Lido di Venezia: Part 1. This post covers more general descriptive, historical and cultural information, to help maximise your appreciation of what the island has to offer. Just a few kilometres south of Venice, it has a quite different atmosphere and appeal; that makes a great day away from the city, especially in the warmer months.

Lido di Venezia: Part 2, covers the island’s military role in the defence of Venice and its lagoon islands, together with the urbanisation and development of the island in the 19th and 20th centuries; as a suburb of Venice and its most famous holiday resort.

The information is split into two posts, so as to give a more comprehensive and detailed overview of this historically important and fascinating barrier island; guarding access to the lagoon and its numerous islands.

 


 

Above: The two narrow barrier islands of Lido di Venezia and Lido di Pellestrina; with the three lagoon inlets (north to south) of, Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia.

 

INTRODUCTION

Lido di Venezia along with Pellestrina, form the two barrier islands; that separate the Adriatic Sea from the Venetian lagoon.  Known usually as just the “Lido”, it is a suburb of Venice and its most famous holiday resort; linked to the city by frequent ferry services.

The seaward coast has sandy beaches. Much of the beach at the town of Lido belongs to various hotels; but there are large public beaches towards the northern and southern ends.

The Lido, is 11 kilometres (7 miles) long and a few hundred metres wide. It has a total area of 4 square kilometres and is home to about 20,500 residents. Politically it belongs to the city of Venice. It is one of the few islands of Venice where there are roads, buses and cars.

It’s also the origin of the word ‘lido’, as used in the English-speaking world to describe bathing establishments and also one of the decks on cruise ships.

To the north, it is separated from the peninsula of Cavallino/Punta Sabbioni by the Lido inlet, about 1 kilometre wide and is used by cruise ships to reach Venice.

To the south is the Lido di Pellestrina of similar length, separated by the Malamocco inlet; which is the deepest one and is used by container ships and oil tankers, to reach the commercial and industrial port of Marghera. The third most southerly entrance to the lagoon is the Chioggia inlet.

Today, the completed MOSE Barrier System across the three inlets; hopefully now protects the lagoon and its many islands from extremely high surge tides.

Above: Lido di Venezia, due south of Venice with the famous Excelsior Hotel (centre bottom) and wonderful private bathing facilities.

Note: the small islands above the Lido, all described in my other posts “Islands of the Lagoon”

 

CHANGING FACE OF THE ISLAND

Byron and Shelley used to go horse-riding on the Lido’s dunes; a few decades later it would have been unrecognisable to these poets. The advent of seaside holidays turned the Lido into an elegant playground for hotel developers and well-off holidaymakers.

Grand hotels were erected along the shores; extravagant examples of what Italian’s call ‘Liberty‘ style. The Lido became a popular place to live, a building site for individualistic villas and apartment blocks; which offered a more comfortable modern way of life than the crumbling buildings of Venice. For many residents, it’s a fair compromise between the practical mainland and the historic city.

Nowadays the hotels have lost some of their sheen and prestige, but several of the old majestic establishments are still surviving. The Venice Film Festival brings a bit of glamour and vigour to the Lido every year, although the Casino which stood alongside has now closed down.

Being quite a small island, there aren’t many sight-seeing attractions. Apart from the beaches, it is mainly known for its beautiful streets and charming shops.

Lido is actually one of the few islands of the Venetian Lagoon, where vehicles are allowed. Nevertheless, the island is quite compact and the best way to move around is on foot or in combination with the bus service. The streets are quite narrow and are shady which makes walking around quite enjoyable; even in summer.

Many tourists choose a hotel on the island of Lido, especially in summer; for its good beaches, nightlife and much more. Another advantage is the very fast transfer by waterbus to Venice. You can get to Piazza San Marco by ferry, in about 20 minutes.

In winter, note that many places close and the boat trip across the lagoon can be quite cold.

The main town also called Lido, is in the north and had a population of 15128 in 2019. It is divided into four neighbourhoods – San Nicolò, Santa Maria Elisabetta, on the lagoon side coast (the one for the water bus is in the latter) and La Favorita and Quattro Fontane, on the seaward coast.

It developed in the 19th century as a tourist centre, both as a leisure seaside resort and as a balneotherapy resort. Its many 19th century villas, were built in Liberty style (the Italian version of Art Nouveau) and also many hotels.

It is famous for its grand hotels such as the Grand Hotel des Bains, the Hotel Excelsior and the Hotel Ausonia & Hungaria and for hosting the Venice Film Festival; which have hosted celebrities, artists and writers, major businessmen, politicians and royalty.

The Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta (27 m wide and c. 700 m long) crosses the town from coast to coast and links the water bus landing stage to the beach.

The village of Malamocco is on the lagoon side coast, in the central-southern part of the island and had a population of 1030 as of 2019.

From the 12th to the 19th centuries, it was the only significant settlement on the island. It was built after the settlement of Metamaucum, which had been the second capital of the Duchy of Venetia; was submerged by a violent storm surge.

At the southern end of the islands there is Alberoni, an area of sand dunes. It has Venice’s golf course, the Alberoni Dune Oasis, a large 30 hectares pine forest and unique species of flora and fauna. It is the ferry point to Pellestrina Island.

Furthest north is the old airport of Venice, that is no longer used for scheduled air traffic.

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Above: Guglielmo Da Re – “The Bucintoro with the church of San Nicolo al Lido, Venice“.

 

EARLY HISTORY OF SETTLEMENT – METAMAUCUM

Its origins dating back to the Roman days, Metamaucum was one of the earliest settlements in the Lagoon of Venice. It was probably sited on the seaward side of the island.

It became the second ducal seat of the duchy of Venetia, before the rise of Venice; when Teodato Ipato (742-55), the second doge, transferred it from Heraclea. In 811, the third doge Agnello Participazio (811-27), moved it to Rivoalto, Venice.

In 810, it was temporarily occupied by Pepin of Italy, when he tried to invade the lagoon.

It was destroyed by the doge Giovanni I Participazio (829–836), when he suppressed a rebellion based in Metamaucum. The settlement continued to be inhabited, but it was a shadow of its former self.

It declined, when its priory was moved to the island of Murano (1080) and in 1109, the nuns of S.S. Leone e Basso; moved to the island of San Servolo. Its dioceses was then moved to Chioggia, between 1107 and 1110.

In 1116, it was submerged as a result of an exceptional storm surge. According to the tradition, Metamaucum was on the seashore of the Lido island, rather than on its lagoon shore.

A new settlement was built on the lagoon shore of Lido, close to where Metamaucum had been. The existence of a Metamaucum Nova, which corresponds to today’s Malamocco; was first attested to in 1107.

NOTE: Lido di Venezia: Part 2, covers in detail, the island’s military role in the defence of Venice and its lagoon islands; together with the urbanisation and development of the island in the 19th and 20th centuries; as a suburb of Venice and its most famous holiday resort.

 

GETTING TO AND AROUND THE ISLAND

The water buses and ferries all dock at the pier “Lido Santa Maria Elisabetta”, abbreviated to “Lido S.M.E.”; that is on the lagoon side, about 2-3 kilometres from the north end of the island (map below).  Because Lido di Venezia is very narrow, it is only a few hundred metres on foot to the beach from the ferry-point.

The area around the vaporetto stop and the Gran Viale is bustling, with shops, restaurants, hotels with the beach close by. The area around the Hotel Excelsior and the Palazzo del Cinema, is within walking distance at about 1½ kms.

 

Waterbuses to and from Venice, are frequent and take not more than 20 minutes to San Marco (San Zaccaria).

Starting from San Marco (San Zaccaria), the following lines are available:

Line 1 is a slow, stopping service which starts at Piazzale Roma and the St Lucia railway station; runs the whole length of the Grand Canal to San Marco (San Zaccaria), then crosses the lagoon to the Lido.

The Line 5.1 and 5.2 are circular services (the same route in opposite directions), which stop at the Lido and go around the outside of Venice.

Line 8 and 14 and a N (night service)

There is an Alilaguna boat service from Marco Polo Airport, that goes to Murano, Lido, then San Marco (Alilaguna Blue stop in front of the gardens, just west of Piazza San Marco) and return. Expect up to an hour and a quarter journey time, from the Airport to the Lido.

Below is the 2021 version of the Venice Vaporetto Map (updated twice a year, so check). Print or download the app to your phone.

Venice vaporetto (water-bus) route map | www.Venice.nu   

Buses. The most important bus on the island is the city bus line 11, which runs the length of the island. As the island is not very wide, it is an easy and convenient way to see the island.

It connects the ferry port of Lido Santa Maria Elisabetta, with the south of Lido and the neighbouring island of Pellestrina. In less than 2 hours you can reach the city of Chioggia linked to the mainland in the south of the lagoon.

Cycling is a popular way to get around on the Lido and there are a couple of shops on the Gran Viale; where you can hire bicycles (take an ID document).

