and stimulating hardly begin to describe our experience in Venice,
and a large part of the credit for that goes to Venicescapes
Historical Society. In fact, we would have missed the soul of
Venice without the expertise and guidance of Venicescapes.
we read the guidebooks in advance and thought that we were
prepared, we honestly would have missed seeing some of the more
spectacular sights in the civilized world, and what we did see we
wouldn’t have understood nearly as well. I’ve done my share of
traveling, and I’ve taken numerous guided tours. I can tell you that
the personnel and the itineraries of Venicescapes are far and away
the best. Period.
group ranged in age from 16 to 50-something, had educational
levels from Ph.D. to no diploma, and had no particular interests
in common. Yet, the historical information engaged everyone.
Even the 16-year-olds who had seldom before entered a museum or a
historic building without complaining were enchanted. I was
pleased that my own high-school-aged daughter was inspired enough
to keep a journal detailing the places we visited and the insights
learned. Not only did the Venicescapes guide possess a seemingly
endless knowledge about all things Venetian, he communicated that
knowledge effectively and kept the group involved.
of a Mercantile Empire” was the perfect way to become familiar
with Venice and to put everything that we explored later into a
meaningful context. The visit to the Pisani Moretta house stands
out in my mind because it was there that I understood how a grand
mansion actually lived and worked: the business activities from
finance and mercantile practices to alternative forms of
investment and the family activities from the extravagant
entertaining to inheritance rights and education. This helped make
concrete how the Venetian nobility differed from the landed
nobility elsewhere in Europe.
Splendors of Piety” let us see some spectacular paintings and
artwork in situ. This alone would have been worthwhile, but
even better, we developed an appreciation for how the artists
worked, their stylistic differences, and the historical context
that influenced their choice of subject matter. Ultimately, the
itinerary allowed the artists to speak to us across the ages.
Ridgewood, New Jersey
Don’t even begin to think that Venicescapes is a run-of-the-mill guided
tour through the city. I’m not sure it can be called a guided tour at all. Venicescapes is a rolling, graduate-level lecture series
delving into world history, religion, architecture, art,
economics, shipbuilding, public utilities and infrastructure, and
political and private culture, with the entire City of Venice as
its classroom. Henry James was right when he said “[the] Venice of today
is a vast museum...”. The real secret of discovering Venice is finding someone
who knows and understands the myriad of historical and religious
connections that created and then ultimately destroyed Venice as a
world power. That secret is Venicescapes.
My wife and I signed on for two of the day-long guided itineraries offered by
Venicescapes during our trip to Venice this March after several
weeks of research over the internet and a lucky viewing of a CNN
Travel profile of Italy that highlighted Venicescapes. We were in search of making our scheduled week in Venice a
mix of “going native” (instead of staying at a hotel, we
rented an apartment two blocks from Rialto Bridge) and trying to
better appreciate the city and its people.
The two days we spent with Venicescapes were a back-stage look at this
museum city in which we were also careful not to become
over-sentimental. Make no mistake about it; Venice also takes on the airs of
an amusement park as Mary McCarthy said, “living off the
entrance fees of tourists.” The key for appreciation of the city, we believed, was to
understand “why” Venice evolved as it did. Venicescapes took us there and back again. We were introduced to the many arriving cultures and
peoples and how they lived side by side and on occasion atop of
one another. We saw works of art not open to the general public as well
as private residences, once great mansions.
Venice is hard.
This was a city full of Greeks, Slavs, Germans, Russians,
Turks, and Italians from everywhere else. Venetian architecture,
religion and culture is a hotchpot of each of these groups, and
for someone to be able to convey to the uninitiated the
differences, is a wonder. But, that’s what Venicescapes is all about, and we are
richer for it.
To anyone who desires to appreciate the inner-workings of Venice in a
style of ease yet dedicated scholarship, Venicescapes comes highly
Scott Clarkson and Cheryl Friedling
Los Angeles, California
Since 1998, the members of our family have been enthusiastic members of
Venicescapes, and twice we have traveled to
Venice to participate in several of the society's on-site
itineraries. On both occasions, I was looking not for a mere
walking tour of the city but for an educational experience that
would enable my children to see and appreciate Venice while
gaining a better understanding of Venice's role in the development
of their own culture. It was also important that the experience
gain their attention and spark an interest in historical
When we took the first tours, we explored the complete historical
panorama of Venice, delved into the intricacies of Venetian
government, and learned about the motivation behind its famous
artworks. I had been in Venice before and had taken a private
guided tour, but unlike the Venicescapes' itineraries, I had not even
scratched the surface of the city.
In March 2001, we were once again in Venice and took more
Venicescapes' guided tours. Again, we were all fascinated to
discover the importance of the city throughout the ages in all
fields: economics, art, architecture, politics, justice, etc..
