BBC 2024-02-05 06:01:53

US launches more strikes against Houthis in Yemen

The US carried out more strikes against Houthi missiles in Yemen on Sunday, US Central Command (Centcom) said in a statement.

Centcom said US forces struck a land-attack cruise missile and four anti-ship missiles that “were prepared to launch against ships in the Red Sea”.

The latest action comes a day after joint US-UK strikes on Houthi targets.

It follows continued attacks by the Iran-backed group on military and commercial ships in the Red Sea.

The Houthis’ attacks have forced major shipping companies to avoid the waterway, impacting international trade.

Egypt has said its revenue from the Suez Canal plunged by almost half in January, with the number of ships travelling through the key trade artery last month down by more than a third.

Saturday’s joint US-UK strikes lit up the night sky in the south of Yemen’s capital city of Sana’a, with one human rights activist and local resident telling the BBC houses were shaking.

Houthi officials struck a defiant tone in response to the US-led strikes – and vowed to respond.

Reacting to Saturday’s strikes, the group’s military spokesman, Yahya Sarea, wrote on X: “These attacks will not deter us from our moral, religious, and humanitarian stance in support of the resilient Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip and will not go unanswered or unpunished.”

  • Iran says US strikes are a ‘strategic mistake’
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  • Why did US wait to retaliate for drone attack on its troops?

Earlier, the White House had warned that its air strikes on Iran-backed targets in Iraq and Syria are just “the beginning, not the end” of its response to Iran.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan told US media on Sunday “there will be more steps”.

The US is responding to the deaths of three soldiers in an enemy drone attack on a military base in Jordan last week.

Iran has denied having any involvement in the drone attack, and its affiliate, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, has claimed responsibility.

The US accuses Tehran of having its “fingerprints” on the attack and said the drone was Iranian-made.

In a letter to Congress on Sunday, President Joe Biden said the retaliatory strikes on Friday had targeted facilities used by Iran’s armed forces – the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) – and militia groups linked to the IRGC.

Iran’s IRGC is believed to have armed, funded and trained Islamic Resistance in Iraq.

Mr Biden said sites hit included those used for “command and control, weapons storage, training, logistics support, and other purposes”.

And he added that the strikes aimed to deter these groups from further attacks, and were taken in a way “to limit the risk of escalation and avoid civilian casualties”.

He also said that he would “direct additional measures, including against the IRGC and IRGC-affiliated personnel and facilities, as appropriate”.

The American retaliation is also drawing growing condemnation from others in the region, including from the Iraqi and Syrian governments.

“No warning was given during the strike or the night of the strike,” Farhad Alaaldin, a senior adviser to Iraq’s prime minister, told the BBC’s Newshour programme about Friday’s strikes.

He added that the “issue of warning or no warning makes no difference to the fact of the matter that Iraq is a sovereign state”.

A crowd gathered in Baghdad on Sunday to mourn the deaths of 17 pro-Tehran militia members in the US air strikes.

The group chanted “America is the greatest devil” and held up pictures of the victims as they followed a fleet of ambulances carrying their bodies.

Oman’s foreign minister also spoke on Sunday to express his “grave concerns over the continuous escalation in the region”, in a statement shared with the Oman News Agency.

Badr Albusaidi questioned the effectiveness of US retaliatory attacks, noting that “such actions compromise the region’s safety, stability, and efforts to tackle challenges like violence and extremism”.

Washington believes the strikes have “had good effect in degrading militia capabilities”, Mr Sullivan said on Sunday.

He said the US is not looking to wage an open-ended military campaign in the Middle East but “is prepared to deal with anything that any group comes” at them with.

He declined to say whether the US had ruled out strikes inside Iran.

Since the strikes in Iraq and Syria on Friday, there has been one attack on American forces, a US defence official told the BBC.

The attack in question targeted US forces based at Euphrates in Syria using rockets. The official said there were no injuries or damage.

The US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently en route to the region on a trip that will include stops in Israel, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the West Bank.

A hostage deal with Hamas that gets a pause in the hostilities in Gaza will be his “top priority”, Mr Sullivan said on Sunday.

