Perhaps no other city in the world has inspired the superlatives that have been heaped upon Venezia (Venice) by great writers and travellers through the centuries.

Forget that Venezia is no longer a great maritime republic and that its buildings are in serious decay and constantly threatened by rising tides. Today, Byron might be reluctant to take his daily swim along the Grand Canal for it is too dirty. But the thoughts of Henry James are as true today as they were a century ago: "Dear old Venice has lost her complexion, her figure, her reputation, her self-respect: and yet, with it all, has so puzzlingly not lost a shred of her distinction."

Venezia is built on 117 small islands and has some 150 canals and 409 bridges. Only three bridges cross the Grand Canal: the Accademia, the Rialto and the Scalzi. The city is divided into six quarters: Cannaregio, Castello, San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo and Santa Croce.

No cars are permitted on the islands although ferries transport them to the Lido (the large outer island that borders the Adriatic), and all public transport is by vaporetto (small passenger ferries) along the canals. Italy-Lonely Planet

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