Face Behind a Face – Venetian Masks


Venice is famous for being the city of love, for its many bridges, for the incredible amount of pigeons in the San Marco Place and the Serenissima. But also for the masks. And I saw countless masks of all seizes, forms, colors and materials.

Masks are used since antiquity for two purposes: for protection and for ceremonial events. You wear a mask normally on your face, covering it partially or completely but some are also covering shoulders, more to hold a big and heavy mask.


Historically it is not sure when the first mask appeared but the oldest ever found mask is 9.000 years! There are drawings in paleolithic caves with people wearing a mask, so I guess they are older than that at least. As masks for sure were initially made of materials that deteriorate quickly or maybe they were also thrown into the fire after the ceremony they didn’t survive until today. During the time nearly all cultures have used masks for different purpose.

Masks are great in performances as they can give a different appearance of the one who is wearing the mask and give a better idea of whom the wearer is performing.

In rituals masks have a higher meaning. They show characters like gods or spirits, feelings and are used in all continents.

Functional masks are often for medical purpose to protect, like also in sports.

A special section maybe are the punitive masks of the Medieval Ages. Or to show people the stupidity of a person, or to make suffer someone with an iron mask for example. Also death or burial masks are special as they are put over the face after death and often show the face like it was when the person was alive.

And then there are the masks for Carnival, like the Venetian Carnival.


Carnival in Venice is being held since 1162. It usually starts in February and end on Shrove Tuesday. At that time, the Carnival was a several weeks long event where the whole city was celebrating with music, food, dances and more. The masks were used to hide the identity and the status so everyone could do what pleased him/her without a class restriction. It was used to distract people and folk a little bit from the strong power play during the rest of the year. Very much like in the old Roman times.

In the 18th century the Carnival of Venice became famous in whole Europe, times of Casanova for example. It abruptly ended with the French and then Austrian occupation when masks weren’t allowed. It survived in a certain way more in the private life until 1979 when it was fully restored.


Masks in Venice have always played a special role. They were allowed long times during the year: from the 5th of October until Christmas and then from 26th of December until Shrove Tuesday. For hundreds of years there are mask maker guilds. Still, today they prepare masks made of leather, porcelain, gesso or even papier-machΓ©. They are hand-painted and decorated with feathers and gems. Of course, there are also the factory-made masks for the mass of tourists to buy. When you buy one, try to buy a good, handmade and valuable mask. You can clearly see the difference (not only in the price).


There are 7 different kinds of masks:
1. The Bauta: it’s a square mask with eyes and nose, but no mouth. It’s a male mask, if we want to say so, and was used as a political statement.
2. The Columbina: it covers only the eyes and a little bit the nose, I would say, it is the most common mask we find for Carnival. It is a female mask, hold with a nice ribbon in the back of the head. It is most of the times colorful decorated and is used by women that want to be more sexy.
3. The Medico della Peste: this is originally a functional mask worn by plague doctors. In the long beak or nose there were herbs that should prevent to inhale the bad air of plague patients. Again a male mask, not very much decorated, most of the time super simple in white.
4. The Volto: is worn by men and women, the decoration changes a little bit with a more female or male appearance. It covers the entire face and gives you the possibility to stay very much anonymous.
5. The Pantalone: has a long hook nose or nearly beak and funny slanted eyes. It is decorated but still pretty simple. He presents the joker of the group and very social. (Male mask)
6. The Arlecchino: a colorful very much elaborated mask with a grinning face. It has nice arches around the face with little bells that ring with every move of the face.
7. The Zanni: it looks the Medico with a long beak-like nose. The length of the nose tells you something about the IQ of the wearer, the longer, the less πŸ˜‰


Well, that’s the story of the masks in Venice. What do you think? Do you like the masks or are they kitsch for you? I bought a few little ones and – as you can clearly see – I like to photograph them. I still wish very much to go to Venice one day during Carnival season to see all those historical costumes, too.

I like also very much what one can express with just wearing a mask. He/she can hide but express him/herself very clear. For some people maybe it is the only moment to show their feelings or to live for a short time with someone else’s face. We all know the eyes and the face is our soul’s mirror.

