Assassin’s Creed and the Real Italia: Venezia (Part 2)
If you missed the first instalment in this series, check it out here.
Assassin’s Creed is a franchise well known for its gorgeous design, and the Italian Renaissance of Ezio Auditore’s world has been a hit with fans. How does it compare with real life, and how have the locations transformed in the transition to the game world?
Various churches appear entirely different to the real ones; in particular San Giobbe of the Canneregio district and Santa Maria della Visitazione of the Dorsoduro district. The church of San Zaccaria also strangely appears directly on the seafront, when it appears in a square – Campo San Zaccaria – in real life. It faces away from the sea; about a 2-minute walk from the seafront itself.
Several little details appear to be missing in the game – for example, the Arsenale di Venezia, once home to the naval forces and warships of Venice, lacks two lions on either side of its entrance gate, Porta Magna, due to the fact that the lions were added two centuries after the Porta Magna‘s construction in 1460 (they were taken from Piraeus, Greece), thus their addition on the gate was long after Ezio’s lifetime. The statuettes of Roman gods are also omitted from the pillars and are replaced in the game by two large statues of soldiers. Above the doorway, the winged Leone di San Marco (Lion of St. Mark), the symbol of Venice, also appears to be facing the other way.
The Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs) – like the church Santa Maria della Salute – is a famous and intriguing local landmark that cannot be found in the game, as it was built long after Ezio’s time. It was built in 1602 and designed by Antoni Contino (nephew of Antonio da Ponte, designer of the Rialto Bridge), joining the interrogation rooms of the Palazzo Ducale with the New Prison. According to local lore today, if a couple kiss underneath the Bridge of Sighs on a gondola ride at sunset, they will be blessed with happiness and eternal love. But despite the romantic myth, the name draws from the understanding that convicts would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venezia before being imprisoned. However, this may not be entirely true, as not only was it hard to get a picturesque view of Venice from the tiny, bar-protected windows; but by the time the bridge was completed summary executions and inquisitions were no longer part of Venetian law enforcement and the cells were only inhabited by petty criminals.
Lord Byron, a romantic poet, noted the bridge in his book Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage:
“I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs; a palace and a prison on each hand.”
“Come, amici! I have fresh caught leeches for you today.”
Whilst there is a hospital and many pharmacies that would assist Ezio nowadays if he required medical assistance, the famous image of the Medico della Peste (Plague Doctor) has not entirely disappeared from Venice, living on in postcards, key rings and masks sold in the many tourist shops in the city. The long beak of the mask was used for containing flowers and herbs with pleasant scents (it was believed in those times that disease was spread by bad smells).
The most famous and busy area of Venezia, the Piazza di San Marco, is the most notably different area in the game (perhaps just because it is so well-known). The square is considerably smaller in the game, and underneath the Torre dell’Orologio clock tower a bridge and river have been added when in fact that area is flat solid ground. There are many tiny streets in that area, which seem to have been replaced by a few wider ones in the game. The Basilica di San Marco itself – the most famous landmark in all of Venice – is just as beautiful outside and golden inside as it appears in the game, but don’t hold your breath for any secret Assassin’s tombs or treasures. A roped path is used to cram tourists into a straight route, which marks the interior, and tourists must pay to get in other areas like the treasury. Ezio would have a hard time swinging and climbing around in there unnoticed.
There is very little in the way of a gamer culture in Venice (aside from the occasional store, such as a small second-hand games and DVDs shop in Venice and a games shop on the Lido island, a short vaporetto -waterbus – ride away).Venezia is more about the rich history, gorgeous architecture and art, relaxing atmosphere and beautiful fashion than containing a particular ‘geek’ subculture as one would find in the UK or the US. Surprisingly, references to Assassin’s Creed in terms of merchandising are rare in Venice. However, in the market stalls and tourist shops there is an astonishing abundance of Rage Comics and Super Mario Bros. t-shirts.
Next time: the founding of Rome – Romulus, Remus and “the false pagan cult” of Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.