The roads are fairly quiet on the Lido and you can get off them to cycle along paths and the sea wall. If you have time and energy, you can explore the whole length of the island by bicycle; seeing the views along the sea wall, the various settlements, beaches and dunes, overgrown forts, the golf course and the ferry over to Pellestrina; which has quite a contrasting atmosphere to the Lido.

Main Streets.

Piazzale S.M. Elisabetta is the main street on the island. The street has a few hotels, shops and some beautiful local houses which are all painted with pastel colours and have shuttered windows. The street is where the most action happens on the island, since most shops and services are located here.

The Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta (27 m wide and c. 700 m long) crosses the town from coast to coast and links the water bus landing stage to the beach.

Websites.

Interactive map of Lido de Venezia: Map of Venice – Lido di Venezia (introducingvenice.com)

Booking.com   Find a hotel, B&B or apartment on the Lido

 

EATING OUT

You can generally eat more cheaply on the Lido than in central Venice, although many restaurants here are aimed at holidaying families.

Lido has quite a few good restaurants, most of which serve local regional cuisine and delicacies. The food is quite rustic and is mainly based on sea food. There are quite a lot of unpretentious restaurants here; cafes, gelatarias and bars, which serve good food in a simple homely style, without being very expensive.

The more up-market hotel restaurants on the island, do serve international cuisine; but they are generally quite expensive.

Close to the waterbus stop, the Lido’s main thoroughfare for shops and restaurants is the Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta. Part-way along the street on the right, is the pedestrianised junction with Via Lepanto. This is an attractive little hub of shops and bars, popular with locals.

Wine is the favourite drink for all the locals on the island. A popular drink here is the Bellini; a mixture of peach juice and Prosecco.

 

ARCHITECTURE

Some of the island’s early 20th century architecture is worth a trip to admire. It’s a world away from Venice, although some of the free-standing Gothic-style villas take their cues from Venetian traditions; they do so in their own distinctive style.

The Lido is now famed for its examples of “stile Liberty”, Italian Art Nouveau, named after the famous London shop. A good place to see some of these elegant villas with their floral, nautical or Venetian-inspired embellishments; is along the Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta and up Via Lepanto and the canals beyond.

Among the most imposing buildings are the three grandest hotels. Between the vaporetto stop and the Adriatic shore, on Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta, is the restored and renamed Grande Albergo Ausonia & Hungaria (Photo Left). This is a giddy Art Nouveau treat, with curves, gilded tiles and an elaborate decorated facade. The Hotel des Bains (now apartments) overlooking the sea is a more restrained and majestic building in a neo-classical style, where until a few years ago guests could still try to re-live that “Death in Venice” seaside languor (see below for more about the film). Further south along the seashore is the rather entertaining Excelsior, a riot of Moorish and Venetian influences.

In stark contrast to the extravagant Excelsior are the modernist 1930s Fascist-era buildings alongside. The Palazzo del Cinema (with a fussier 1950’s extension) sits shabbily among parked cars until the late summer, when it livens up with flags, temporary facades and film-stars for the Venice Film Festival. Next door is the former Casino, which closed and transferred its operations to the Grand Canal.

 

CHURCHES, MONASTERIES, CONVENTS, SAINTS AND WAR MEMORIAL

In 887, on the initiative of doge Giovanni II Participazio; the male Benedictine monastery of San Cipriano was founded in Malamocco. This was followed by the female monastery of Santi Leone and Basso.

In 1108, San Cipriano was abandoned due to damage caused by the sea and daily ground collapses. The friars moved to the Murano island and set up a new monastery of S. Cipriano.

In 1109, for the same reason, the nuns moved to a convent on the San Servolo island, vacated by Benedictine monks; who had moved to the monastery of Sant’Ilario near Fusina.

The church and convent of San Nicolò. In 1045, the doge Domenico Contarini I (1043–71), the Patriarch of Grado and the bishop of Olivolo; founded the church and convent of San Nicolo, completed in 1064.

In 1053, the management of the church and convent, was handed to the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore. In 1098, some of relics three of saints Nicolò Major, his uncle Nicolò Minor and Theodoros; were smuggled from the southern coast of what is now Turkey, by a naval squadron returning from the first crusade and placed in the San Nicolò church. Between 1626 and 1634, the church was demolished and rebuilt; together with the bell tower, using material from the old church.

In 1770, the Benedictines moved to San Giorgio Maggiore island; because a 1768 law that closed confraternities, with less than 12 monks or friars. The building became a military quarter. The church remained open for worship.

