Venice and the Polo’s

Venice, what can I say about her that has not been said already. Let’s just put it this way: when my sister and I got off the train and saw her for the first time, we faced each other and let out a few superlatives. Words failed us, our jaw dropped, we were speechless.

Venice is unlike any other place or city in the world. She is totally built on the ocean. She has a life on its own. She breathes with the tides.  And, yes, it was, love at first sight. We were in love.

We could see her lights  burning bright from Koper in Slovenia, where we lived as children, but we never visited, our parents opting instead for Trieste, Italy just a few kilometers away. We would accompany our mom who crossed the border to trade goods: butter, produce, etc. Perhaps, our parents knew, if we ever saw Venice we would never leave for Canada. Perhaps they were saving her for when we were older.

The Grand Canal is adorned by century old buildings with stunning architecture.

Now we were here; beautiful, amazing Venecia, no words can describe you.  As we explored Marco Polo’s life, we understood why he settled here.  We found our life somehow connected; by name, by blood, by places and by this incredible city.  On our journey, we traced our roots from Slovenia to Dalmatia on to Croatia and now Venice.  During the 13th century, in Marco Polo’s time, all of our ancestral roots where either under Venetian rule or her heavy influence. So we are Venetians! As we stood in the centre of Saint Marco square, we felt history running through our veins. We understood why Marco Polo made Venice his home and surprisingly for a city that we just met, we felt equally at home. After all, Venice was built using Istrian wood and that is where we came from. (Koper is part of Istria)

We were here to visit Marco Polo’s house, where he lived, his neighborhood, the town square bears the same name as his book  ” Il Milione ” , or “The Travels of Marco Polo” in English version,  and to visit his last burial ground.

One of several arched bridges you can walk to navigate the streets of Venice.
The Lion of Venice: the winged lion sculpture from the 12th century on top of the left pillar represents Saint Mark and the statue on the right is Saint Theodore.

Now, if you ever been to Venice you will understand why maps are useless, as the whole city is a giant labyrinth. So we kept asking locals in our broken Italian for direction. We navigated the archways, overpasses, underpasses, the narrow alleys until we reached  II Milione neighborhood.

His first house now harbors a restaurant and a hostel upstairs. Of course we had to eat there. My sister had the Marco Polo chicken and I had the local seafood dumplings with pesto. It felt strange to be in the house where he lived. We closed our eyes and pictured centuries of ghosts passing through the house. Did they look like us, we wondered? We took a peek in the motel upstairs (watch our video to see the footage).

Commemorative plaque saying this was Marco Polo house. Now a pizzeria-restaurant and on top is the Malibran hotel.
Polo sisters, Adriane and Marina in Marco Polo’s house, now containing a restaurant. We said “Cheers” to the man who we felt connected to throughout centuries. A man who we are continuously inspired by.

We roamed his neighborhood where he would have walked after returning from Asia where he was in the service of Kublai Khan. He returned to Venice, married and had three children here. The neighborhood seamed alive with history.

Corte del Milion court yard.
From the first house where there is now a restaurant there is a narrow passageway that leads to Corte del Milion courtyard. This is where Marco Polo would have walked with his family. There are references here to Marco Polo. And if you walk though the last narrow passageway you get to the canal where his last house is.

At the end of the block was another house, right on the canal. It was the last house he lived in, and it is where he died. We took out his book and pressed it against the house paying homage to the man who had inspired us.

Another plaque marks the house where he lived out the last years of his life. In this house he died. It is a more modern house right on the canal.
Polo sisters share a special moment as they touch the last house where Marco Polo lived and died in. Connected by a book that was written in 13th century describing Marco Polo Travels called Il Milione in Italian and The Travels of Marco Polo in English.
Adriane in Marco Polo neighborhood.
Marina with her camera looking on as a gondolier points out Marco Polo’s house to tourists.

