Venice (2004): Season 1, Episode 2 - Beauty - full transcript

The terror of Attila the Hun had
ravaged the hills of northern Italy.

The refugees fled to a small group
of islands in a marshy lagoon.

This big wasteland would become
the most beautiful city on earth -


Its people were fierce in war
and rich in trade.

And then, one morning in April 1204,

in pursuit of money and power,

Venice led a vast army into one of
the bloodiest battles in history -

the sack of Constantinople.

With victory came the power
to dominate the Mediterranean

and a new empire
that would span East and West.

Venice was now
the centre of the world.

It became rich
beyond its wildest dreams

and it spent its money
on great new buildings,

beautiful paintings and sculptures.

This is the story
of the greatest flowering of art
in Venice's history.

There seemed no end
to what this city could achieve.

But as the city's painters
and architects became
ever more daring and outrageous,

Venice was to make many enemies,

who would bring this spirit
of great beauty and opulence

to a crashing end.

It all began
with a mysterious arrival.

In 1295,
a man staggered into this courtyard.

He wore torn, alien-looking clothes.

It seemed he didn't belong in Venice.

But he was coming back home.

His name...

was Marco Polo.

And he had just returned
after 24 years of travel

through China and other strange
and fantastic lands.

With the bizarre clothes,
the weird accent and the savage look,

he had become a stranger
to his own family.

A great banquet was given
to celebrate Marco Polo's return.

At this feast,
he was to reveal his discoveries,

things that Europe
had never dreamt of.

Polo had returned
with more than just jewels.

He'd brought back knowledge of a new
world that was to make Venice rich.

He told of extraordinary spices
from India,

the finest quality of silk,

gold and silver from Malabar

and the astonishing riches
of the Chinese emperor Kublai Khan,

with his millions of ships,

his millions of horses

and millions of temples.

Marco Polo became known as
Marco Milione or simply Milione -

Mr Millions - because the people of
Venice didn't believe a word he said.

To make fun of him,

they even called this courtyard
Il Milione.

But these distant lands were truly
as rich as he said

and Venice would establish
a unique network of trading routes
to the East.

The city would be the gateway
between Europe and the Orient,

bringing us huge power and riches.

Venice was truly
the centre of the world,

and the place where the people
of the East and West literally met

was in the Rialto,
Venice's trading centre.

On a typical day,

any time between the 11th
and the 15th centuries,

this place would have contained
the richest mix of people
to be found anywhere in the world.

The Rialto market,
with all the shops, stores, people -

it felt like an eastern souk,
almost a kasbah.

And still it does.

In this tiny area of Venice,

Europe could sample
the world's most exotic goods -

strange fruits from Africa,
perfumes from India,

minerals and fabric dyes from Malaya

and pepper, cloves
and other spices from Arabia.

More than a centre of trade,
the Rialto was the banking centre
of Venice.

And Venice's banks were
way ahead of their time.

This bar is the site
of the first Giro bank,

the place where credit was born,
where paper replaced gold,

and the first ever bank loans
were issued here.

During the 12th and 13th centuries,
this square was the financial centre
of the world.

While the rest of Europe languished
in the feudal age
of masters and serfs,

Venetian bankers gave
financial backing to a new class
of merchant adventurers.

It was to fuel a modern credit boom.

The spirit of Marco Polo
and the money of Banco Giro

created men like my ancestor,
Alvise da Mosto.

Every great Venetian family
had an explorer,

and in my house
we have a statue of ours.

This is my
Alvise da Mosto.

He was an explorer
and at the age of 22,

he discovered the Capo Verde Islands,
off the coast of Africa,

in the Atlantic Ocean.

I'm 40, and with my little boat,
I go around the lagoon.

But this is the difference
between me and him.

Alvise da Mosto's incredible journey
took him beyond the Christian world
to pagan Africa.

Trade would be the new religion.