“We are going to press for it relentlessly” but the ball is in Hamas’s court, he said.

China gives detained Australian suspended death sentence

Australian writer Yang Hengjun has been given a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court, five years after he was arrested and accused of spying.

The sentence may be commuted to life imprisonment after two years, according to Australian officials.

Dr Yang – a scholar and novelist who blogged about Chinese state affairs – denies the charges, which have not been made public.

The Australian government says it is “appalled” by the outcome.

Foreign Minister Penny Wong has summoned China’s Ambassador to Australia for an explanation, and on Monday said the government would be “communicating” its response to Beijing in “the strongest terms”.

“We have consistently called for basic standards of justice, procedural fairness and humane treatment for Dr Yang, in accordance with international norms and China’s legal obligations,” she said in a statement.

“All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his family. We will not relent in our advocacy.”

Australian officials have previously raised concerns about his treatment, but China’s foreign ministry has warned them not to interfere in the case, and to respect the nation’s “judicial sovereignty”.

Dr Yang’s supporters have described his detention as “political persecution”.

“He is punished by the Chinese government for his criticism of human rights abuses in China and his advocacy for universal values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” his friend, Sydney academic Feng Chongyi, told the BBC in a statement.

Dr Yang, who previously worked for China’s Ministry of State Security, was nicknamed the “democracy peddler” but his writings often avoided direct criticisms of the government.

He was living in New York but travelled to Guangzhou in January 2019 with his wife and her child – both Chinese citizens – on a visa run when he was intercepted at the airport.

The 58-year-old’s case has mostly unfolded behind closed doors since then, including a secret trial in 2021.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Elaine Pearson said his case has raised a “myriad” of due process concerns and the outcome is “outrageous”.

“He has had delayed and limited access to legal representation, a closed door trial – and Yang himself has alleged torture and forced confessions during his interrogations,” she told the BBC.

Dr Yang still has avenues of appeal available, Ms Wong said, but his Australian-based sons have previously said his health is failing and that he is not receiving medical treatment.

His detainment – and that of Australian journalist Cheng Lei in 2020 – contributed to souring ties between Beijing and Canberra, but those relations have been stabilising since a change of government in Australia in 2022.

However, Lowy Institute senior fellow Richard McGregor told the Sydney Morning Herald Dr Yang’s new sentence would likely have a “severe impact on bilateral relations” between the two countries.”It displays on a wide screen the opacity of the Chinese legal system, its imperviousness to reasonable requests by foreign governments on behalf of their citizens, and its vindictiveness to people who challenge it,” he said.

“This sentence is at the most extreme end of the spectrum in terms of what could have been expected. The inescapable conclusion is that he will die in prison.”

Taylor Swift makes history at the Grammy Awards

Taylor Swift stole the show at this year’s Grammy Awards, becoming the first performer to win the prize for album of the year four times.

The superstar had previously been tied on three best album wins with Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon and Frank Sinatra.

She received the prize from Celine Dion, who made an unexpected appearance. Swift also used the event to reveal a surprise new album.

Miley Cyrus and Billie Eilish took the other top awards at Sunday’s ceremony.

  • Taylor Swift announces new album at the Grammys
  • Red carpet and ceremony in pictures
  • The main Grammy winners and nominees

Dion got a rapturous reception when she emerged to present the best album trophy, almost a year after she was forced to cancel all of her live shows after being diagnosed with a rare neurological disorder.

“When I say that I’m happy to be here, I really mean it from my heart,” she told the audience.

There was an equally enthusiastic response when Dion announced Swift’s name.

The historic achievement is now one of many the star has notched up in recent years. She said she “would love to tell you that this is the best moment in my life”, but that simply finishing a song, rehearsing or preparing to play a show makes her equally happy.

“For me, the award is the work,” she said. “All I want to do is keep being able to do this. I love it so much. It makes me so happy. It makes me unbelievably blown away that it makes some people happy who voted for this award too.”

Eilish’s contribution to the Barbie film soundtrack, What Was I Made For?, won song of the year, beating Swift’s Anti-Hero as well as tracks by SZA, Cyrus and Olivia Rodrigo.

