All worth-while Italian river cruises navigate down the Guidecca Canal in Venice, offering passengers a glimpse of the fascinating and awe-inspiring Basilica of Santa Maria. An incredible Baroque style-church, it is an unmissable architectural destination that will enthral any lover of history and culture. |
The Basilica’s History
There aren’t many positive things to say about the plague, but without it the marvellous Church of Santa Maria della Salute might never have been built. In the seventeenth century it was commonly understood that the Virgin Mary could stop the spread of disease. Following this belief, in 1630 the Venetian Senate promised to build a church in Mary’s honour if the plague stopped spreading. The black death had already taken the lives of 150 thousand Venetians and they couldn’t risk losing more citizens.
Whether coincidental or not, after this prayer was made the disease and plague-ridden fleas died out. Holding up their end of the bargain, the Venetian authorities sanctioned the erection of a new edifice dedicated to the Virgin Mary: the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. Half a century later, the church stood tall at the tip of Dorsoduro, where St Mark’s Basin swallows up the Grand Canal and many Italian river cruises enter Venice.
Its Architecture and Decoration
As passengers on Italian river cruises approach Venice, their attention is immediately captured by the marvellous church. Designed by Baldassare Longhena, it is possesses a unique combination of Roman domes, Venetian Byzantine and Baroque design. It features white Istrian stone steps and large archways that guide visitors into the side chapels. Its exterior is lavishly covered with sculptures of saints, prophets and evangelists, the most prominent one being of the Virgin Mary who overlooks the edifice in an act of protection.
Inside there is an array of Marian paintings and depictions. Luca Giordano’s Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple, Nativity of Our Lady and Assumption of our Lady all decorate altars. Other contributions come from Tintoretto and Titian, including the infamous Marriage at Cana and Descent of the Holy Ghost. The scenes on the ceiling represent biblical stories too, most notably that of David and Goliath. When you visit the church, keep your eyes peeled for the statue depicting the Virgin as a healer and deliverer from the plague. It was made by the Flemish artist Josse de Corte.
The Festa della Salute
Italian river cruises that travel through Venice at the end of November are in for a treat. Every year, on the 21st of November, Venetian citizens hold the Festa della Salute. Literally meaning ‘the festival of health’, it is a ceremonial tradition in which a bridge linking the San Marco district and the Salute Church is lain over the Grand Canal. Citizens then walk to the church, pay their respects to Mary and ask that she keep the city in good health.
Venice is a popular stop-off point for Italian river cruises as there is so much to explore, but the Basilica promises to be one of the memorable moments of your trip.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury river cruises and barge holidays throughout Europe. If you're looking for the most exciting itineraries for Italian river cruises European Waterways is an ideal choice. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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