The explorer-merchants roamed
from Jerusalem in the Holy Land
to Muslim Egypt,

from Beijing in China
to Constantinople,
the capital of Byzantium,

the city we now call Istanbul.

They travelled to make money,
but they also brought back
new ideas of art.

This great building
is the Fondaco dei Turchi.

The word "fondaco" derives from
the Arabic for trading post.

Dating from the early 13th century,

the building served as
lodging for foreign traders
and a warehouse for their goods.

The tall arches were inspired
by Byzantium.

The layout, a central courtyard
with lodgings above,

was an idea borrowed from the East.

Buildings like this would change
the look of Venice for ever.

But nothing is simple in Venice.

Here, the Byzantine style of the East
mixed with Western Gothic style
of northern Europe

and Venetian buildings became
a strange, almost alien mixture.

No city in the world
looked like this.

The elongated, round arch
from the East

merged with the Western Gothic arch,

creating an elaborate new style,

a unique architecture -

Venetian Gothic.

And it was this style
that would stamp its identity

on Venice's Grand Canal...

...the city's greatest waterway.

It stretches from the great basin
of St Mark at one side of the city...

...winding snake-like through the
great trading district of the Rialto.

This is the main artery of Venice.

All canals lead into the Grand Canal.

the 14th and 15th centuries,

fabulous Venetian Gothic palaces
rose up along the Grand Canal.

It was here
that Venice's great traders

would show off
their wealth and splendour.

These palaces were all built
for merchants

and they would double as a place of
work and a home. On the ground floor

would be the warehouse space
for merchandise

and on the first floor would be
the grand living quarters.

But these palaces had new features
which made them uniquely Venetian.

Every palace had
two very different entrances -

one on the water and one on land.

The land entrance was often small

and lost down a dark back passage.

By far the more important
was the water entrance.

Doubling as both
a ceremonial entrance

and the easiest place
to unload merchandise,

the Venetian water entrances were
lavish shows of wealth and power.

The canal facade was most definitely
the front of the house.

It had to impress everyone, from
private visitors to business rivals.

Think about it.

Every one of these palaces was the
headquarters of a family business.

The facades were a way
of representing success.

Quite simply, the more money you had,
the grander your facade.

But, as Venice was inclined
to show off its wealth more and more,

even the back entrances came in for
some extravagant treatment.

This is the Scala del Bovolo,

a sight famous all over the world.

Not because of the palace,
but because of the staircase.

It's a work of art in itself.

Land was scarce in Venice
and buildings were crowded together.

So light was vital.

The early windows
were made like bottle ends,

the round discs held in place
by lead.

Venice pioneered the production
of window glass,

when other cities only had canvas or
rags to keep out the wind and rain.

Glass allowed the palazzos
to shimmer and shine

in the glory of the Venetian light
reflecting off the canals.

One palace, more than any other,
represents this great period
for Venice -

the Ca d'Oro.

The name means "the house of gold".

And when it was first built,

the facade was covered with
glistening gold-leaf paint.

The Venetians had started building
their houses out of mud and straw.

But now they were building them
out of gold.

Look how far Venice had come.

The Ca d'Oro was designed
by the architect brothers
Giovanni and Bartolomei Bon

and built during the 1420s
for the grand Contarini family,

one of the most respected families
in Venice.

They too traded in spices,
fabric and dyes.

This would have been
their warehouse space.

But what a warehouse!

In the internal courtyard
is a well of red marble from Verona,

decorated with the figures
of Charity, Justice and Fortitude,

and an intricately carved
Moorish-style staircase

that shows us how Eastern-looking
Venetian architecture could be.

It's hard to imagine now,
but to a visitor of the 15th century,

the front of this palace might have
seemed as if it was built by aliens.

It was the greatest example
of Venetian Gothic architecture,

a style that was unique in the world.

The crenellation around the roof
is yet another brilliant marriage

of Eastern and Western elements.

The marble columns were brought
from quarries in Greece and Verona

and the bas-relief panels
were looted from buildings
in the far-eastern reaches

of the Venetian empire.

