When most tourists go to Venice, they want to see certain things. The Piazza San Marco, the Doges’ Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, and the Rialto Bridge all fill boxes on their “must-see” checklist. Those places are certainly worth seeing, but many people come away feeling rather unfulfilled. They return home and tell their friends that they’ve “seen Venice” and don’t need to return. If only they knew what they were missing! They haven’t even scratched the surface of this lovely, mysterious city with a flair for hiding its finest gems. After all, Venice did not remain a world power for a thousand years by giving away its secrets.
One of those secrets is the island of San Michele. People on their way to Murano, to see how Venetian glass is blown, will travel past this walled island; most will probably never give it a second thought. J. G. Links even writes in Venice For Pleasure, that you are unlikely to visit the island. If, however, you are searching for a shady, quiet corner of Venice, full of history but not tourists, take the vaporetto to the San Michele or Cimitero stop. A totally different world awaits: nothing like the Venice full of people, motorboats, ferries, street vendors, and cheap souvenirs.
As you wander about, you may come upon the final resting place of Igor Stravinsky, Joseph Brodsky, or Ezra Pound. They have been given the honor of keeping their place on the island. Most Venetians reside in the full-size graves for a much shorter time, then are removed to one of the wall crypts (ossuaries) in order to make room for the next round of the dead. You may also note family crypts that have fallen into disrepair, while others are kept meticulously tidy. The monuments vary from very simple stones to elaborate carvings of grieving angels. There are a multitude of photographic opportunities, from sweeping panoramas to intimate close-ups of small details.
One of the subtleties of the area is the quality of the light. On humid days, the light is filtered, almost as if a fog were present. This can give an ethereal feel to photographic images, one of the unexpected gifts of the island. Be aware of this as you frame your shots. You won’t get the sharp shadow definition that less humidity offers. Take advantage of this, and notice how the light changes depending on the weather.
The cypress trees on San Michele give the visitor a respite from the heat of the midday sun. To find so many trees in Venice is a treat, especially if you are not familiar with the less-visited sections, or sestieri, of the city. There is a lovely city park in the eastern end of the city, the Giardini, however, unless you are in Venice for the Biennale, you most likely won’t get out that direction. Trees are otherwise rather scarce in Venice, or they seem to be. San Michele allows you to step back from the frantic rush of Venice’s centro and discover what it is that brought you to this part of the world in the first place.
Article and Images Copyright © 2013 Judy Kiel. All Rights Reserved.