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Venice, Veneto/Italy:

For further information:
Tourism Board of Venice

Some books of Donna Leon I highly recommend:


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Like a Bridge over Troubled Water – Bridges in Venice


Venice is famous for its many bridges. But did you know that there are 431 bridges in the city? And did you know that there are cities with many more bridges? The most bridges you can find, guess where? In Hamburg in Germany. Hamburg has 2.300 bridges! More known is Amsterdam, Netherlands, for the many bridges, there you can walk over 1.280 bridges. Bridges in the United States? Yes, more than in Venice also you find nearly 800 in New York, who would ever thought that? Even Pittsburgh has more: 446. But I guess Venice seems to have more because you are constantly crossing canals and the inner city is pretty small compared to New York or Amsterdam or Hamburg.


Venice is built on 121 islands in a lagoon and streets are canals. There are no cars! The traffic is made of boats and gondolas (which means also less air and noise pollution maybe). You walk over beautiful big piazzas, but also in very narrow passageways, called calle (yes, like the Spanish word for street). And there every then and now cross a canal… and a bridge. I was mainly in the San Marco district and only in the inner city and it seemed to me I am constantly crossing some bridges.


They are sometimes very simple, most of the time made of stone, some are from wood or even metal. Most of them look old, have even coats of arms attached. Everywhere gondolas pass under these bridges, many of them with tourists, some with goods for the many shops and restaurants. BTW: because there are no cars allowed, the supply for shops, restaurants etc are brought on carts. I guess there are transportation agencies that take care oft the goods transport.


I wrote a separate article about the Rialto Bridge. I couldn’t take a photo of the second famous bridge, the Ponte del Academia, crossing the Grand Canal. The bridge was wrapped in wooden boards, obviously for restoration. But bridge is not known to be the prettiest (made of wood and steel) but the panorama from there is amazing. Unfortunately we couldn’t see over the wooden boards.


It seems strange, but when arriving at the main station Santa Lucia I didn’t notice the third bridge that crosses the Grand Canal: the Ponte degli Scalzi (The Barefoot Bridge). It’s also known as ‘Ponte della Stazione’ (Bridge of the Station) and is situated really just a few steps from the many boats that leave from here to bring tourists down the Grand Canal to their hotels, San Marco or one of the many other places. The name of the bridge derives from the fact that in front of the bridge there was a church of the Barefoot or Descalced Carmelites.


There is another very famous bridge, called Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of the Sighs). It’s beautifully made of white limestone and has two small windows with stone bars. Not a bridge where to ‘escape’. In fact, it is the passage between the interrogation rooms in the Doge’s palace and the new prison, right on the other side of the Rio del Palazzo. It was built in 1600. The view from the bridge is amazing: you can see the Ponte della Paglia (Hay Bridge) and in the back in the sea the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the eponymous island.

Interesting fact: there are other bridges of sighs in the world: in Cambridge and Oxford, UK, and in New York, USA, in Lima, Peru and many other places.


There is a very modern bridge called Ponte della Costituzione (Bridge of Constitution) or Calatrava. It was built only ten years ago, in 2007, and is a very modern version. I haven’t seen it but I think it is worth to have a look if you are in Venice for more than two days like me. It runs from the station to the Piazzale Roma over the Grand Canal and is the fourth connection.

I enjoyed the many different bridges. I would love to know every story behind every single bridge. And I would like to see these bridges sometime in the wintertime, when it is foggy, when you don’t see but you hear everywhere the water. Mystery and adventure! Donna Leon and Comissario Brunetti calling!

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Venice, Veneto/Italy:

For further information:
Tourism Board of Venice

Some books of Donna Leon I highly recommend:


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Fairytale Walks


It’s still dark outside at 6 o’clock in the morning. This morning I had my alarm set that early to be in time in the right place for the sunrise. I started my nightly morning tour at the seaside but I didn’t like the venue. So I drove to a place I knew a nice walk in the woods. And that decision was the best!