Ingredients may have come
from far and wide.

But this brilliant confection

could only be found
on the Grand Canal in Venice.

Through the rise and rise
of the merchant class,

trade prospered
and money flowed into Venice.

Money for fine architecture was
followed by money spent on fine art.

Artists, like Giovanni and Gentile
Bellini and Vittore Carpaccio,

emerged as much sought-after men
in the life of the city.

And the Venetian authorities
recognised art

as another trade to be supported
by organised guilds.

This painting by Carpaccio

shows life on the Grand Canal
in the 15th century.

The crowds pouring across
the old wooden Rialto Bridge.

Merchants swagger along
the canal side

with all the confidence of princes.

The Grand Canal is teeming with life.
Even on the rooftops,

people hang their washing out to dry
among the chimney pots.

The city's confidence was founded
on its empire and its trade routes.

But something terrible
was about to hit Venice.

Turkish armies laid siege
to Constantinople.

The capital of Byzantium.

For 250 years, this city had been key
to Venetian prosperity.

On the 29th of May 1453,

Sultan Mehmet II's
terrifying army of Turks

marched into Constantinople
and took the city.

Venice had lost its most important
imperial outpost.

Now, the Islamic Ottoman empire
dominated the East.

If Venice was to retain any trading
influence in Constantinople,

the Venetians would have to
make friends with the Turks.

So who did Venice send
to Constantinople?

Not a soldier, not a sailor,

not even a politician,

but an artist.

By the end of the 15th century,

Venice knew
that art was its most powerful asset.

They sent the painter Gentile Bellini

to win over Sultan Mehmet II.

Gentile had just finished
decorating the Doge's Palace.

He had barely travelled
beyond the Venetian lagoon,

but he took with him
the secret of Venetian art

and the promise of painting
a great portrait

of the sultan himself.

With its realism
and psychological insight,

this painting was a revelation
at the court of the sultan.

The picture bridged the divide
between the Christian
and Islamic worlds.

Unlike any other major European
trading power,

Venice was happy to do business
with the non-Christian world.

It was behaviour
condemned by the Pope.

As we say in Venice,

"Veneziani prima, poi Christiani."

We are Venetian first
and Christian second.

Art and trade before faith.

But if Venice's secular attitude
allowed trade to flourish,

the city knew better than to trust
the increasingly expansionist Turks.

So Venice would smile at the East,

but be ready for a fight
at any moment.

This is the Arsenale - a temple
to military and trading power.

Venice's shipbuilding
and weapons factory.

The engine that ran
the Venetian empire.

It occupied the whole
easternmost boundary of the city.

This place was so important
that the whole of Venice kept time

according to work hours
at the Arsenale.

At sunrise every morning,
the bell in the Campanile
would ring out across the city

and thousands of Venetians would
make their way to the Arsenale.

The bell is still known as
la Marangona, the carpenter,

named after the workers who had
half an hour to get to the factory.

Here, they worked
every hour of daylight

to ensure Venetian trade routes
were never threatened.

This place could produce
200 ships in a month.

That's 50 ships in a week,
seven per day.

It was the first factory
production line in the world.

All of this in the second half
of the 15th century,

at a time when English carpenters
took months just to build one ship.

But something very strange,
even wonderful,
had happened at the Arsenale.

Just to the left,
on the southernmost water entrance,

almost pushed to one side,

is a truly revelatory moment
in Venetian architecture.

This is the land gate
to the Arsenale,

built in 1460.

Its scale is modest,
but its look is triumphant.

It is the first classical structure
in the city,

its roots firmly in the ancient world
of Greece and Rome.

For now, this wonderful gateway
would sit here alone...

...out of time and out of place

in this Gothic city.

But on one fateful night...

in 1514...

...the opportunity
to rebuild Venice was presented
in the most terrifying way.

On the 10th of January 1514,

Venice burned.