As we navigated the alleyways again, we got lost. It took several locals to point us in the direction of San Lorenzo square. And there it was, in front of us, the church of San Lorenzo, the place where Marco Polo was buried. Built in the 9th century, this church looked two dimensional, eerie, with its huge doors, now locked.  We heard stories that Marco Polo body was moved, stolen, but to where, or if it is still here…no one knew. All we know is that this church is his final resting place. We paused for a moment and paid our respects. We came a long way to do this.

San Lorenzo church, the final resting place of Marco Polo. Closed now, this church was built in the 9th century, and rebuilt several times. During the rebuilding a lot of art went missing as well as the Marco Polo and his father Niccolò sarcophagus who had been buried here in 1324.
Marina, taking a moment to ponder in front of the locked massive doors of San Lorenzo church.

The next day we visited the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, or the National Library of St Mark’s which houses one of the greatest classical texts collections in the world, including the Last Will and Final Testament of Marco Polo. Even though we didn’t get a chance to see it – you need special permission and we did not have enough time in Venice – next time! – we were humbled to be in the building where it resides. It you would like to see the Marco Polo’s Last Will and Testament, click HERE. John Fusco, the creator of TV series Marco Polo got to see it and he reads it.

Adriane in the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Museum), in which the last will and testament of Marco Polo is stored.

As we walked out of the library and onto St Mark’s Square, the statues of the four horses on top of Saint Mark’s Basilica beckoned us in. Originally installed above the portal of the basilica in about 1254, they were taken to Paris by Napoleon in 1797 but returned to Venice in 1815. Today the originals are kept inside Saint Mark’s basilica. The horses you see on top are bronze replicas.

The four horses were sent to Venice from Constantinople in 1254. They were placed on the front façade of the basilica. Concerned over preservation, they were placed inside in 1980’s, and you can view them there. The ones outside are a bronze replicas. The horses face the Campanile, the tall brick bell tower that was begun in the 10th century and completed in the 12th century. So tall that it was used by approaching ships as a beacon to guide them home.
Saint Mark’s Basilica, is the most beautiful church we have ever visited. It is a holy ground as it built upon the body of Saint Mark. It was started in 832 and added on during the next few centuries. It contains a museum, 4,240 square meters covered in ethereal and luminous gold mosaics treasury and the most incredible  Pala d’Oro or the huge altarpiece, which is made of gold and silver, and pearls, emeralds, sapphires, rubies, and other precious stones.

We stepped inside this holy place. The basilica houses the remains of Saint Mark, one of the 12 Apostles. We walked behind the altar, to the treasury and into the museum. We walked on top and were in awe by the treasures this basilica holds. (Sorry, no picture taking allowed inside)

St Mark’s square square holds many incredible buildings, some with secret passageways. This one, the Piazzetta which houses Libreria Sansoviniana (old Library) is from 1500 century, is more modern looking with its Baroque-Roman style arches. The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (National Library) is just around the corner.
Torre dell’Orologio, the clock tower shows the hours, phases of the moon, and the signs of the zodiac.
Taming the cat. But this cat is a stone lion in St Mark’s square

It was our last day here, so we went for an evening stroll, to enjoy our daily dessert which was naturally, gelato. The rain was coming down hard, and as we walked into the square we noticed sea water seeping up though the pavement. We ask a local and he told us the Venice is slowly sinking. We looked at each other in disbelief. How could this be? “It wasn’t supposed to last this long”, he replied.  As the band played on, we stared at the bubbling water coming up through the ground.  It reminded us of the movie Titanic. Nothing lasts forever, but somethings endure the test of time and become timeless. We later learned that there are plans to save Venice currently underway.

The waiter serves drinks in his rubber boots. The bands kept playing hauntingly beautiful symphonies, as the seawater seeped in from the ground flooding the square at night.

We went back to our quiet hotel located in a narrow alley by the square and enjoyed the last of the Italian wine we have enjoyed so much. It was time to pack.

They say with every ending there is a new beginning and how appropriate that it should be Venice. Marco Polo started his journey from Venice and he returned here. So, Marina and I ended Part 1 of our journey here, but the adventure of Marco Polo Family Ties Part 2 is about to begin. Until then…

Watch our video here. Venice, Italy: Queen of the Adriatic