National Geographic : 1915 Jun
VENICE BY KARL STIELER MIDNIGHT is past; a boat glides through the narrow canals, the figure of the gondolier shows like a black shadow, and a sepulchral cry, "Giae, giae !" sounds as the gondola shoots past the sharp corners. The moon is high in the heavens, but her light reaches not to these narrow watery ways. Only a few twinkling stars peep between the tall houses; and now and then a tardy light glimmers behind some barred win dow. Hark! Who goes there? Behind a half-opened door that is nearly on a level with the water a girl peeps forth and then hurriedly scuds away; ours is not the gondola she was waiting for. On the marble steps that lead down from no ble doorways to the water sleepers are lying stretched. From time to time a boat glides past us, so close that the sides almost graze each other; the gondoliers greet each other with secret signs, and we peer curiously at the masked figures reclining on the cushions. Then all is still again, and we hear nothing save the lapping of the water against the keel and the splash of the oar. We listen, and now strange sounds meet our ears. Far away there, beyond the Lido, murmurs the sea in which the Doge was wont to throw his golden ring in token of betrothal. It is the hour of flood, and the tide, slowly rising, fills the lagoons and flows into- the Canal Grande, among the palaces of the proud old names. "All is still; the sea breathes only. Sighing deep, lamenting sore, Knocks the Doge's bride, deserted, At each lordly palace door." And that, really, is what we seem to hear; we feel the power of the great deep, but we do not see it; we are im prisoned in a labyrinth of narrow watery paths, which cross and are tangled end lessly in one another and lead - who knows whither? IMPRESSIONS OF VISITORS Some such impression as that above described is felt by a traveler arriving at night by the train from Mestre and then rowing from the station into the city. No horse, no carriage, is to be seen; noth ing but the dark throng of gondolas which thread their way in and out with snake-like agility. All firm foundations seem to sink away from one's feet, and we see only the black, pliant waters, from which the weather-stained houses rise up perpendicularly. The sad, gloomy hues which they display, even in broad day light, become mere dreary darkness by night, and the long, intricate voyage has in truth something Stygian about it i Disappointment makes us dumb. The May sun was shining brilliantly when we entered the Piazza of St. Mark the next day. Who has not felt the en chantment of such sunshine, breathing of spring and morning, penetrating the soul with an awakening power? Now the dark veil was lifted that lay last evening over Venice; now the sea was blue, and the old gray blocks of stone of which the palaces are built looked bright and strong, and the delicate open-work of the facades glittered in the light. She is still alive, the silent city of the Doges! With full hands she pours out her treasures; with wondering eyes we contemplate her marvelous form; but St. Mark's is the very heart of her. A FAMOUS SQUARE The Piazza di San Marco is closed in on all four sides, and although the piaz zetta, adjoins it on the northeast, the unity of the picture is not destroyed by it. On the right and left stretch out the huge rows of buildings called the pro curatie. The lower stories consist of open arcades, under which the crowd throngs; the upper have rows of col umns whose structure combines grace and vigor. The procuratie are joined by a cross wing (the edifice called the Ala Nuova), which terminates the piazza on the west. At the opposite end there lies before us St. Mark's Church, with its great cupolas and porches, its marble minarets and * From "Italy, from the Alps to Mt. Etna."