I have recommended that friends also join Venicescapes and take
advantage of its tours as I know they would be as enthralled as
we were to learn about the city, its art and architecture, and its
unique historical tapestry in an in-depth way not available on
other tours. Venice is unique in the world and Venicescapes, as an
internationally respected historical society, continues to do
much to improve a greater understanding of Venice and overturn the
widespread idea that the city is merely a romantic place of water
and old buildings, gondolas, and glass blowers!
David Brown and Leueen Willoughby
Our walking tour experiences in Venice were simply awesome!
organization Venicescapes made the complex and heretofore
unfamiliar history of Venice engaging and clear. I encourage you
to read Venicescapes' web site and believe the enthusiastic
Venicescapes aims for a more thorough look at the art,
architecture, and history of Venice but has several aspects which
place it in a class by itself. Venicescapes has made special
arrangements to gain access to private buildings which would
normally be inaccessible to the public. In addition, members of
the society booking the foundation tour, “Story of a
Mercantile Empire,” receive a privately published reference
guide with maps, timelines, and text to re-enforce the information
from the tour. (We took two, whole-day guided tours: “Story of a
Mercantile Empire” and “A City of Nations”.)
The one aspect of Venicescapes' tours which may not be to
everyone's taste (assuming, of course, that you are interested in
such an in-depth guided tour in the first place) is that the tours are
thematically driven rather than sight driven. That means the stops
on the tour are not necessarily the guide book “biggies”.
It's no surprise that Venicescapes doesn't go
into San Marco Basilica since guided explanations are not allowed
inside the church. The best example of my point is that the Doge's
Palace is not part of the “Story of a Mercantile Empire”
tour. (A visit to this sight is offered as a separate tour.)
Once, we found ourselves in front of a seemingly unremarkable corner of
the street. By the time the Venicescapes guide finished talking
about what the icon set in the wall above a gate represented in
the history of Venice, we were thrilled he had brought us to that
place and many more like it. That's not to say the guide
book “biggies” are avoided in some misguided reverse
snobbery; there are plenty of visits to the “must-sees”.
It's just that Venicescapes organizes its walking tours by theme and goes
to the best place in the city to illustrate the points of its theme.
Philip and Karen Selwyn
Falls Church, Virginia
What a perfectly and splendidly wonderful day!
Ray and I learned so
much about the history of Venice and the contributions of Venetian
and, indeed, Italian adventurers, bankers, explorers, and
painters, and, of course, doges to the overall development of
Western culture as we know it. No amount of outside reading could
ever have brought that story to life in the same way that our
Venicescapes walking tour did.
Both Ray and I are experienced travellers.
Ray has been literally all
over the world in his work as a journalist for the BBC. Likewise,
I have covered a fair bit of the globe in my work in the media.
say without exaggeration or hyperbole, however, that our day with
Story of a Mercantile Empire rates among our
respective top experiences. Ever!
I have recommended Venicescapes to many of my friends and
colleagues. And I have done so in the strongest possible terms.
I think that learning about the cultural context of a city,
especially one as endlessly fascinating and beautiful as Venice,
gives the traveller a level of understanding and appreciation
quite unlike any other. And, just to be clear on this point: the
day was a helluva lot of fun!
London, United Kingdom
Although I have enjoyed week-long visits to Venice half a dozen times and
consider myself a student of Venetian history and architecture, I
learned more in the four and a half hours I recently spent touring
the Ducal Palace with Venicescapes than I
would have in a comparable number of months pouring over standard
works on these topics. It was less a guided tour than a seminar, an
intellectually stimulating exchange that more than matched my
I told the Venicescapes guide that I was at work on a book about
Venetian architecture and needed to understand far more about the
growth and elaboration of the Venetian constitution. I wanted to
clarify how the building in which the Republic’s governing
bodies were housed reflected its basic political principles.
From this simple request, the guide crafted an incisive review of
Venetian political history explained on site and with extensive
references to particular locations. The result for me was a
crystallization of material which, until then, had lain dormant on
One of the most delightful and useful features of a tour with
Venicescapes is the opportunity to ask any number of questions and
to have them taken seriously and answered in depth by an expert
who richly enjoys the topic he is discussing. Although the tour
was scheduled to last three hours, we were still going strong four
and a half hours later. Throughout, the guide was very careful to
make certain that the discussion was meeting the specific needs I
had announced in my first communication to the association.
Touring with Venicescapes is one of the most enjoyable things I have done
in the city, and I enthusiastically recommend it to anyone who
wants to ensure that his or her visit to Venice is genuinely
Since moving from the United States to Italy, we have undertaken a
rigorous touring schedule. We can say that Venicescapes is in
a class by itself, offering the best guided tours that we have experienced.