In the same place I walked a few years earlier when I bought my new zoom lenses, you can read about it here. At that time I was so happy with them, now I have new ones and they are a much better category. In that older blog post you will find some pictures you see here, too πŸ˜‰

I was definitely in the right moment in the right place. I maybe didn’t see the sun rising on the water but I got the best light for nature photography. I walked for nearly 4 hours and used the light for some really nice shots. Here they are, enjoy!

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Protected area Aalbek/Niendorf, Schleswig-Holstein/Germany:

For further information:
Bird Park
Protected area Aalbek

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In the Drawing Room of Europe – Piazza San Marco in Venice


Piazza San Marco – or St. Mark’s Square – is the main Piazza of Venice, Italy. The place consists of two parts: the main square, called Piazza, going from west to east, and the Piazzetta, that goes in an L-shape towards the sea facing south. I’ll talk about the whole complex.


It depends on what side you will enter the Piazza San Marco but if it is the west end, then you will face the huge, imposing basilica of San Marco with a separated bell tower (campanile). The huge place makes an L-turn on the other end between the basilica of San Marco and the campanile to lead to the sea. And because of being so near to the sea, during winter time very often happens the today famous β€œAcqua Alta” when the whole piazza is flooding.

Now in summer tourists are ‘flooding’ the piazza, walking in the sunshine and admiring the beauty of the place and especially the basilica.


We need a little bit of history here: In the beginning Venice’s patron was St Theodore but around 830 some relics of Saint Mark were stolen in Alexandria, Egypt, and brought to Venice. The Venetians adopted him as a new patron. At this time the city was fighting to free itself from the domination of Byzantium.

The relics of Saint Mark were stored first in the Doge’s Palace, and he ordered to build a new church for the new patron. Already in 836, just 7 or 8 years later, the church was sufficiently built to house the remains of the saint. Initially there was much more water around were today the piazza is situated. It seems that until the second part of the 12th century the piazza was just a field or small place with canals in use. It was the wealthy Doge Sebastiano Ziani who started building the piazza like we know it today. Venice was growing rapidly and got more and more influence in the middle ages so it needed also an appropriate piazza in front of its main church, the basilica. The canal Rio Baratario was filled, a piece of land bought from a monastery and plans started for buildings surrounding the piazza. These buildings he left to the state after his death. But his son Pietro became Doge later and continued to create the piazza. The exact dates of the buildings are unknown.


The Procuratie, the long building on the right of the piazza (seen from the basilica) was built as offices and residences for the procurators. Opposite there were other important buildings like the hospice Ospizio Orseolo which at that time was a hostel for pilgrims into the holy land.

When Constantinople was captured in 1204, Venice was shipping a lot of valuable objects to its own town as adornment. During this period the mosaics and marble appeared on the west facade of St. Marks, plus the four horses. All coming from Constantinople.

In the end of the century the new Doge’s palace was built, just half, until the 7th pillar (watch out for a circular relief). 50 years later also the remaining old palace was demolished and rebuilt – in the honor of the city.

The clock tower was designed by Codussi and started to be built in 1496. Therefore, a part of the Procuratie was demolished and opened to the Calle Mercerie, leading to the bridge of Rialto. Less than 3 years later the clock-tower was ready, the new, astronomical clock installed.

A fire only 10 years later destroyed a good part of the Procuratie and the whole complex was rebuilt, this time 3 stories high. The beautiful arches were rebuilt, the lower storey was used for shops.

Jacopo Sansovino from Rome as a consultant architect made the plans for the new Procuratie opposite the old one, with a library facing the Doge’s palace. He insisted on enlarging the piazza which until now was limited at the bell-tower. He also finished rebuilding the St. Geminiano church at the south end of the piazza.

The Procuratie Nuove were continued by Vincenzo Scamozzi but not completed before 1640 by Baldassare Longhena and 70 years after the death of Sansovino.

Under Napoleon in the late 18th century the winged lion and the four horses on the top of the doors of the basilica were removed and brought to Paris, as Napoleon wanted to take away the symbols of a free Venice. They only returned in 1815/16.


The piazza originally was paved in a herringbone pattern with bricks. The white lines you see today were maybe laid for the many processions and markets here, to help to set them up. During winter time you can see the piazza often being flooded by the sea water coming in with the storms and then laid around the piazza gangplanks to let people walk above the water.


