“Boom!” With the roar of the cannon at 9:00 AM, the boats, which inundated the Bacino di San Marco, began to move in unison. The Vogalonga had begun, the longest of all the rowing races on the lagoon, showcasing the standing oar-stroke and elegant flat wooden boats so characteristic of Venice.
As Saint Mark’s Basin emptied (with the exception of the occasional water taxi), the small group that had come to see the start of the race began to go in separate directions, some to grab a second breakfast, others to shop. With the Catholic Liturgy celebrated in English at the Church of San Zulian several hours away, Dr. Lazar suggested that we visit the surrounding churches, many of which were only open on Sunday. Inside these churches, we encountered paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. Our final stop on the way to mass was the Gesuiti.
Inside this astounding Baroque church, everything from the floors to the draperies was made of perfectly polished green and white marble, in a dazzling display of trompe l’oeil virtuosity. It was amazing. After mass at San Zulian, we happened upon a restaurant with seats that allowed us to watch the rowers finishing the Vogalonga along the Grand Canal by the Rialto Bridge. After a delicious lunch of Venetian fish appetizers and spaghetti Bolognese, I spent the afternoon walking around the city, continuing to stop at each open church that I encountered.
That evening, we enjoyed a private visit to the Basilica of San Marco, the grandiose church in honor of the Evangelist Mark, the patron and symbol of Venice.
Upon entering, all of the lights were off, leaving the basilica in darkness. Sitting down in the pews and looking up at the mosaics, we witnessed the spectacle of the lights gradually turning on, with countless gold tiles shimmering in the growing light. It was as if we were watching San Marco come to life in a golden glow better than any fireworks. With the basilica fully illuminated, we entered the apse and came close enough to touch the Pala d’Oro, swinging on a perfectly balanced hinge. The gold, pearls, and precious stones came together to form the most sumptuous altarpiece that I had ever seen.
After such opulence, we descended into the crypts of San Marco, for a completely different aesthetic of Romanesque simplicity. The allotted hour passed all too quickly, leaving us outside the side door that we originally entered. We spent the walk back to the hotel trying to comprehend all that we had seen, pausing only to purchase Gelato.