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The visitor will be convinced that there are other and better things even in this life. Byron

 
       
 

Divertissement in Venice!

 
 

Side-trip from the Biennale...

   

 

  

 

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter's wand:

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, Byron

So unearthly that one imagines it is all a dream, the city of Venice, La Serenissima, stands guard, resplendent in its own beauty, watching over the Adriatic Sea.  A portal to Western Europe and to the Orient, its mixed heritage evident in everything from delicate Murano glass to the Doge's Palace (where the uniquely Venetian trefoil pointed arch is surmounted by a four-leaf clover or quatrefoil).  Venice, which saw the development of modern European banking in its Jewish Ghetto, the original ghetto, in the 16th century.  Venice, a 17th century economic and military titan that repulsed the mighty Ottomans from Greece.  Several decades after this remarkable victory, in 1717 to be exact, when the Armenian Catholic order known as the Mechitarists -- named after Abbot Mechitar of Sebastia -- faced persecution, the Venetians offered them refuge on a small but scenic island, a former leper colony named after the patron saint of the illness -- and so the name Isola di San Lazzaro degli Armeni or San Lazarus of the Armenians.

In 1816, the poet Lord Byron visited San Lazzaro: the Englishman felt instantly at home in the presence of these learned Levantine scholars and in the monastery's wood-paneled library lined with the great works of Eastern and Western Literature.  He came back for lessons in classical Armenian here for several months and wrote in his Confessions: "By way of divertissement, I am studying daily at an Armenian monastery, the Armenian language.  I found that my mind wanted something craggy to break upon; and this -- as the most difficult thing I could discover here (in Venice) for an amusement…"  He eventually compiled the first English-Armenian grammar book and even translated the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.

Today, one can visit San Lazzaro, and see the monastery, church (mosaics!), library (ancient manuscripts), and pinacoteca (art gallery) where there is on display both Armenian and Venetian art (San Lazzaro was the only island Napoleon did not ransack), and a room dedicated to Lord Byron (complete with 15th-century Indian throne) who often stayed at the monastery.  There are peacocks in the garden, and even an ancient Indian papyrus amidst all its treasures.  The island is a short fifteen-minute vaporetto ride from the San Zaccaria station, a perfect divertissement from the Venice Biennale!

 

Visit: Venice and San Lazzaro, i-escape.com

Visit: Venice Biennale 

 

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