“Damn, that’s stupid guys,” she remarked to the crowd as she accepted the award with her brother and co-writer Finneas.

“Everybody in this category – that was a crazy list of incredible people, incredible artists, incredible music. I feel crazy right now.”

The tune also won best song written for visual media, while the Barbie album – which was put together by producer Mark Ronson – picked up the award for best compilation soundtrack for visual media.

However, Eilish lost out on the record of the year award to Flowers by Miley Cyrus; which also picked up best pop vocal performance.

They were the star’s first ever Grammys, a fact she noted in her first acceptance speech, telling the story of a boy whose futile attempts to catch a butterfly ended when he stopped swinging around a net and stayed still.

“And right when he did is when the butterfly came and landed right on the tip of his nose. And this song, Flowers, is my butterfly,” Cyrus said.

Dua Lipa opened the ceremony with an athletic medley of her songs including her contribution to the Barbie album, Dance the Night, which was also up for song of the year.

R&B star SZA was the show’s leading nominee with nine nods. For her performance, the singer staged a recreation of the Crazy 88 fight scene from Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill to accompany her song of the same name.

She was joined by a phalanx of sword-wielding female dancers who swiftly dispatched hordes of men in suits – a reference to her song’s comical tale of killing her ex.

Billed as “music’s biggest night”, the Grammys are the industry’s most prestigious awards.

Rodrigo, Eilish, Burna Boy and Travis Scott were also among the performers, with stars like Swift, Beyoncé and Doja Cat in the audience.

But rare appearances by two music legends eclipsed the younger stars.

Tracy Chapman has only performed in public a handful of times since going into semi-retirement in 2009, but she joined country singer Luke Combs, who had a smash hit with a cover of her song Fast Car last year.

Then Joni Mitchell gave a poignant seated rendition of her classic Both Sides Now – her first Grammy performance at the age of 80.

The Canadian singer-songwriter had earlier picked up best folk album for a live album that captured her return to the stage in 2022 after a brain aneurysm.

That was one of many awards that were handed out during a four-hour “premiere ceremony” on Sunday afternoon.

  • Kylie, Billie, Joni and Beatles win early Grammys

That pre-ceremony also saw multiple wins for indie-rock trio Boygenius, whose debut album The Record combines 1970s California rock harmonies with lyrics about love and friendship.

Rapper Killer Mike won three awards but was later filmed apparently being taken away in handcuffs backstage.

Kylie Minogue won her second ever Grammy, best pop dance recording, for the viral smash Padam Padam.

And South African singer Tyla made history by picking up the first ever award for best African performance.

The 22-year-old, who came fourth in the BBC’s Sound of 2024, won for her viral smash Water, which inspired a TikTok dance craze last summer.

“I still have to remind myself that it’s my song,” she said. “Everywhere I go, it’s playing and people know it. I don’t even know [how to describe] the feeling.”

How the codpiece flopped

Some codpieces were empty – while others were used to store potpourri.

Some time around 1536, Hans Holbein the Younger was finessing Henry VIII’s crotch. With a fine brush in his hand and a palette of watercolour paints beside him, the master artist took pains to give his client’s ornately decorated bulge its due prominence.

In the resulting sketch – a full-size preparatory drawing for a mural that once covered an entire wall at Whitehall Palace in London – the king is, it’s often said, majestic and virile. Henry VIII’s feet are planted firmly apart, with both hands resting suggestively below his waist, clutching objects that seem to direct the viewer towards his ludicrously proportioned genitals. According to a contemporary account, the final painting left viewers feeling “abashed and annihilated“.

For a brief moment in the Renaissance, in between the invention of the microscope, printing press, and pencils – along with other technologies that uphold modern society – upper class men were rather preoccupied with erecting another innovation: the codpiece.

These “pretty personal palaces for penises“, as one writer has called them, consisted of pockets of fabric worn over the crotch and padded out to form a bizarre array of evocative shapes: spirals, orbs, and upwards-curling sausages. Some even had faces on them. This was a rare opportunity for men to give their nether regions a dash of flair, and many opted for confections of sumptuous fabrics, such as silk, velvet, and satin, embellished with jewels, gold, and – the ultimate show of macho fecundity – cute little bows.