But how could this be?

Fighting fires in Venice
should be easy.

There is water everywhere.

Venice was in the grip of winter.

The canals were frozen solid.

The city burned for 24 hours.

The whole of the Rialto, Venice's
commercial centre, was destroyed.

This was the great fire of Venice,
a tragedy.

But also a great opportunity.

They would have to rebuild, and there
was a choice - Gothic or classical.

And the choice was classical.

Out of the tragedy
would come triumphalism

and one of its most famous monuments,
the Rialto Bridge.

The old wooden bridge
had to be replaced.

Now, this important thoroughfare,

linking the commercial heart
of the Rialto to the political heart
of San Marco

would be a monument
to permanence and power.

An architectural competition
was held,

attracting the best
Italian architects.

Even Michelangelo entered.

But Venice, being Venice,
would choose one of its own

to build the emblem of the new age.

Michelangelo's design was thrown out

and the job was given to
a little-regarded architect

who'd done some repair work
for the Doge -

Antonio da Ponte.

Just like everything else in Venice,
the design was fuelled by trade.

With the shops that lined it,

the bridge became an extension
of the Rialto market itself.

The winning design had one,
giant, single span

of over 90 feet
across the canal.

Above it, a classical arcade
of finest white marble from Istria,

meeting at the middle
in a great arch.

The enormous weight of the bridge

is supported by more than
12,000 wooden stakes,

sunk into the shifting ground
on either side.

From afar,
the Rialto Bridge appears so gentle,

so light.

But the nearer you go,
you feel the power of the stones.

When they built it, they had to
strengthen both sides for 100 metres.

It's incredible.

After 500 years, it's still
like the first day. It's perfect.

It's strange, but, er...

it's always an emotion
to pass under.

Like it was the first time.


And after 500 years,
it's still perfect.

The same stones.

The angels on the sides.

Because the bridge is
something against nature.

And you have to put yourself
in the angels' hands.

For da Ponte, it was over.

The Rialto Bridge,
his one monument to posterity.

But already a battle had begun
for the architectural soul of Venice.

Just as Venice
had made the Gothic its own,
so it would reinterpret classicism.

It would be a battle of architects,

but whose classicism will win?

This is Jacopo Sansovino,

a charismatic man who
made his buildings rich and ornate.

This is Andrea Palladio.

He was clever, but he knew it.

His designs were monumental.

The story of their rivalry would
take Venice to new heights of beauty,

but it would come at
a difficult time for the republic.

Let me explain.

The Republic of Venice
was losing power.

It needed to feel solid, lusting,

so Sansovino and Palladio
were trying to rebuild it
as a great ancient city.

And classical architecture
gave the feeling

of older insecurity to Venice.


Andrea Palladio was a brilliant
scholar of ancient architecture.

But his designs were too bold
for the conservative Venetians.

Palladio was frequently rejected
in favour of Jacopo Sansovino,

an outgoing, healthy-living man,
who was fond of cucumbers.

With his charms,
Sansovino had quickly found favour
with the Venetian Establishment.

Sansovino was successful,
popular and well connected.

By 1529, he was employed
as the superintendent of works

for St Mark's Square
and the Doge's Palace...

...the chief architect of Venice.

His buildings were certainly bold.

But their elaborate facades
seemed to the authorities

to complement
the older Venetian Gothic.

It looked as though Palladio's cause
was hopeless,

but fate - or incompetence -
would intervene.

While Palladio struggled to get work
in Venice,

Sansovino started a building
that would dominate his life.

It would make him
imprisoned and bankrupt,
but, at the end, it was a triumph.

It was the Library of St Mark.

This is classicism
following the rules of Ancient Rome,

with its fine Doric arcade below

and ionic upper story.

But it is classicism
with a Venetian flourish,

hailed in the city as the richest,
most ornate building since antiquity.

It's as though Sansovino
was playing to his audience.

