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Venice

A gondola floats down the Grand Canal of Venice. (©istockphoto/Eric Delmar) A gondola floats down the Grand Canal of Venice. (©istockphoto/Eric Delmar)
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  • Rome

    Rome

    It's impossible to see all of the temples and monuments of Rome, so begin with the Pantheon, the Colosseum and St. Peter's Basilica and see how far you get.
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    Botticelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci all left their mark on Florence, the cradle of the Renaissance and Tuscany's alfresco museum.

You don't exactly have to jump on the next plane in order to see Venice while it's still around, but scientists are warning that only a miracle -- or more advanced engineering than exists today -- can save one of the world's most fabled cities of art and architecture, especially in view of global warming and the possibilities of ocean levels rising 6 meters (20 ft.).

The most recent reports indicate that Venice is sinking faster than had been anticipated. The gloomiest forecast is that the encroaching waters of the Adriatic Sea could devastate Venice within this century, especially if global warming causes waters to rise even faster.

What a catastrophe that would be. Surely there is no more preposterous monument to the folly of humankind than La Serenissima, the Serene Republic of Venice, a fantasy city on the sea.

Once you arrive and are stunned by all the architectural wonders and riches of Venice, its vivid colors of sienna, Roman gold, and ruby peach, you may think that reports of tide damage are overblown. Once you experience your first flood and see for yourself how close the sea is to sweeping over Venice, you'll most likely change your mind.

Pollution, uncontrolled tides, and just plain old creaky age are eating away daily at the treasures of this cherished city of art. As the debate rages about how to save Venice, with no real solution in sight, the waters just keep rising.

Why did those "insane" Venetians build on such swampy islands and not on dry land, of which there was plenty centuries ago?

In an effort to flee the barbarians, Venetians left dry dock and drifted out to a flotilla of "uninhabitable" islands in the lagoon. For a long time, Venice did elude foreign armies intent on burning, looting, and plundering. Eventually, Napoleon and his forces arrived; however, the Corsican's intent was never to destroy Venice.

Foreign visitors have conquered Venice in ways most barbarian armies did not. Some 10 million people visit Venice every year -- and that's only counting the visitors who actually spend the night. Since Venice is known as an expensive city and has only a limited number of accommodations, there are countless day-trippers invading every day, all summer long. Few Venetians desire the presence of so many day-trippers, as they tend to spend little money. Some Venetian officials, to counter the presence of these nonspenders, have advocated that the city institute an admission charge.

What will you find in Venice? Unendurable crowds; dank, dark canals and even danker, claustrophobic alleys; outrageous prices; and a certain sinister quality in the decay. But you'll also find one of the most spectacular cities ever conceived.

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