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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

A Carnivalesque Venice

Carnivale | | Photo by Robyn Houghton
Carnivale | Photo by Robyn Houghton
Piazza San Marco | Photo by Robyn Houghton
Piazza San Marco | Photo by Robyn Houghton

Our arrival into Venice could not have been more beautifully choreographed. As the train glided over the blue waters of the lagoon–with the cable lines in a intertwining sort of dance–the last streaks of daylight stained the sky with pink and gold. In a way, Venice was exactly how I imagined– a postcard city of picturesque views. But this also contributed to a sort of uneasiness. Many of us jokingly described Venice as a movie set; something illusory or surreal. The city felt like a glittery facade.

That first February weekend we were in Venice also coincided with Carnivale, the exuberant, ornate and almost gaudy spectacle of the last days before lent in the Catholic tradition. This event colored our experience of Venice since the entire city was coated with a layer of glitter and confetti. Couples dressed in entire masquerade costumes paraded around the piazzas, visibly enjoying the onslaught of tourists trying to get selfies with them.

A series of Palladian influenced churches and Scarpa museums were part of the itinerary. We also toured many of the famous sites of Venice including Piazza and Basilica San Marco, Palazzo Ducale and Santa Maria della Salute. These places were incredible displays of the capacity of human ambition and power. The scale and detail of the churches and palaces… absolutely dizzying in effect.

Venice is a city that has a historic and immediate relationship with the water, and this is at the core of its charm and eminent decay. The mythic origins of the city’s founding on the Lagoon and the image of the royal court of the Doge conjures up a sense of fantastical wonder–similar to the bright and shiny Coney Island of New York. Yet like the amusement parts of our childhood days, Venice seems already a distant memory of the past.


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