For those looking to explore Europe on one of the excellent river cruises, Italy opens up a wealth of possibilities. But it's not just about coasting down a river with a glass of fine wine in your hand – although there is certainly a lot of that! Because as well as providing a luxurious and truly relaxing experience on the water, when it comes to river cruises, Italy also provides plenty of opportunities to delve into its history, art and culture through shore excursions.
On itineraries that pass through Venice, there's a must-see hidden gem for those who want to learn more about the city’s nautical history.
Discover Venice's Nautical History
A city that is quite literally built on water could not help but have a fascinating and rich nautical history. There is no dearth of ways in which to discover it, but its important maritime heritage is without a doubt best told through a visit to the superb (and slightly off the beaten track) Museo Storico Navale– the Naval History Museum.
The Making of a Museum
The city's history is so entwined with the sea that even back in the seventeenth century authorities saw the need to promote its maritime might with the establishment of the House of Models, dedicated to all things involving ship-building. Even though Venice was in dire economic decline, displaying the relics of its previous power allowed the city’s reputation to remain intact in some ways.
The original collection was moved to several different locations in order to keep it safe during multiple historical events (including the Napoleonic occupation), although some of it was lost or destroyed. In 1919, its present home at the museum in Castello was established, housed in a former granary at the heart of the Arsenale, the city's former shipbuilding district.
A Glimpse Into the Past
Set over five impressive floors, the museum's main highlights are the intricate scale models that were originally used for the construction of ships. These include models of the traditional Venetian bucintori (barges) used by the doges.
The fabulous Ships Pavilion displays the collection of authentic antique vessels, which comprises a WWII torpedo motorboat, a coal-fired motorboat from the nineteenth century, a carved and gilded 18-oar ceremonial boat and a host of gondolas and other smaller vessels.
Science and Innovation
Pride of place in its own display hall stands the Elettra Marconi steam yacht engine, complete with its massive boilers, which was built in 1904. The 700-tonne, 67-metre long Elettra garnered Marconi (an eminent scientist) international attention for his invention, which he turned into a floating laboratory to carry out his research. The museum also curates an impressive collection of weaponry relating to the city's naval history.
Discover Venice's Maritime History on Exciting River Cruises
If you’re interested in intriguing river cruises, Italy has one of the richest histories in Europe and, with its strategic position as a gateway to the Adriatic Sea, Venice served as a major naval and economic power. As well as facilitating a modern take on the waterways that surround this unique water city, a river cruise affords guests an abundance of opportunities to immerse in the maritime heritage off the water as well. The Museo Storico Navale is just one.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury river cruises and barge holidays throughout Europe. If you're looking for the most exciting and relaxing river cruises, Italy is an ideal choice. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.