Visitors to Venice are Shocked at the Bedraggled Look of the City
Why Do Buildings in Venice Look so Neglected? Buildings in Venice, Italy look old and neglected by choice. For Italians, these old buildings reflect a sense of time in the form of visual stories. They silently speak of the wars, the strife, the peace, and the happy times.
I have heard this question repeatedly since I began writing about Italy. Repeatedly, I have pondered this very question as I walked through Venice day after day, as recently as 2017. But after speaking with and working with so many Italians in Venice, Florence, and Rome since then, I have come to a new understanding about why the buildings looked so neglected, bedraggled, and just plain old.
It is because they are. Old, I mean. Something that they possess as part of their nature is a sense of 'oldness.' We in the US, do not much possess this trait, because we are only 200+ years old. Italians have a strong sense of the ‘oldness’ of their cities, their culture, their family lines, etc. Because they are, for the most part, well over 2,000 years old. This is a HUGE feature in their sense of pride, their own self-image. Time.
A CAN OF PAINT
Their thinking is that you can add a coat of paint, and although it may make things look ‘newer,’ it would definitely destroy the ‘stories’ of their long history. A depth of time is cherished deep in their psyche, and renewing buildings would kill that. Again, this is something not easily understood in very new cultures like ours in the US.
For Venetians, the beauty and the value is in the visual history of their buildings, not in a can of paint. Anyone can buy a can of paint. But where's the story in that?
Additionally, it was considered 'safe thinking' to hide your wealth to the outside world during several periods in their past. Unlike many of us in the US, where we are proud of our successes, that thinking hasn't changed much in Venice.
Graffiti is an Italian word. In Florence, it was the word they used when they decorated the outside of buildings with beautiful designs. It was something that only the wealthy could afford, and the outcomes were quite decorous. The 20th century has turned that word into a negative meaning, as our youth has 'decorated' many of our buildings with obscenities, and often negative street ‘art’. (This is not a comment about all street art, as many wonderful artists began their successful careers in the street art business.)
Another issue in Venice is that painting the outside of their homes and buildings is prohibitively expensive. In addition to hiring the typical exterior crew, they also have to hire boats and barges, scaffolding, and the crews that go with them. This is because so many of their homes are over the water. Additionally, the extra insurance required to cover injuries and damages when working over the water is extreme. So why bother? The locals, in large part, have excluded any thoughts of 'curb appeal' from their homes centuries ago. The real emphasis goes to the interiors, and in Venice, you might find some 'regular' homes that look like palaces inside.
So don't let the outside fool you. Venetians have very legitimate reasons for why their city island looks the way it does.
As an Author of Travel Books, it is important for me to attempt to put my head into the mindset of the people that live in the destinations where I write. If you like this explanation and would like to read more about Venice, Florence, and Rome, please visit my website and give my books a try.