The Grand Canal
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Before us opens up the Grand Canal, a sight having once 'seen you can never forget. On either side stretch away long rows of balconied and columned palaces with many a black boat moored to the gaudy posts about the entrances, their images undulating in the musical ripple of the waters that stretch away in an ever narrowing vista through scenes of bewildering splendor.
First of all, because most conspicuous, our eyes instinctively rest upon the domes and two campaniles of the church of S. Maria della Salute, seen a little to the right. From our position on the Campanile of St. Mark we could see but one of these bell-towers, but from this point on the Grand Canal they are both visible, and, in connection with the domes, present a beautiful appearance. To the left of this church is the Custom House with its tower and globe.
Following the right bank of the canal, notice to the right of the Custom House a section of the dark, low walls of the monastery. The three-story palace, seen next and to the right of the monastery and beneath the dome of S. Maria della Salute, is the Palazzo Genovese erected in 1898. It is an imitation of the earlier Gothic palaces, but lacks their grace and finish. Some distance this side of the Genovese Palace, you see the Mula Palace, a three-story building having three side windows facing us ; the windows on the first and second floors are Gothic. It seems to stand immediately beyond a low, two-storied building. Between the palace nearest the church and the Mula Palace stands the Palazzo Semitocolo; also the Palazzo Volkoff, inhabited by Duse, the famous actress. Still nearer is the Palazzo Dario, a building in the early Renaissance style. Back of the Mula Palace is seen the line of a narrow street, and on this side of the structure and beneath the three side windows to which we have already referred, is a small open square called the Campo S. Vitale, on which is the English church. Apartments are let to students and tourists in many of the palaces. The four-story palace, seen under the campanile of S. Maria della Salute, with the arcaded and gaily painted front, is the Loredan Palace, once inhabited by the late Don Carlos, the Spanish pretender. It is decorated with Bourbon lilies. The building at the extreme right in our field of vision is the mosaic factory of Salviati.
Now direct your attention to objects near us. Those bow-shaped gondolas look exceedingly light and airy for their size, and the gondoliers, with their blue or white blouses open at the neck, present a pleasing appearance. While as a class these gondoliers are quite intelligent, they have certain superstitions to which they cling most tenaciously, and which exercise a remarkable influence over their lives. One of these is their belief in the Jettatura, or evil eye. " If a lawyer accepts a case against a Jettatura he will die," they say ; and they tell of such an one who was on trial for some crime.
The case was clearly against him, but the judge, knowing that the man had the reputation of possessing the evil eye, was not pleased at the prospect of pronouncing sentence against him. The magistrate wore spectacles which he was in the habit of pushing up on his forehead and leaving them there when not needed. In his nervousness he forgot about the spectacles, and having occasion to read a paragraph from a law book found, to his great amazement, that he could not see the printed page. " I am blind t" he cried out, throwing up his hands and causing a great commotion in the courtroom. His action jarred the spectacles so that they slipped down upon his nose, and he cried out, joyfully, " Oh, I can see ! " but while laughter greeted his words, fear fell upon all, especially as, soon after, the judge sickened and died. Again they tell of a nobleman who had the Jettatura. One day, upon his entering one of the palaces on the Grand Canal, the great crystal chandelier of the palace fell to the floor, shivered to atoms; and, after that, no gondolier could be found who would allow him to enter his boat, no matter what price he might offer.
The painted posts, which you see projecting out of the water about the entrances of the palaces, are adorned with the heraldic colors of their proprietors, and resemble nothing so much as barber poles. They are not only used as hitching-posts for gondolas, but also serve as a sort of fencing to keep passing boats and steamers away from the buildings and in the center of the waterway, and they are the more essential, right here, because of the slight bend in the canal.
This beautiful palace - a most ornate structure of the Ducal Palace type - is the Palazzo Cavalli. On either side, and above the entrance, is seen a family crest in which the head of a horse is prominent, thus revealing the name of the original owner. Could anything be more superb than those noble Gothic windows? Observe the painted panels on the walls of the palace between the windows. Some of the designs can be distinguished. This beautiful structure was built in the fifteenth century by a descendant of Giacomo Cavalli, who came from Verona and defended Venice against the Genoese in 1380. With its freshly painted walls and gleaming marble the palace must have appeared even more glorious than it does now. The interior decorations, and especially the grand staircase, are most gorgeous. This beautiful structure is now the residence of Baron Franchetti, a brother-in-law of Baron Rothschild, and the father of the musical composer, Albert Franchetti, who composed the Christopher Columbus opera. This house was once the residence of the Duke of Chambord.
The structure seen beyond this palace is the Palazzo Tron, whose ingeniously carved balcony and Gothic windows are most interesting. If it were not for those " barber poles " we could get a sight of the quaint capitals to the first-story windows and of the heads placed above the center of the architraves. One of these heads may be seen over the first-story window nearest us. That palace is now converted into high-priced flats which are rented to visitors making a prolonged stay in the city.
On our right hand, a little back of our present position, but outside the limits of our vision, is the Academy of Fine Arts, between which and the Canal is the Campo della Carita, or Field of Charity, so-called because in this spot the proud Alexander III, took refuge during his exile. The Academy abounds in works of the great Venetian artists and is one of the attractions of the city. Canova received his first instruction in art in a private academy established in an adjoining palace.
By consulting the map you will readily see that the Grand Canal divides the city into two parts, that its course is winding like the inverted letter S, and that it is about two miles long. It is the main thoroughfare of Venice, like the Corso in Rome, the Strada di Roma (Toledo) in Naples, Fifth avenue in New York and the Champs Elysées in Paris. It is the street of the ancient aristocracy of Venice, and is at all times, an animated and picturesque scene, being constantly traversed by gondolas, and by steam launches which leave the pier of the public garden every ten or fifteen minutes, going as far as the island of St. Chiara, opposite the railway station, which is on the left bank of the canal at a consider-able distance (possibly a mile and a half) back of our present location. On a week day the fare on the steam launches is two cents for any distance and three cents on Sunday. The landing places are quite close together. The trip along the canal, when taken in a gondola, requires more time, an hour being consumed in going from the Piazzetta of San Marco to the railway station, but this mode of conveyance has the advantage of being far more enjoyable. The cost also is greater by gondola, being one franc for the trip. A gondola with one gondolier for an entire day costs five and a half francs, a little over a dollar, except in the height of the season, when the charges are somewhat greater.
The Grand Canal is intersected in all directions by one hundred and forty-six small canals and is crossed by three large bridges, two of which are iron, the third, the famous Rialto, being of stone. We shall have the pleasure of looking upon the Rialto Bridge, which, as you can ascertain by consulting the map, is directly to the north or left of our present position, the site of the bridge being made possible by the winding nature of the canal. We shall be looking somewhat north of east at that point.