In 1938, it was granted to Franciscan friars.

Left: The church of San Nicolo, Lido di Venezia.

 

The Abbey of San Leonardo between Alberoni and Malamocco. The first record of the Abbey of San Leonardo between Alberoni and Malamocco, dates to 1111. It was destroyed by fire, along with much of the Malamocco coast; during the War of Chioggia (1379-80).

In 1407, there was a bequest for the rebuilding of the monastery. The church was rebuilt with funds from the patriarch of Venice. The church merged with the San Camillo hospital in 1928 and was demolished to enlarge the hospital.

In 1557, the parish church of Santa Maria Assunta church in Malamocco was rebuilt on top of old one; which dated to the 11th century.

Santa Maria Elisabetta. In 1620, there was a request to build a church at the Lido, to replace the unauthorised oratory of Beata Vergine Visitante Santa Elisabetta (Blessed Visiting Virgin St. Elizabeth); to the south of San Nicolo. It was built by the locals, because they found it difficult to reach their parish church of San Pietro di Castello, N.E. Venice.

In 1627, the construction of the new church, now called Santa Maria Elisabetta on top of the old oratory was completed. The patriarch of Venice, granted it the title of parish church. It was the second parish church of Lido, after Santa Maria Assunta in Malamocco.

In the 19th century, when the area developed; it was named after this church.

When approaching the Lido from Venice, the first building you notice immediately to the left of the waterbus stop is the Votive Temple (Left). Built between 1925 and 1928, it is dedicated to the Madonna of Victory; as a remembrance to the fallen soldiers of WW I. The bodies of 3700 soldiers are kept here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

JEWISH AND PROTESTANT CEMETERIES

In 1386, the Jews were granted a plot of uncultivated land to develop the Jewish cemetery. The friars of the San Nicolò convent were opposed to this, claiming that they owned the land. A few years later, the Jews paid a token rent resolve the issue. Consent was given and burials started in 1389.

A Protestant cemetery was opened close to the Jewish one, in 1674.

A very small Catholic cemetery was opened in 1866, in front of the entrance of the Jewish one. In 1916, it was replaced by a new one. A new Jewish cemetery was also built. Its monumental entrance was completed in 1923. As a result, the Catholic cemetery lies between the old and new Jewish cemeteries.

Today, the Jewish Cemetery (Left), can still be visited on tours organised through the Jewish Museum. The gated entrance is on the main road along the lagoon shore between the vaporetto stop and the church of San Nicolò.

The Protestant Cemetery was dismantled when a small airfield was built. Some of the gravestones are stacked in the Jewish Cemetery; for example, that of Canaletto’s patron, British Consul Joseph Smith; who was moved to Venice’s Anglican church.

Later Protestant burials, took place on Venice’s cemetery island, San Michele.

 

 

 

BEACHES

Most visitors to the Lido are here for its beaches. Long, wide and sandy, the Adriatic-facing beaches satisfy thousands of sun-worshippers every summer.

The Lido’s beaches are mostly lined with beach huts and sunbeds belonging to hotels or private beach concessions; where you pay quite a high price for sunbeds and facilities.

Many local people and regular visitors, head towards the two ends of the island for the free beaches (spiaggia libera), or a quieter atmosphere; however, don’t expect them to be as well maintained. To the south, among the dunes at Alberoni, is a naturist beach.

Above: Pristine private beach and facilities, with wonderful villas and apartments behind. What’s not to like?

The most convenient stretch, especially if you are a day-visitor, is at the end of Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta; the main street that crosses the island from the vaporetto stop.

The beach surface is gravelly sand and crushed seashells, with the texture and proportion of shells and seaweeds varying along the beach’s length, according to currents. Although the private areas are cleaned and raked, the tide isn’t adequate for scouring the surface; so the popular areas of free beach aren’t always so clean. There are no pretty views, compared to the lagoon side; although you’ll see large ships out in the Adriatic and maybe a cruise ship passing through the lagoon entrance.

 

MURAZZI (SEA DEFENCE WALLS)

In 1737, the engineer Bernardo Zendrinhe built a 2.5 m long test wall near Malamocco. He found that pozzolana mixed with chalk and sand, was an efficient water-resistant binder.

His design was successful and this led to the building of the “murazzi”; imposing walls made with large blocks of Istrian stone, to form a continuous sea defence on the barrier island of Pellestrina.

