A Tale of Two Cities

By tradition and culture they are as diverse from each other as they could get.

One of these two cities is built on water, the other is land locked.

One was established in 421 AD, or thereabouts, and the other is as ‘old as the hills’ going back to at least 2400 BC.

One has a subtropical climate and the other, Mediterranean with desert close by. One gets flooded now and again whilst the other has snow falls once in a great while.

There are 117 islands that belong to one city and nations are divided about the national boundaries of the other, both areas have been ruled by outsiders. The city that sits on wooden stakes and platforms has been taken over by the Lombards, the Normans, the French and the Austrians to name a few of its invaders. The Ottoman Turks and Romans once ruled the city in the desert and it was subjugated under the King of Jerusalem during the crusades. That King being Christian was not of Israel (mid 12th century).

By tradition and culture they are as diverse from each other as they could get and each gets its share of millions of visitors. What cities are they? Here are some more clues.

The city of stakes and platforms boasted trade routes that ran from Northern Italy to China, thanks to one of its most famous men, Marco Polo. It enjoys masked parades and festivals and is very famous all over the world for its art glass.

The city in the desert on the other hand is famous all over the world for its religious history and connections to the bible. It was ruled by two of the most famous biblical kings in history, (David and Solomon). As a result of that history it has the highest ratio of museums per capita in the world.

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Did you guess right? These two cities are of course Jerusalem and Venice and they do have one unusual thing in common.

They both have encountered an icy anomaly in their climate in recent years, i.e. snow! In the last two decades Venice has had an unusual amount of snow given its geographical location. It snowed more recently in 2005, 2009, 2012 and 2013 but Jerusalem has also experienced an unexpected amount of snow.

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Venice – Gondolas in the Snow. Photograph: Francois Xavier
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The entrance to Jerusalem December 2013. Photographer unknown

They do have one or two other things in common, in the field of faith and worship, and that is grand architecture. Both have buildings with religious themes etched in their stones.

If we look at Venice first, whilst it has remained a Christian place of worship, the Basilica of St Marco in Venice has a chequered history in terms of invasions, damage and ownership. Byzantine, Austrian and French invasions all took their toll on the church and the city as a whole. Napoleon for example stole many treasures and sent them all back to France.

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The Basilica of San Marco. Photographer unknown

At the time it was painted, Gentile Bellini’s vision of the Basilica and the square in front of it was very fitting of Renaissance taste. The painting represents the miraculous intervention of the Holy Cross in St Mark’s Square on 25th April, 1444, on the occasion of the Feast of the Holy Cross. During the procession a merchant from Brescia by the name of Jacopo de’ Salis knelt before the relic of the Holy Cross being carried by the members of the Confraternity and prayed that his dying son should be saved. It is said the son recovered immediately.

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The Basilica of San Marco Gentile Bellini 1496

A contemporary artist, who duplicates and understands the city of Venice in modern times, Lucia Sarto, uses both sketching and photography to create brilliant renderings of modern day Venice and its architecture.

The beauty of the Venetian buildings which still stand today and the true blue skies and blue waters are to die for. The Venetian Gothic architecture, along the lagoon’s edge, is nothing short of brilliant. Finely etched verticals and horizontal lines are clear and concise. These two factors bring a harmony to the city view as a whole and entice the discoverer within to experience these scenes in person.

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Aerial View – Lucia Sarto

And now to Jerusalem. It can be difficult to distinguish each religious area within Jerusalem’s architecture, the below map can help with that. The key and text is very clear, with straightforward plan lines. It defines the religious sites in the city to some extent, each of which has its own story to tell.

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Map of Jerusalem

One building you can’t miss in the city is the Dome of the Rock. In 1933 King Hussein of Jordon sold a house he owned in London to fund 80 kilograms of gold needed to refurbish the dome on the outside. You just can’t ignore this spectacular building. This diagram shows, what is believed by many to be hidden underneath the structure.

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Diagram of The Dome of the Rock

The Dome of the Rock is the central feature in another of Lucia Sarto’s paintings. Working plein air with sketches and photographs Lucia’s artwork is a truly beautiful vision of the city. Her inspiration has captured Jerusalem and the Dome, in particular, in the snow!

Prints of Lucia’s work are available on request.

Jemima J. Jones.
October 2016

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