Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of Venices?
The Venice of the north could be Amsterdam, Saint Petersburg, Bruges or, as I just found out, Haapsalu in Estonia. There’s even a Wikipedia page on all the Venices of the North. I have been to three out of these seventeen Venices:
- Borås in Sweden
- Bornholm in Denmark
- Bourton-on-the-Water (also known as the Venice of the Cotswolds)
- Giethoorn (also known as the Venice of the Netherlands)
- Maryhill in Scotland
- Saint Petersburg
- Wroclaw (note to self: visit this place when you finally get to Poland)
Another page that inventoried the Venices adds Bydgoszcz from Poland to the list. Bydgoszcz’s Wikipedia page certainly has plenty of landscape photos with water to possibly merit its Venetian nickname. Dresden, the Florence of the Elbe, was also the Venice of the Elbe.
However, there are many other Venices around the world. In Africa, for example, there is Ganvie in Benin, called either the Venice of Africa or the Venice of West Africa. When I looked up Ganvie, I found references to other Venices of Africa: Zanzibar and, formerly, Cape Town. There’s also Mopti, the Venice of Mali, which has cleaned up some of its plastic bag choked waters with a recycling plant.
The Venices of the East also merit a Wikipedia page, with another seventeen contenders (so far I have been to Suzhou, Bangkok and Osaka). They are:
- Alapuzzha in Kerala
- Barisal City in Bangladesh (also called the Venice of Bengal)
- Basra (possibly the location of the Garden of Eden and sister cities with Venice)
- The Kampong Ayer neighbourhood of Brunei’s capital Bandar Seri Begawan, called the Venice of the East by a sixteenth century Venetian, Antonio Pigafetta
- Lijiang City in China
- Malacca in Malaysia
- Nan Madol
- Osaka (is sister cities with Hamburg and Saint Petersburg, two other Venices)
- Palembang in Indonesia (appropriately enough, Palembang’s sister cities are Den Haag and Venice – does Venice only ever sister city other Venices?)
- Srinagar in Kashmir (not sure if there are any sources that call it the Udaipur of Kashmir)
- Tongli in China
- Udaipur (also known as the City of the Lakes and the Kashmir of Rajasthan, among other films Octopussy and Darjeeling Limited were filmed here)
- Wuzhen (near Suzhou)
- Zhouzhang (also near Suzhou)
Missing from the Wikipedia list is the Venice of Hong Kong, Tai O, or Da’ao in pinyin, on Lantau Island. Lantau is one of the really calm, pretty areas of Hong Kong as these photos attest.
Also missing from the list are other Japanese Venices. Nicknaming places seems like such a Japanese thing, I couldn’t imagine why there would only be Osaka. A quick search revealed the other Japanese Venices:
Kagoshima,or the Naples of the Eastern World, is in fact sister cities with Naples
- Kurashiki in Okayama is not only gorgeous (check out its tourist site), it has its own specialty paper, peaches, a cotton industry, its local version of the pancake and now muscat wines!
- Matsue in Shimane Prefecture has a medieval castle (other castles like Gyoda Castle, Osaka Castle and Shuri Castle in Naha were rebuilt after their destruction in WWII)
- Otaru (Japan’s Venice of the North or the Wall Street of Hokkaido gets extra points for not just recreating a Venetian canal but also for being really into Venetian glass)
- Sakai, which also has kofun burial mounds and was famous for its samurai swords, competes with Osaka for the title
- Yanagawa down in Fukuoka has a walking tour map (PDF) for nitwits like me who didn’t learn Japanese, which includes the monument at a hand washing area (?), and a 1980s Studio Ghibli documentary, The Story of Yanagawa’s Canals, that has English subtitles.
In addition to these places, there’s another Venice of the East or South, depending on where your point of reference is: Tawi-Tawi in the Philippines (which also has a seaweed festival, more info on this area just off Malaysia’s coast here).
There are not many other Venices of the South. Zakynthos in Greece used to be one. Sete in France is also the Venice of Languedoc.
One of the so-called Venices of the South is Tarpon Springs on the west coast of Florida. Built around a Greek immigrant sponge industry, I am not really clear if this is merely a coastal town and not a city with canals and bridges like the original Venice. However, there is at least one photo of accurate gondolas in Tarpon Springs dated to 1927. Even cooler is that this photo comes from a gondola blogger called Greg Mohr who lives in California. The internet is awesome for that. I love living in a world where some dude thousands of miles from Italy can be an expert on gondolas and is making an online archival resource for the rest of us researching niche topics.
A better contender for the Venice of the South would be Nan Madol, which is on the list as a Venice of the East (and is also sometimes called the Venice of the Pacific). Nan Madol was a city of islands in Micronesia; the kingdom collapsed about 500 years ago leaving some photogenic ruins. Locals are wary of the place and superstition has it that you will die if you try to spend the night there.
On its own is Recife, the Venice of Brazil (sister cities with another two Venices, Amsterdam and Nantes – see below).
When it comes to the Venice of the West, there is Galway (blame Yeats for this), Nantes and San Antonio (also the Venice of America, the Venice of the Plains, the Venice of the Texas Plains, the Venice of the Southwest, and the Venice of the Drylands). Interestingly, it could be that San Antonio pushed for the Venice of Texas nickname when Waco threatened to take it in the 1890s. Speaking of the Venice of America, Fort Lauderdale and Venice, California also market themselves as the US Venice.
The Venice which became part of Los Angeles in 1925 was founded in 1905 and modelled on the original Venice, with even its own lagoon. Unfortunately Los Angeles paved most of the canals in 1929. The Venice Historical Society’s website sells postcards with what looks like the Doge’s Palace and plenty of gondolas.
So how many Venices are there? I counted 58. Are there any other Venices that need to go on the list?
Update: Oops. I forgot the real Venice. Make that 59.