Confident of Venice's love
of ornate decoration,

he covered the building with
fine detail, putting the frieze and
graceful figures on the balustrade.

But Sansovino had got carried away.

On the 18th of December 1545,
disaster struck.

The ground-floor vault
over the main hall collapsed,

bringing down the floor above it.

Sansovino was thrown into jail.

Sansovino had fallen from grace -

from superstar architect
to common criminal.

He had blamed the
collapse of the building on frost

and the gunfire from a nearby ship,

but the authorities
held him personally responsible.

Sansovino was made
to pay for the rebuilding himself.

It took him 25 years.

At last, the time had come for the
radical vision of Andrea Palladio.

This is the church
of San Francesco della Vigna.

The interior
was designed by Sansovino,

but the exterior
was given to Andrea Palladio,

the new star
of Venetian architecture.

Quite simply, Palladio has taken
all Sansovino has done,

and he made it bigger and bolder.

This building, more than any other,

signalled the fall of Sansovino
and the rise of Palladio.

Palladio brought
something entirely new to Venice.

He took the classicism of Rome
and made it even greater.

His buildings felt as though
they would last forever,

and whatever their size,

their structures seemed enormous.

But perhaps Palladio's greatest work

is the monastery and church
of San Giorgio Maggiore.

When this was built,

it shocked and astonished
the Venetians.

The huge columns,
the triangular porticos
were like nothing they had ever seen,

and even if they didn't like it,

it would have turned their heads,
and screamed, "Look at me!"

Palladio even incorporates his love
of circular, ancient temples

by planning the church's shape
round a huge dome,

placed exactly at the centre
of the building.

With this and other churches
in Venice,

Palladio was at last hailed as
the architectural genius of the age.

Allowed Venetians to take refuge
in the look of their city,

but they could not master reality.

The foundations of Venice's success
were crumbling away.

In 1497, the Portuguese explorer
Vasco da Gama

had rounded the Cape of Good Hope
at the tip of Africa.

It would change the trading map
of the world.

It created a new trade route by ship
to the East -

to India, China and Central Asia.

A faster and a cheaper route.

A route that bypassed Venice.

Venice had been
the gateway to the East,

but the trade routes
were largely across land.

Often, the terrain
was dangerous and difficult,

and a camel train could only carry
a fraction of the goods

that could go by ship.

The news of Vasco da Gama's discovery
travelled fast.

There was now little point
in European traders
using Venice as a stopoff,

or even an intermediary trading post.

When the news hit the Rialto,

banks closed overnight.

This was a total nightmare.

Almost overnight,
Venice was penniless.

Facing ruin.

They really had to do something
to survive,

but what they did shocked
the rest of the Christian world.

The Jews were reviled
by the Catholic Church,

but at a time when much of Europe
was expelling them from its cities,

Venice saw the Jews as great traders
and moneymakers.

Like the Venetians themselves,

their trading contacts
spread far and wide.

In 1516, Venice set up
a Jewish quarter in the city.

Before long,
Jews arrived from all over Europe.

They brought money,
expertise and trading contacts.

This is where they had to live -

an island at the heart of Venice.

On this island
there was an old forge,

and the Venetian word for the forge
was "getto".

This was the first Jewish ghetto
in the world.

It gave its name to the
concept of captivity and cruelty
that existed now.

And the marks of the gates
are still here.


The Jews were heavily taxed,

forced to wear yellow hats
as a mark of distinction,

and the gates
were locked at nightfall.

The guards on the gates
were Christians,

paid for by the Jews.

Yet, despite their treatment,

Venice's Jewish population

and life was better in Venice than
just about anywhere else in Europe.

Venetian Jews were moneylenders,

pawnbrokers, merchants, doctors,
and dealers in second-hand goods.

The ghetto is the place you still
come in Venice for second-hand goods.


As the Jewish community expanded,

the ghetto grew... upwards.

These houses
are higher than most Venetian houses,

as more floors were added
to accommodate more people.

