I’ve just been on holiday to Italy, and as usual, I spent a lot of time looking at the architecture! I spent time in 3 very different locations, and each place had its own distinctive style.
First we stayed in a small village in Northern Italy, in the Dolomite mountains only about 20 miles away from the border with Austria. In fact this part of Italy once used to belong to Austria, and its history and location means that the towns all have two names, one in German and one in Italian, and both languages are spoken widely. The Austrian influence is clear in the architecture, with chalet-style buildings incorporating the typical wooden pitched roofs and wooden balconies with rendered stone. Everything looks so well cared for; there are cheerful and welcoming flowers spilling out from almost every balcony and window; all the stonework appears to have been recently painted, and grass mowing is serious business.
Every blade of grass is cut, whether it’s on the flat, on a slope, or even growing up a vertical terrace, it’s all manicured to give the air of a huge golf course. There’s a very good reason for this of course, to feed the cattle while everything is buried for months under feet of snow, but it all adds to the general feeling that buildings here are looked after, tended; people here know that tourism provides their main income and they seem to relish the task of making their place look as beautiful as possible at all times. You sense that there’s a lot of pride in maintaining the area, whatever the season, and it makes you want to stay there to see how the village and mountains will look during the next very different season. I certainly didn’t want to leave!
Next we moved on to the very Northern tip of Lake Garda, where the architecture became much more representative of the typical Italian style you would expect. Stone replaces wood as the main building material, and while the rendering and paint colours are bright compared to English standards, they have the air of being slightly faded while retaining a great sense of dignity. The buildings are mainly square or rectangular in shape with usually 3 storeys; very solid buildings that are softened by the numerous examples of artistic paintwork, decorative ironwork, abundant planting, fanciful additions and complex glasswork.
Lastly we visited Venice, where there is no comparison as far as I am concerned. I remember my first visit to the city, and thinking as I stood on a bridge overlooking a canal: you know before you arrive that it’s all on water, but until you get there and see it for yourself, you just can’t get it. I’ll never tire of this place, where buildings are defiantly beautiful, hiding their fragility behind a dignified exterior, and each narrow alleyway leads to an unexpected view that often takes your breath away. I know I’ve gone all romantic – this place will do that to you! It’s a whole new way of life here, with everything that we would usually accomplish by road taken on by a variety of watercraft. There are water buses, water taxis, refuse boats, moving boats, post delivery boats, builders’ boats, boats with crane arms, boats with refrigeration units, and of course the gondolas. These all pile in and navigate the varying canals with careless confidence and undiscernable rules yet there don’t seem to be many incidents!
From the water is really the best way to appreciate the buildings that line the canals – again most of them are at least 3 storeys high, with the ground floors designed originally for warehouse space and the living areas above, raised safely away from the fluctuating water level.
Grand facades line the canals large and small, again with that muted colour palette but with added splashes of colour from the striped mooring poles and flags flying from the wide French windows of elegant palazzos. It’s all about the details with Venetian architecture – a wide use of various styles of Byzantine and Gothic arches, elaborately carved balustrades, arcades and loggias, and the Venetian taste for richly decorated surfaces can be seen everywhere you look.
Venice is a totally unique city with so much to discover, one visit just isn’t enough. I’m on three now, and still I know there is so much more for me to see! I’ll be back…