But what were codpieces for? And why did they disappear?

In Henry VIII’s most famous portrait, he’s dripping with furs, gold, and rubies – but it’s his codpiece that really commands attention (Credit: Alamy)

Initially, codpieces were made of steel and added to armour, to help protect knights’ fertility on the battlefield. But soon they presented a neat solution for an awkward everyday problem.

Until the late 15thCentury, it was common for men to wear a long tunic or doublet – essentially, a dress – with hose (tights) on their legs. Then the fashion changed. Doublets gradually inched their way upwards over the years, becoming so short that they no longer covered the crotch. This was particularly dangerous, because the hose men wore at the time came individually, like socks, leaving open spaces that were somewhat… revealing. 

“So basically, you would put one leg in one hose, and then tie it to your doublet. And then you do the same with the other leg,” says Victoria Bartels, a professor of early modern Italy at Syracuse University in New York. With the trendy new cropped versions, “it kind of left an area that needed to be covered,” she says.  

The problem was highlighted in a particularly graphic description in the medieval poem The Canterbury Tales. “Alas, some of them show the bulge of their shape, and the horrible swollen members, that it seems like the malady of hernia,” complains a character known as “the person” in the story’s prologue.

The gaps led to a moral panic, with priests worrying that the new style would prove irresistible to “sodomites”, and lead to the corruption of young men.

Choosing a codpiece in a contrasting colour helped men to make their genitals the centre of attention (Credit: Alamy)

The first codpieces were limp triangles of fabric that were tucked in to cover the openings between each hose. But it didn’t take long for men to take full advantage of these new garments, and start padding them.

Within a couple of decades, these loose flaps had morphed into phallic objects of monstrous proportions. Early modern wannabe lotharios would pack their codpieces with horsehair, fabric and straw, sometimes stashing useful items away inside such as handkerchiefs and money – Bartels has even has encountered accounts of their use for storing potpourri.

From the streets of Florence, where they were known as sacco, to Paris, where they were called braguettes, young men swaggered around with their prosthetic genitalia, drawing the eye downwards wherever they went. What had begun as a modesty device was now being used to the opposite effect.   

The symbolism of these protruding packages wasn’t lost on the Renaissance men who wore them. The very word “codpiece” comes from the Old English “cod”, meaning “scrotum”, while one satirical text Bartels found compared the protection they offered – especially on armour – to that provided by the shells of nuts and seeds. Like these “braguettes naturelles” – nature’s codpieces – they helped to ensure the propagation of the next generation.

Some Renaissance men liked to adorn their crotches with cute little bows (Credit: Alamy)

Henry VIII, whose reproductive woes led him to invent a new branch of Christianity, notoriously used the figurative associations of the codpiece to maximum effect. The mural at Whitehall Palace was destroyed in a fire, but the original drawing survived and others were encouraged to copy it. Consequently, the king’s ornamental crotch lives on in tens of paintings to this day, reassuring those who view it that he is more than capable of producing an heir.  

Even 200 years after his death, admirers could visit Henry VIII’s statue and marvel at his fecundity, at the Tower of London. A painted wooden effigy there came with flowing fabric robes and a secret mechanism that revealed a swinging codpiece. “If you press a spot on the floor with your feet, you will see something surprising with regard to this figure, but I will not say more,” wrote one visitor, according to the book Thrust: A Spasmodic Pictorial History of the Codpiece in Art. Women would stick pins into it in the hope that it would help them to have children.

At the time, such brazen displays of virility weren’t unusual. On the wrought iron front gate to the Cappella Colleoni chapel in Bergamot, Italy, built in the late 15th Century, is the Colleoni coat of arms – and on it, are three comma-like shapes. These are testicles, thought to have been included as a display of macho strength, and because of the similarity of the family name to the word for them, coglioni.