The windows are so close together

because the ceilings are so low.

Many of the buildings
were linked internally
by passages and staircases,

and contain some of Venice's
great hidden treasures.

This is one of four synagogues
inside the houses of the ghetto.

It is like no other synagogue
in the world.

Jewish architects were forbidden
in Venice,

so this synagogue
was built by a Venetian.

And you can tell.

It is typical of the Venetian love
of show and wealth,

and it feels... more like a theatre

than a place of worship.

After Vasco da Gama's
dramatic discovery,

Venice's deal with the Jews
brought the city
back from the brink of disaster,

but once again, it rocked Venice's
relations with the Catholic Church.

As Venice turned its back
on the Church,

so did its artists.

Once saucy young painter
took Venetian painting

to a new level of beauty,

sexuality and ungodly eroticism.

His name was Tiziano Vecellio.

In his lifetime, he was to become
Venice's most famous artist,

but his fate

would be horribly linked
to that of the city.

We know him by the name Titian.

This is where Titian lived.

His studio
was at the end of the garden.

As his fame grew,
he entertained scholars,

artists and many of
the most beautiful women in Venice.

Titian set a new style
for the artist -

no longer subservient to religion
and the Church.

His friends
were free-thinking painters,

poets and philosophers.

People like Veronese,
the poet Aretino

and the musician,
Irene da Spilimbergo.

With Titian's circle,
the idea of the artist
as a romantic figure was born.

Someone who enjoyed life as
an individual, free of the dictates
of a rich patron.

Titian was a Venetian,

and like all of us Venetians,
trade was in his blood.

He started to see the financial
possibilities of his paintings.

Painterly mythologies,
allegories and portraits
flowed from his studio,

all in his distinctive style.

He had taken
the realistic brush stroke
of the Florentine Renaissance artists

and given it
a softer, more expressive edge.

Royals and noblemen
from all over the world

sent agents to Venice
to buy Titian's paintings.

Kings and princes
vied with each other

to be painted by the great man,

and Titian got rich on the proceeds.

Now art was a commodity
to be traded in,

to get rich on.

It was fast becoming Venice's
most important export.

And among
Titian's hundreds of sitters

were the beautiful women of Venice.

It was in the representations
of these women as Venus

that Titian was to take art
and Venice

to a deeply immoral place

it had never been before.

Like his portraits, his nudes
celebrate life in a new, secular way.

His bodies are real.

They have a feeling of real flesh,

of carnale.

One painting more than any
shows the spirit of the age.

Titian had been commissioned
by the Duke of Urbino's son

to paint an image of Venus.

This was the result
of the commission -

the Venus Of Urbino.

The nude had appeared in art
for many centuries before,

and the nudes of the Renaissance

had become erotic icons,

but there was something
in the figures that was chaste.

They closed their eyes
or looked away from the viewer,

but the Venus Of Urbino
was different.

She looked straight at the viewer.

In an earlier painting
by Titian's teacher, Giorgione,

The Goddess Of Love touches herself,

but her eyes are closed.

She's in her own world.

As her hand creeps between her legs,
acknowledging her sex,

Titian makes Venus
look straight at us.

That is what made this
the most shocking and astonishing
picture of its time.

No other nude had ever stared out
at the viewer.

Venice's relationship
with the Catholic Church

had already been taken to the limit,

but now Titian and a new group
of artists went too far
with their unchristian art.

The Church was already unhappy
about Titian's seductive painting,

The Assumption Of The Virgin,
in the Frari church.

But the paintings of Titian's friend
Paolo Veronese

scandalised the authorities.

This is the church of St Sebastian,

almost entirely decorated
by Veronese.

His versions of traditional Christian
scenes were scandalously modern.

Veronese makes no effort

to depict religious scenes

in their traditional surroundings.

He moved historical figures from
one scene to another, with
little respect for religious history.

He introduces
humorous and irreverent details.

