the heart of a thriving maritime republic—a history inscribed in the region’s buildings.

By National Geographic Staff
Published 11 May 2019, 20:58 BST
Once the seat of Venetian government, the Doge’s Palace stands as the symbol of Venice and ...
Once the seat of Venetian government, the Doge’s Palace stands as the symbol of Venice and a masterpiece of Gothic architecture.
Photograph by Luigi Caputo, Redux

From the 12th to 18th centuries, the Venetians controlled a large trading empire—including parts of Greece—from their city-state of canals and lagoons. When they were finally driven out, they left behind a rich architectural legacy of mansions, civic buildings, fortresses, and arsenals. Travellers today can sail through time on a yacht or ferry along the historic Venetian trade routes from Venice to Greece, Crete, and Cyprus to 

Venice: Start your journey through history in the Floating City, where the palaces of wealthy merchants along the Grand Canal attest to the affluence and power of the city at its height. The Doge’s Palace, built of pink Veronese marble and white Istrian stone in intricate Gothic style, is one of the city’s most spectacular and important buildings. Beyond the delicate collonades, visitors find grand state rooms, a large complex of council chambers, court rooms, and prisons. The former private apartments of the doge—the supreme authority of the Venetian republic—now host rotating art exhibtions.

Corfu: After absorbing the architectural grandeur of Venice, follow the Venetian trail down the coast of Greece. From Venice, book ahead to take a daylong ferry to Corfu, in the Ionian Islands. Corfu was occupied by Venice for 400 years, and the mansions and town hall in the labrynthine old area of Corfu town are strongly influenced by the Venetian style. The nearby islands of Kefalonia and Zakinthos also have extensive Venetian ruins. (Learn why the Venice Carnival was once outlawed by the government.)

Pelopponese: Take a short flight to Nafplio on the Peloponnisos, which was the Venetian capital on mainland Greece. Here, you can explore Palamidi, the largest Venetian fortress on the Greek mainland, which dominates the town from its cliff-top position. If climbing 857 steps sounds too overwhelming, drive up Martiou Street to the “back” of the castle for the panoramic views of Nafplio and the Argolic Gulf.

Crete: Further south, Crete was another important Venetian base. Without a private yacht, travellers should connect back to Athens, then take a two-hour bus ride. In Chania, the second largest city on the island, you can walk around the old Venetian harbor wall to the lighthouse and discover some stylish bars and restaurants on the way. A one-hour drive along the coast brings visitors to the fortress at Rethymno, one of the largest the Venetians built.

Cyprus: The journey ends on Cyprus, where the Venetians fortified several towns in order to defend the island against regular raids by the Ottoman Turks. Both Famagusta and Kyrenia in the northern part of the country reveal lingering Venetian influences, with the remains of fortresses and city walls. After touring the archaeological sites scattering the island, including the Venetian city walls of capital Nicosia, relax in Hamam Omerye in a restored 14th century building or with local wine from the nearby Troodos mountains.

Photograph by Dagmar Schwell, Redux

Plan your trip

The full distance from Venice to northern Cyprus is 1,310 miles and requires at least a week. To make this journey—enjoyable year-round—you may need to arrange private charters, although several places can also be reached by Greece’s efficient ferry service. The best way to enter northern Cyprus (claimed by Turkey) is by land, via southern Cyprus. Dock there, and cross the border on foot or by car.

A version of this article orignally appeared in the book Journeys of a Lifetime.

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