Even Henry VIII’s suits of armour were given suggestive bulges (Credit: Alamy)

Men also used their new crotch adornments to project military prowess. Firstly, there was the fact that codpieces were sometimes added to armour. But Bartels explains that the rise of the codpiece also coincided with the Italian Wars, in which mercenaries from Northern Europe went to battle on behalf of Spain, France and Italy. One work-perk the soldiers received was an exemption from Sumptuary Laws – regulations that determined how lavish different social groups were allowed to be – and they seized this sartorial opportunity. “They are super flashy dressers… they don these huge codpieces,” says Bartels. This forged yet another tie between the codpiece and military culture.

Even to their contemporaries, however, these overt and determined displays of masculinity were often the focus of great ridicule. As the historian Will Fisher writes in the book Materializing Gender in Early Modern English Literature and Culture, satirists would thrill their audiences with suggestive scenes in which it seems that a character is about to reveal their genitals… before pulling out something unexpected, like an orange. Other unusual items found in fictional codpieces included “ballads, bottles, napkins, pistols, hair, and even a looking glass”.

Some codpieces were more evocative than others (Credit: Alamy)

By as early as the late 16th Century, the codpiece was already in decline – and sources start to refer to them as out of fashion, says Bartels. Oddly, just before these engorgements vanished they began to shrink down to minute proportions. “You start to see this other fashion trend called the peascod,” says Bartels. These puffed-out, distended doublets were worn over a shirt, protruding out like prosthetic potbellies. “It looks ridiculous to modern eyes,” she says. These were often accompanied by pillowy or even skirt-like breeches, and the combination was in competition for the same bodily real estate as the codpiece, since they both incorporated the genitals, she notes.  

Today, very few codpieces survive. Those that remain include the metallic bulges in armouries, a set of wool and velvet ones that belonged to a Swedish count and his sons, and a drawerful at the Museum of London – initially classified as shoulder pads by a starchy Victorian curator, according to the historian Lucy Worsley. Other than that, we can only glimpse the priapic grandeur of this lost garment though paintings and sculptures from the era.

However, though authentic renaissance codpieces are now rare, public enthusiasm for them hasn’t disappeared completely. In the 1970s and 80s, rock bands such as Jethro Tull and Kiss began aweing their audiences with leopard-print, leather, metallic studded, and demon-faced versions – the latter even had their own codpiece-seamstress until they disbanded last year.   

Codpieces have also been making a comeback in high fashion – part of a trend for so-called “Tudor power dressing” – and on historical television series including Wolf Hall. There’s just one problem: modern producers can’t bring themselves to make them big enough.

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Seven of Venice’s most picture-perfect photo ops

Getty photographer Stefano Mazzola offers the most photo-worthy ops in his native Venice, from the sea of parked gondolas in Bacino Orseolo to sunrises at Ponte dell’Accademia.

Ancient candy-coloured Venice, Italy, is among the world’s most uniquely beautiful cities, and is also one of the most photographed. Millions gather each year to gaze at the gondolas gliding through its otherworldly canals as they pack themselves onto romantic bridges and throng its magnificent piazzas – all eager to get that one perfect picture in a picture-perfect place.

Overtourism is this gorgeous city’s scourge, the SOS on the flip side of the postcard. So how to enjoy your visit and get great photos – without getting an elbow in the face or inconveniencing the locals? 

We spoke to Venetian native, Getty photographer Stefano Mazzola, for his niche take. His tip: visit the iconic wonders at dawn or after sunset, when the day trippers have fled, and then embrace Venice’s peculiarities. “Water is the crucial element,” said Mazzola. “The tide comes in for six hours, it’s slack for one hour, and then it ebbs for six hours… it’s a city that changes every hour because of the changes in the water and the light.”

Mazzola takes visitors on Venice photo walks to discover the city’s most iconic treasures, as well as its exquisite quirks. “Yes, of course, go see the Basilica di San Marco, the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), the prisons, Piazza San Marco,” he advised. “But don’t spend 10 hours [there]. Explore. Go for a walk. Get lost. Go get lost with your partner, with a friend. Stop every hour to have a glass of wine or a cicchetto [Venetian tapas] and keep walking… That’s how you’re going to discover the most hidden gems, the street corners, the most beautiful things.”

