It’s no secret Venice is over-run with swarms of elbowing tourists in the summer, the streets near the most typical sights particularly packed. We preferred exploring corners of the city that were a little more tucked away and we found ourselves venturing under a church into a dark, cavern-like crypt.
The church is only open for a few hours every evening. Upon entering we were directed to leave and purchase scarves to cover our shoulders. Our second attempt was a success with scarves tied so as not to offend the saints with the specter of, gasp… shoulders. Apparently we were not the first unruly women the church has had to suffer, I read that in the 18th century the convent that resided here was where the wealthy families of the city would send their “rowdy” daughters (against their will) so the family wouldn’t have to pay a dowry. In response the “willfull” young women engaged in very public love affairs to embarrass their families.
Towering, graceful arches and pillars broke up the expansive space and beautiful paintings filled every surface with rich color. A source reads that the paintings here are among the “most magnificent works of art found in Venice. Artists included in this collection are Tintoretto, Angelo Trevisani, Giuseppe Salviati, Giovanni Bellini, Antonio Balestra, Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, Palma the Elder and Van Dyck”.
Through a door into a chapel, through another door into a room, where dark stained wood created a very heavy atmosphere, and on into another room we progressed. Then tucked inconspicuously against a wall, a winding stone stair marked with no signage led downward into the dark.
We followed the stairs down, entering a shadowy crypt. It was silent here, the dark pushed back by only a few lights. The floor was submerged with only a narrow portion of the floor above water. Quiet filled the space, a stark contrast to the busy cobbled streets above. Research told us that although the church was rebuilt several times and the standing version is 15th century, the crypt itself remains from the 9th century site and is the burial place of 8 former doges.
Eventually the fellow who makes certain shoulders are not seen, came in search of lingering visitors and hurried us out. As the church closed its doors for the night we traded the heavy silence of the crypt for the bustle of a city that is at it’s busiest as evening sets in.
We walked wandering a little aimlessly with the vague goal in mind of finding dinner, when we heard haunting, beautiful singing from down a narrow turn. Following the sound until we found ourselves on the other side of a wooden door, we realized (plaque on the arched doorway) that what we were listening to was the Opera in live rehearsal. We stayed for a while to enjoy, reluctant to leave.
Setting off again as dusk cast long shadows across piazas and canals, we started searching in earnest for a place to eat a bite.
Leaving the alluring golden hour on the streets of Venice we dipped into a bacaro for some fresh cicchetti. Exploring always works up a good appetite.