Since the first time I visited Venice I have said that it's like a dream. It is a city unlike any other. It is not only its canals and narrow streets that make Venice so unique — it is the whole fantasy of it. What I mean by fantasy is that Venice is an impossibility. Venice is a city built on top of disappearing marshlands in the middle of a lagoon. Its foundations are wooden stakes that were driven into the water, topped by limestones to create an even and sturdy ground for building. The city is filled with grand palaces and churches that have survived hundreds of years almost intact. No one had expected the city to last this long, and even today Venice’s fate looks rather gloomy with rising sea levels and sinking foundations.
I had been to Venice twice before, and when the opportunity arose to visit a third time, I couldn’t pass it up. That is how I ended up in ITAL/ARCH 311: “Venice: Self-Representation, Performance, and Reception,” a course cotaught by Professor Fabio Finotti of the Italian Studies Program and Professor Raffaela Giannetto of PennDesign, funded by Penn’s Humanities + Urbanism + Design (H+U+D) initiative.
My previous travels to Venice had been through the Penn-in-Venice summer program, where I took courses in Italian language, history, and art history, but what I also learned through these trips was that Venice is much more than a “floating” museum or a tourist day-trip.
Through ITAL/ARCH 311, I learned about the beginnings of Venice and its development as an empire. The course presented a thorough exploration of Venice from its origins to its present-day status and its attempts to represent itself to the world through a variety of myths. It also examined these self-representations through the use of texts, visuals, and built form. What made this course unique and rewarding was the quality and amount of primary texts presented to us as we investigated each stage of the history of Venice, from the visit to the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts in Van Pelt Library to the end-of-the-semester trip abroad. The visual imagery presented in class created a clear picture of Venice throughout the years, and little slivers of information contextualized life in Venice at every century.