Venice is a walkable jewel, its six sestieri (districts) easily crossed by foot or canal using one of the city’s vaporetti (waterbuses). Here is photographer Stefano Mazzola’s list of the most photo-worthy scenes in Venice.

Mazzola’s favourite place to see – and photograph – the Venetian dawn is from the Ponte dell’Accademia overlooking the Grand Canal (Credit: Cavan Images/Alamy)

1. Best for catching the sunrise: Ponte dell’Accademia

“There are two Venices,” said Mazzola. “The touristy Venice that runs from Piazza San Marco to the Rialto Bridge that’s invaded from 09:00 in the morning to 06:00 or 07:00 in the afternoon. [It’s], for me as a Venetian, unlivable. The real Venice, the one of the high quarters, is still gorgeous.”

Getting an early start is the key to snapping great photos in this heavily touristed city – without someone’s head in the frame. Mazzola’s pick for experiencing daybreak is Ponte dell’Accademia.

The mammoth wooden structure arching across the Grand Canal is one of Venice’s four principal bridges, and according to Mazzola, offers a unique view as the light shimmers over the rainbow-hued buildings.

“If you’re on the Ponte dell’Accademia, looking towards the Grand Canal, Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti is the first building on the left,” said Mazzola. “You can get images at sunrise with the first rays of light on the Grand Canal and this amazing building on the left and the Basilica [di Santa Maria] della Salute on the right of the Grand Canal. It’s lovely.”

Sunrise is the best time to observe gondolas and gondoliers in their natural habitat – just head to Bacino di San Marco or Bacino Orseolo (Credit: EM_prize/Alamy)

2. Best for observing gondolas and gondoliers: Bacino di San Marco and Bacino Orseolo

The gondolier – gondoliere/a in Italian – is an iconic figure yet shrouded in myth. If you want to get an unfettered look at gondolas, Mazzola suggests heading – once again, at dawn – to Bacino di San Marco, the city’s main harbour on the lagoon, where gondolas park at night. “With the Palazzo Ducale behind you, you can shoot three, five, seven gondolas depending on how wide your lens is, with the Island of San Giorgio in the background,” said Mazzola.

But to witness the gondoliers themselves in their natural state, Mazzola loves visiting Bacino Orseolo. “It’s a minute away from Piazza San Marco,” he said. “The gondolas that work in that area park there all night in that little basin. If you go in the morning at 07:30 or 08:00, you’ll find 30, 35 gondolas all shuttered in the same place. The guys who clean them [start] taking off the tarps and cleaning the gondolas one by one. [It’s] also lovely because the guys who are cleaning the gondolas will be chatting in Venetian. It’s a welcoming place. It’s a place where you see the real Venice.”

Head up the dazzling spiral staircase of the Venetian Gothic Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo to see Mazzola’s favourite panorama of Venice (Credit: heinstirred/Getty Images)

3. Best for seeing the panorama of Venice: Scala Contarini del Bovolo

“In Venetian, bovolo means spiral,” explained Mazzola. “[The palace] is halfway between Piazza San Marco and the Rialto Bridge… and it’s unique because this spiral staircase is fantastic. You walk up all these stairs which take you up to the panoramic terrace of this palace which [has] all these arches at 360 degrees, circular. You can see all of Venice.”

The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is a 15th-Century building built by the noble Contarini family in the Venetian Gothic style, tucked away in a quiet side street near Campo Manin. “It’s amazing for taking photos because you can take a shot of two arches with a slice of San Marco inside,” said Mazzola. “Or two other arches that capture the Basilica dei Frari, and you can see all of Venice from up there. It’s a beautiful hidden gem.”

One of the best ways to see Venice is visiting its “higher” districts like the Sestieri di San Polo e Santa Croce (Credit: Image Professionals GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo) )

4. Best for secret alleyways: i Sestieri di San Polo e Santa Croce

Some of Venice’s greatest beauties lie in small details. During the day, while tourists swarm the city centre, Mazzola suggests crossing the Rialto Bridge and heading to the sestieri San Polo and Santa Croce.

