One of the finest expressions of the ingenuity of mankind, many have attempted to imitate Italy's city of Venice, with its charming labyrinth of canals and bridges, and proliferation of ornate churches and elegant palazzi. Venice constituted a vibrant commercial hub where the East traded with the West. A flourishing exchange of goods, but also culture, aided by the sea which surrounds the city and penetrates it passing along Venice's many canals.

Accessed via the lagoon, the central Piazza San Marco marked the epicentre of both the city's political and religious power: home to the Doge's Palace and administrative offices but also to the magnificent Basilica of San Marco. The Basilica of San Marco is dedicated to the evangelist, whose relics were brought to the city from Alexandria in 828. Over the centuries, the church was further embellished with the treasures brought here from every part of the globe, treasures exchanged in trade or confiscated from those defeated in battle by the Venetians.

Not far from the Piazza, and still within the San Marco district, lies the Fenice theatre. The building was destroyed by fire in 1996 and has since been rebuilt according to the 18th century plans. Continuing our tour of the city, following the flow of the Grand Canal, we enter the Dorsoduro district where two quite bizarre palazzi are situated. One is that housing the spectacular Peggy Guggenheim collection of Modern Art, the other is Palazzo Dario: an oddly asymmetric building swathed in the mystery concerning the tragic fates to have befallen many of its inhabitants. Almost adjacent to Palazzo Dario, we find the Accademia Gallery which contains a vast collection of Venetian paintings from the 14th to 19th century.

Continuing onwards alongside the Grand Canal, we come across the churches which have given the names to the districts of San Polo and Santa Croce, districts famous for the trading of precious silks and spices. Soon after, we reach the much celebrated Rialto Bridge. On the other side of the bridge lies the district of Cannaregio, where Venice's Jewish community had its Ghetto. Heading full circle towards Piazza San Marco, we pass through the Castello district, which takes its name from the fortress which once protected the city. This is the district where to admire the splendid Basilica of SS. Pietro e Paolo, a veritable masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture where the funerals of the various Doge were celebrated.

From Cannaregio we take one of the many waterbuses which transport visitors across the lagoon to the islands dotted around Venice. The island of Lido easily seduces the tourist with its Casinò and sumptuous hotels. Passing from the profane to the sacred, we head to the islands of Sacca Fisole and Giudecca where the Church of the Redeemer was erected in the hope that its construction would bring an end to the devastating plague of 1757-76. Another religious building more than worthy of visit is that of the Basilica and Convent of San Giorgio Maggiore situated on the island of the same name.

The islands of Murano and Burano are known throughout the world for their craft traditions: the former for its glass making and the latter for its lacework. The nearby island of Torcello, with its Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, rich in Byzantine mosaics and marble, should not be missed. The island of San Michele is the destination of both the devout and the simply curious, who come here to visit the cemetery where a great number of artists are buried, including Igor Stravinskij and Ezra Pound.