In this painting, The Feast At Cana,

he even had the audacity

to portray Venetian painters
as the musicians entertaining Christ.

The bearded bass viola player
on the right, wearing red, is Titian.

The musician in white, to the left,
is Veronese himself.

Veronese was brilliant, and the
Church wanted brilliant paintings,

but he was teasing them
with his irreverent work,

and when he was commissioned
to paint The Last Supper in 1573,

he pushed the tolerance of
the Catholic Church one step too far.

Veronese's painting
of The Last Supper

was considered deeply blasphemous,

and he incurred the wrath
of the Vatican secret police -
the Inquisition.

The Church condemned the painting
for showing buffoons,

drunkards, dwarves

and similar vulgarities.

Veronese was forced to change
the name and subject of the picture

to The Feast At The House Of Levi.

But the Venetian artists
wouldn't stop breaking Catholic laws.

The poet Aretino defied the Pope

by publishing
a set of pornographic prints

already banned by the Vatican.

Titian's friend Aretino
wrote a sonnet

to accompany each image.

These artists were sacrilegious,

but they saw their art as
more important than anything else.

Venice would pay the price.

During this golden age,
Venice committed ungodly acts.

As the city's population
reached an all-time high,

Titian and his friends might have
gone too far.

And on the evening
of the 25th of June of 1575,

it seemed that the vengeance
of the most biblical kind

was delivered upon the city...

...and this most famous artist.

Titian and Venice
were struck by the plague.

The disease spread like wildfire
through the city

and, for the Venetians,
it seemed like a punishment from God,

or worse - a punishment from God,
ordered by the Pope.

The symptoms were severe chills,
vomiting up blood,

and huge boils that would
form a black crust when they burst.

If you were lucky,
you died within the day.

If you were unlucky, you might
live on in agony for a week.

Venetian plague doctors
patrolled the alleys and canals

with capes and snout-nosed masks,
full of pepper for protection.

The plague has had a massive impact
on the history of Venice.

This is a traveller's city,

and disease has travelled
to and from it many times.

But it was from the East
that it first came.

The route
that brought Venice its riches

would also be the route that brought
so much death.

Victims were dying by the hundreds
every day.

Criminals were freed
from the city's prisons

to deal with the corpses
and ferry the ill.

And with the city
overflowing with the dead,

there was only one place
to take them -

the lagoon.

All around would be death -

galleys full of dying people,
guarded by warships

to make sure none escaped.

Those who did try to escape
will be hanged over the water.

This was the victims' destination -

the old plague hospital
of Lazzaretto Vecchio.

The island is now home to no-one
but a pack of stray dogs,

wild, like the souls of the dead.

Someone unfortunate enough
to experience this hell
wrote about what he saw.

The stench was unbearable,

the air filled with the groans
and pained sighs of the dying,

the smoke rising from
the burned bodies of the dead...

The sick were placed
three or four to a bed.

In agony, unable to speak
from the pain they were suffering,
they were thrown onto carts

piled up with corpses.

For two years they were brought here,

and they died in their thousands.

Their tens of thousands.

Most of the bodies were burned here.

Only the dead of the noble families
were taken away,

and even they didn't get
any marked graves.

But in the deeper reaches
of the lagoon

lies Venice's
true island of the dead.

The plague dead
of Venice's noble families

were taken to the island
of Santaliano.

Here, they were not burned,

but buried in shallow mass graves,

where they lie to this day.

The only victim to get a marked grave
was Titian himself.

On this island lie the remains
of all the other nobles who died.

Fragments of human bones everywhere.

We will never know
who these people were.

Maybe friends of our ancestors...

A child's that's lost
the chance of life...

Maybe death
was the end of sufferance.

Who knows.

At the height of the plague,
51,000 had died -

almost a third
of the population of Venice.

From her place
at the centre of the world,

Venice had fallen.

Now she was a city to avoid.

It seemed like
it was the end for Venice,

but the city would make a comeback.

A comeback
of the most surprising kind.