The famous picture of the many pigeons flying in the Piazza San Marco must be very old. I saw a few, they are not shy, but nothing really special. I enjoyed the piazza not only during the daytime but also in the evening and nighttime.The concert of Zucchero was amazing, the acoustic simply perfect. Early in the morning the place is impressive; nearly no people, the sun slowly coming up and putting a golden veil on the buildings, silence, just another world.

I confess it has been many years that I wanted to visit Venice but always thought about it as the most touristic place. It has a lot of tourists but it is not that bad and there are many hours the lagoon city seems to be nearly empty: in the night and in the early morning hours.

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Venice, Veneto/Italy:

For further information:
Tourism Board of Venice

Some books of Donna Leon I highly recommend:


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Venice – Metropolis in the Blue Lagoon


One of my highlights this year was a 3 days trip to Venice. I visited the city once about 35 years ago, just for a day and never got back. Not because I didn’t enjoy it but I had in my mind that it is a place full of tourists and also super expensive. But when this summer my friend came to visit me and wanted to go in the middle of summer to Venice, I agreed. I am very happy I did!


We took the train to the lagoon city which was the best choice. The train station Santa Lucia is only a 10 minutes boat drive or even walk from the very center of the old town. We took the boat and arrived at Rialto where some of the little hotel where we booked a room for a very reasonable price, was waiting for us. We had to walk just another 10 minutes to arrive at the very cozy little hotel in the heart of San Marco.

The following two days we found out that nearly everything is just a minutes-walk away.


The name Venezia derives from the people once living here; the Veneti. So far, the city’s foundation by 12 families is associated with the building of the first church on the islet of Rialto in 421 AD. They had Roman ancestors and they elected the first doge. The 1.200 years old former swamp and now lagoon became soon a refuge for religious institutions, more than for people itself.

The city itself was started to built in 697, but only 120 years later also capital of the Ducato di Venezia (Republic of Venice). The near Holy Roman Empire and the far away Constantinople soon made it possible to grow in a flourishing and independent sea power.


Together with the three other sea republics – Genova, Pisa and Amalfi – in the following centuries it will have an important role in many events.

The head of the republic was the doge who lived in a magnificent palace, right to the Basilica of Saint Mark’s. At the peak of its power Venezia was dominating nearly all the coast of the Adriatic Sea plus Cyprus and was an important military power. But with the New World becoming more and more interesting the slowly decline started. The trade was moved more inland now just in the hope of again better times.


In the 18th century Venice was one of the most refined cities, known for its incredible art collections, the architecture and also literature.

Nonetheless, after more than a thousand years of glory and pride on the 12th of May in 1797 the last doge Ludovico Manin had to abdicate, forced my Napoleon. In October of the same year the land of the Republic of Venice became part of the Austrian Empire. In 1866 the Veneto region started to be part of the Kingdom of Italy.

In both of the World Wars Venice was very active and had suffered many damages. After WW II the city started to construct on the mainland as well and today there are twice as many people living than in the old inner city.

The particular position of the city on islands, means literally in the water, makes it also very difficult to maintain the buildings. Additionally, there is very often high water, famous Acqua Alta, and storms than give ulterior damages.


Venice is the city of Marco Polo and Casanova, the city of incredible monuments, the city of the romantic gondolas, and the city of the pigeons on the San Marco Square. It is the city of the many bridges (which are not that many) and of the costly cappuccino. The place where the Biennale every year awards the best movies and actors. Thomas Mann wrote β€œDeath in Venice” and Donna Leon many of her stories around Comissario Brunetti. The city is home of the unique Venetian Gothic architecture. It is home of the precious Murano glass, an art that came from Constantinople in the 13th century, after the 4th crusade. And Venice is famous for its masks and the Carnival in Venice.

Venice was for me like a revelation. It was all but over-crowded, it was not at all so expensive and it was super easy to arrive. There is so much more I would like to discover, another early morning walk would be great and of course Carnival in Venice. I am looking forward to coming back!

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Venice, Veneto/Italy:

For further information:
Tourism Board of Venice
If you are interested in the Biennale

Some books of Donna Leon I recommand:


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