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The John Hall Venice Course runs once a year, from late January to late March. There is an  introductory week in London, followed by six weeks in Venice, followed by the option of a week in Florence and six days in Rome.



Venice, an island in a vast tidal lagoon, has been our centre for 55 years. Its human scale is practically that of a campus, every part easily accessible in 20 minutes on foot. Our hotel is right in the centre. The pace of life is that of walking. No cars, no pollution. As you walk past ancient palaces, enchanting squares, through narrow alleys opening to wide lagoon views, a labyrinth of canals, you are walking in history. Each bridge you cross takes you from one parish to another, carrying the same names on street signs as over a thousand years ago. The original Venetians, escaping barbarian invasions of the mainland cities in the seventh century, moved into the lagoon, settling on adjacent sandbanks, soon linked by bridges and growing into the island-city of today.

Passing six unforgettable weeks in this great art city, you can wonder at the stunning Byzantine mosaics in St. Mark’s and, crossing the Grand Canal, in ten minutes be looking at the magnificent Peggy Guggenhein collection of modern art, Francois Pinault’s collection of cutting-edge contemporary art, masterpieces by Titian in the Salute church and, looking across the water, see three masterpieces of the great architect Palladio. So why Venice, why this unique concentration of art of all times, why such visible riches?

Isolated in their lagoon, at the head of the Adriatic sea ,Venetians became by necessity the world’s most enterprising international and intercontinental merchants. In touch with the ports of north Africa, the Levant, Constantinople and the Black Sea, they were at the receiving end of the trade routes to African gold and slaves , the camel routes across Arabia to the spices from Indies, the Silk Road, following Marco Polo, to China, the Black Sea to Russia- and, through the Alps, the snowy peaks in sight from Venice, to Europe and the great fairs of France, Germany and the Netherlands. Venice was the exchange emporium of the known world and the richest and most cosmopolitan city in Europe. The infrastructure – a stable republican constitution, admired throughout Europe; famously just business law for all nationalities – Shylock’s pound of flesh; banking allowing money to be drawn anywhere from Baghdad to Frankfurt to Paris; a flexible trading mentality crossing borders, cultures and religions – see the statues in Venice of camels, turbaned men, the Islamic skyline and wall patterning of the Doge’s palace, consider Titian painting portraits of popes, the Holy Roman Emperor, the Most Catholic King of Spain and equally Jacopo Bellini painting the portrait off Mehmet the Great, Islamic Sultan of the newly captured Constantinople. A model for the world of today?

Guaranteeing this astonishing growth and wealth were the deep channels and shallows, tides and sandbanks of the lagoon, impossible to navigate except with local knowledge. Venice was impregnable, never invaded. The Magistrate of the Water, managing and maintaining the ecology of the lagoon, was an important state office, concerned with all the same problems as today- climate change, water levels, silting, rogue high tides.

Apart from the sheer beauty of the city as a place to live in, Venice is a microcosm which illustrates big issues of the contemporary world – climate science and ecology, rising sea levels, the impact of tourism on ancient monuments, the fragile dynamic between East and West, business and international banking, the exploding world of contemporary art – all part of our programme.

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Ten minutes walk from our hotel, our lecture centre is a modernized convent with a state-of-the-art lecture room, equipment and recreational facilities, not unlike a university campus.


The extensions are a major part of the Italian experience. They are offered as an option on grounds of possible other unchangeable commitments. Their individual and different identities are striking after Venice, and, after seeing Florence and Rome, Venice comes into even sharper focus retrospectively. A memorable feature of the extensions is our highly privileged private visits, in Florence for a talk in the Harold Acton library at the British Institute, in Rome to the Vatican Museums, including Raphael’s Stanze and the Sistine Chapel.

Most students on the Venice Course continue to Florence and Rome. Understandably, a few prefer to leave the decision until the Venice course has started and they have realized what an amazing experience it is and what good new friends they are making. We are sometimes able to accommodate students who decide late, but our regular hotel allotment may be fully taken and we may have to place late students in another hotel Although we can usually accommodate everyone, we urge you to make the right decision when you book for the Venice Course.

For details of the actual programme in London, Venice, Florence and Rome, see THE PROGRAMME page.

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