Later, sea defence walls were built at Lido as well; but here they were not continuous. In 1980, a previously unknown 350 m long test wall brought was to light by the seaward shore. It lies 380 m from the sea, but since the building of breakwaters; sand has been accumulating on the sea shore in the northern part of the island, thus widening the beach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE VENICE FILM FESTIVAL

The international film festival takes place at the “Palazzo del Cinema”, in the high season for about 10 days during late August and September. It is located about 1.5 kilometres south of the port of Santa Maria Elisabetta on the seaward side of the Lido; near the beach.

The film festival is only a part of the large “Biennale di Venezia”, for art and architecture in annual rotation.  Most events are not on Lido, but in the eastern part of the main island of Venice in the district of Castello.

During the Film Festival there are extra boat services.

 

History of the Film Festival. Lido di Venezia is home to the Venice International Film Festival, (Italian: Mostra Internazionale d’Arte Cinematografica della Biennale di Venezia, “International Exhibition of Cinematographic Art of the Venice Biennale”). It is the world’s oldest film festival and one of the three most prestigious ones, together with Cannes and Berlin.

The film festival started in 1932, when the organisers of the Venice Biennale were concerned about the decline in tourism at the Lido; due to the Wall Street Crash of 1929. Their plan to alleviate the problem with the cinema venture was successful.

Prince Umberto di Savoia, the wife of the Prince of Wales, Winston Churchill, Henry Ford and film stars such as Greta Garbo and Clark Gable attended. Forty films from six countries, were shown on the terrace of the Excelsior hotel. No awards were given, but an audience referendum, chose which films and performances were the most praiseworthy.

The second festival was held in 1934. It was meant to be a biennial event, but it became annual because of the success of the first one. There were some 20 awards, but there was no jury. Premiers were shown, which increased the prestige of the festival. A scandal caused by a Gustav Machaty’s  “Ecstasy”, showed the first scenes with a female nude in cinema history and also launched the career of the actress Hedy Lammarr. This time the films were shown in the garden of the Excelsior hotel.

In 1937, the Palazzo del Cinema was opened, becoming its permanent venue.

In 1939, the fascist government assigned the awards to two propaganda films, a fascist one and a Nazi one. Because of this the Americans boycotted the 1940 festival.

The 1940-41-42 editions are not listed as part of the festival, because the government assumed total control of the screening of films and chose films from the “Rome-Berlin” axis. These festivals were screened at two cinemas in Venice, because the film hall was requisitioned.

In 1943, the festival was suspended because of the war; but resumed in 1946. However, the French wanted their new festival, the Cannes Film Festival; to start at the same time as he Venice one. After negotiations, it was decided that Cannes would run in the spring and Venice would start in late August.

I n 1946 and 1947, the festival was held in Venice because the film hall was requisitioned; this time by the American army. The latter year’s screenings, took place at the Doge’s Palace.

The festival returned to the Lido in 1948. An arena for outdoors screenings was built outside the film hall.

In 1949 the festival’s award, which was called the “International Great Prize of Venice”, was renamed “St. Mark’s Lion Prize” and then later as the “Golden Lion”.

 

THE MOVIE “DEATH IN VENICE”

In Luchino Visconti’s 1971 film “Death in Venice, Dirk Bogarde plays the ailing composer Gustav von Aschenbach, who visits the Lido during its turn-of-the-century heyday. The film is based on a novella by Thomas Mann, and is set to music by Mahler.

Staying in the Hotel des Bains, von Aschenbach muses on mortality and becomes obsessed with a beautiful young boy staying with his family. Meanwhile, over the water, Venice is as unhealthy as the hero.

The film has some famous scenes set on the beach of the Lido and in a decaying Venice.

The novel was also turned into his last opera “Death in Venice”  by Benjamin Britten in 1973 and a ballet by John Neumeier in 2003.

 

Lido di Venezia: Part 2: This post covers in detail, the island’s military role in the defence of Venice and its lagoon islands; together with the urbanisation and development of the island in the 19th and 20th centuries; as a suburb of Venice and its most famous holiday resort: HERE  

To see my other posts in the series “Islands of the Lagoon”: HERE

 

Lido di Venezia: Part 1      Lido di Venezia: Part 1    Lido di Venezia: Part 1

Lido di Venezia: Part 1    Lido di Venezia: Part 1    Lido di Venezia: Part 1

Lido di Venezia: Part 1    Lido di Venezia: Part 1    Lido di Venezia: Part 1

Lido di Venezia: Part 1    Lido di Venezia: Part 1    Lido di Venezia: Part 1

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