We have taken two walking tours with Venicescapes: “Story of a Mercantile
Empire” and “The Splendors of Piety”. Both tours were
well-orchestrated and interactive and offered an
academically-oriented, comprehensive perspective on the chosen
That said, we would like to try to elaborate on what we believe makes
Venicescapes’ guided tours of Venice unique. Venicescapes offers
the first tours we have experienced which have managed to coalesce
all of the information researched from manifold sources into a
coherent framework to approach and understand Venice – this
framework reviews not only key historical developments, but also (1)
the relevant political, economic and religious factors that
contributed to their playing out that way and (2) why the way they
actually played out is important. The “big picture”
constructs of this underlying framework make it easy to process all
of the information (names, dates) while the tour is going on and,
perhaps even more important, make all of it reference-able at a
future date. Another point worth mentioning: in providing the
framework, Venicescapes gives a real “context” for understanding
Venice’s place in world history – in addition to looking at
Venice as an independent entity (the realm of most guides),
Venicescapes is able to place it within the entire Italian and
global historical landscape.
Some examples might help:
In discussing Saint Mark (tour: “Story of a Mercantile Empire”),
Venicescapes covers the presence of Saint Mark in the city (again
the realm of most guides), but then goes on to discuss the manifold
political and religious motivations underlying the Venetian
Republic’s need to capture and bring his relics into the city.
In the realm of art (tour: “The Splendors of Piety”),
Venicescapes does not just describe the artists of the
Venetian school (dates, techniques, styles) – but the historical
context in which they were operating (the state of the empire, the
rise of the mendicant orders, the religious confraternities, and the
Renaissance in general), what they were doing that was different
from each other (based on their own religious beliefs and stylistic
tendencies), what they were doing differently from the rest of Italy (vis a vis the Renaissance in Florence and
Rome), and what their overall contribution to the artistic movements
of which they were a part was.
Although for that type of an educational experience we would be willing to
endure any type of horrific personality in the guide, the added
benefit is that the guide was very nice and personable –
one who made us feel comfortable from the start.
It goes without saying at this point, but we believe that Venicescapes’
tours are great experiences and recommend them to every intellectually curious visitor.
David Raezer and Jennifer Regnault
This past January, my husband and I booked “The Age of Decadence”
with Michael Broderick, director of Venicescapes. Michael came
to our hotel to collect us and helped orient us to the significance
of our neighborhood (Dorsoduro) and the themes/issues that our tour
would explore. Although we picked the moment of Venice's
decline, the history was not depressing. Michael is a keen
historian, and he provided ample context to understand the roots of
the issues that would lead to Napoleon's conquest. A highlight
was the hour stay with Michael at the splendid house museum, the Ca'
Rezzonico. Michael both guided us through the house and the
amazing collection, and also gave us time to experience the palace
on our own. Over lunch in a cozy cafe Michael indulged our
questions regarding the history of Venice. My husband and I
are not that familiar with 18th century European history, the period
this tour investigates, and it was remarkable how Michael connected
Venice to the broader philosophical, scientific and cultural trends
proliferating throughout Europe. After lunch we enjoyed
exploring Venice's theatrical history and saw the historic Fenice
Theater, and then learned about the private casinos (and
visited an historic casino), then ended up at an
historic cafe in St. Mark's Square. We felt truly immersed in the
city, and began to understand the shifting dynamics that turned
Venice from a major metropolis controlling the Adriatic, to one that
no longer held power and instead became a singular place of beauty,
fixed in time.
Michael spent the entire day with us;
answering our questions and helping us to not only situate what we
were seeing in context, but also connecting what we were seeing with
concepts/ideas we were familiar. He never minded being peppered with
all of our questions, even when they strayed from topic. We were
thoroughly engaged the entire tour and truly enjoyed being with
Michael. I know that the next time we are in Venice we will once
again turn to Michael and Venicescapes for another immersive
Melissa and Carey Burtt
New York, New York
I took “The Age of Decadence” tour in early December
2007. I was travelling on my own, and the guide offered to
split the tour so that it ran over two consecutive days. This
arrangement suited me ideally.
I had done some reading in preparation for the tour, and this really
enhanced my enjoyment both of the tour and of Venice itself. I
found the tour guide to be most considerate, gentle, and
accommodating. I liked his approach to the subject. He
began by putting each particular place in its historical context on
the Venetian, European, and World stage, thus whetting my
appetite. As he warmed to his subject, he was nevertheless
easy to listen to – the seemingly unending knowledge resting very lightly on his
shoulders. The experience for the listener was one of sheer
pleasure. So often tour guides are unable to relate facts and
figures without losing the listener in the process. Venicescapes' easy and enthralling manner is a real winner.
The guide managed to convey endless wisdom in such a way that I, for
one, will certainly come back for more.
The addition of the book at the end of the tour is a lovely touch. It offers
insights into the social and political overtones of the writings of
the era, allowing the reader to relive the delights of Venice from
the comfort of home.
further information about these unique guided walking tours, write to: