May 18, 2024

Olabeijing

Tour For Your Life

Condé Nast Traveler

A Weekend in Venice, With the People Working to Preserve Its Extraordinary Heritage

Conservationist Giovanni Cucco re-adhering 1000-year-old mosaics in the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta on the island of Torcello

Matteo De Fina

Unexpected discoveries accompany these restorations. Ilchman points to the Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli, where the coffered wood ceiling, when freed of centuries of dust and grime, revealed extraordinary detail in the depictions of saints and prophets, previously indecipherable. And extensive work on its marbled exteriors unearthed intricately carved cornices and several reliefs. “It was such a hidden gem, and so easy to overlook until then,” he says. 

These discoveries are often much greater than the sum of their parts. 

On a Sunday morning, a small group of us winds our way up the canal to the Jewish Ghetto. Established in 1516, the Venice Ghetto was one of the first places where Jewish people were forcibly segregated—permitted to trade during the day but confined at night, with access routes manned by Christian soldiers. 

We begin our visit in the Campo di Ghetto Nuovo, a quiet plaza that anchors this part of the city. Around us are fraying buildings, taller than I’d seen anywhere in Venice, and fruiting pomegranate trees. When the ghetto was at its apogee in the 17th century, Jews from all over Europe carved out spaces for themselves here, maintaining their own synagogues. When it was abolished in 1797, most residents fled—emptying out what was once a vibrant center for cultural exchange. 

Melissa Conn, director of the Venice office of Save Venice, shows a smaller group of us around the Italian synagogue where restoration is underway, pointing out details like the 16th century terrazzo floors that peek out from under hastily laid modern flooring. Conn underlines another aspect of the restoration: the uncovering of what life was like at a particular period, and in the case of the Ghetto, the clues it holds for reimagining this highly symbolic space.

“It’s so important to keep this part of Jewish history and prosperity alive. To hear from people invested in its future is incredibly moving,” Alexander Hankin, a patron of Save Venice who was drawn to its mission seven years ago, later said.

Elephant (1987) by Katharina Fritsch, among the many women artists at the 2022 Venice Biennale

Matteo Prandoni/BFA.com

A visit to Venice is incomplete without cicchetti at a traditional bàcaro.

Ggutarin/Getty

The themes of past, present, and future are inescapable all weekend. The Venice Biennale, with its ambitious showcase of contemporary art, has taken over streets and spaces from the Gallerie dell’Accademia to the Arsenale, and lines of visitors snake around palaces and museums, eager to see modern masters face off with Venetian legends. For the first time in the 127 years of the Biennale, the exhibition has both a woman curator, Cecilia Alemani, and is majority female and gender non-conforming artist-led. Coincidentally, Save Venice’s new Women Artists of Venice program is uncovering the works of some 30 underexplored female artists who worked in the city between the 16th and 18th centuries.