“They’re full of little labyrinths,” Mazzola said. “In Venice, the word for street isn’t via but calle, and this area is made of these tiny narrow streets. I can show people around for two hours, but we never get very far from where we started. And we never see the same place twice!”

The Sestieri di San Polo e Santa Croce are two bordering neighbourhoods rarely frequented by tourists and are home to medieval architecture and thriving fish, meat and green markets. “It’s lovely because every two minutes you find this beautiful corner, this beautiful reflection or some crooked bridge, as gondolas are passing,” said Mazzola. “At the border of San Polo and Santa Croce, there’s a square that I think is marvellous; Campo San Boldo. [It’s] been the subject of many paintings, many films… There’s a well in the middle. There’s a belltower that’s missing the tip. There’s a canal that runs along it with the [crooked] Ponte Storto bridge curving around… it’s so beautiful. And almost no one goes there.”

Corte Nuova is just one street in Venice where you can witness a rainbow of laundry hung out to dry for a peek into daily Venetian life (Credit: Matthias Scholz/Alamy Stock Photo)

5. Best for witnessing a slice of Venetian life: Corte Nuova

When many visitors think of Venice, they picture a gondolier paddling through canals, but Venetians think of laundry being hung to dry in the sun. “It’s prohibited to hang your laundry out to dry in Venice in the [heavily touristed] sestiere of San Marco,” said Mazzola. “You have to keep your laundry inside. But not in the other districts. In Castello, there’s a street called Corte Nuova, and it’s fantastic because every morning whenever it’s sunny the women who live on this street hang out their laundry to dry. The street becomes multi-coloured.”

Many Italian cities ban the practice of hanging laundry out to dry in touristy areas, but line drying laundry is one of the most Italian-core customs, even in romantic Venice, where you’ll catch powdery whiffs of Marseille soap as you pass through the calle. “You see sheets, shirts, you see all the laundry, all the washing, and it’s amazing. It’s very famous,” said Mazzola. “Castello is an area full of Venetians so it’s part of daily life. If you go to San Marco, you won’t hear anyone speaking Venetian. You’ll hear German, English, Russian, Chinese. If you go to Castello, you’ll hear Venetian.”

The Arsenale military zone is Mazzola’s pick for experiencing the best sunsets in Venice (Credit: Catuncia/Getty Images)

6. Best for capturing the sunset: the Arsenale di Venezia

A bridge on the Grand Canal may be the best place in Venice to see the sunrise, but you’ll see wonderful sunsets from the shore of the Arsenale di Venezia – the city’s military zone. “That’s also in the Castello district,” said Mazzola. “Inside the Arsenale, the walls are closed and that’s the military area of Venice where the Venetians once constructed warships. Nowadays, we have the military marina inside the Arsenale.”

While a military zone may seem like a rather unromantic spot to experience the sunset, Mazzola explains: “It’s because the sun sets behind San Marco. You go to get that shot of the last sun with a part of the Piazza San Marco with the tower. So, you see all the water, you see the start of the Grand Canal, on the right you see Piazza San Marco. And then you see the sunset.

The Rialto Bridge connects the sestieri of San Polo and San Marco, and is one of Venice’s most impressive and visited landmarks (Credit: westend61/Getty Images)

7. Best classic Venice shot: the Rialto Bridge

Few images of Venice are as indelible as the stunning Rialto Bridge, with its steep pointed roof and graceful arches, curving over the Grand Canal. Rebuilt several times since the 12th Century, the current stone bridge has been a fixture in daily Venetian life since the late 1600s, and a magnet for every visitor to Venice since.

“If you go at 07:00 in the morning, you’ll just find two people so you can take photos and it’s nice,” said Mazzola. “But if you go at noon or at [15:00] in the afternoon, you’ll find 200 people taking selfies and in my opinion it’s no longer enjoyable.” He added wistfully: “The places are all marvellous. But to appreciate them you have to visit them at certain times of day.”

BBC Travel’s The SpeciaList is a series of guides to popular and emerging destinations around the world, as seen through the eyes of local experts and tastemakers.

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