I kept running into places that compared themselves to Venice as I uncovered canal superlatives. Literally dozens of places described themselves that way. It made things easy for Twelve Mile Circle too. I could select whatever examples I wanted today because I couldn’t possibly cover them all. That seemed like an excellent opportunity to create some push-pins in lower density areas of the 12MC Complete Index Map. Right, India?
Realizing all these claimants existed, of course only one true Venice prevailed amongst the poseurs, the deservedly famous one in Italy (map). It seemed like an odd location for a city, scattered along a string of islands in a marshy lagoon at the mouth of a couple of rivers. The founders selected this unlikely site intentionally. The marsh offered refuge to Christians fleeing southward away from Germanic tribes as the Roman Empire crumbled. Their city grew over the centuries. Eventually it became an important economic hub and a naval power. Venice only had so much land however, and an overabundance of water, leading to the beautiful canals that visitors treasure today.
I decided to completely side-step the ongoing geopolitical situation of the Kashmir conflict. The focus remained on a city with an alleged resemblance to Venice contained within its larger borders. Srinagar (map) came under Indian control and that seemed alright for my purposes. The city claimed to be a "Kashmiri Venice" or even more boldly the "Venice of the East." At least a dozen other places also proclaimed themselves to be the true Venice of the East. I didn’t know how to rank them although I felt secure that Srinagar should be considered at least the Kashmiri Venice. That felt safe.
Srinagar fell within the Jammu and Kashmir state at the very northern tip of India. Jammu and Kashmir itself included an interesting geo-oddity. It had both a summer and a winter capital. Srinagar served as the capital during the warmer months and then it jumped to Jammu for the winter. I couldn’t figure why or how that worked. It seemed strange to move the capital nearly 300 kilometres (180 miles) twice a year. And I’ve complained about moving the hands of a clock twice a year. That little tangent had nothing to do with canals in Srinagar so I supposed I need to get back on track.
The Jhelum River ran through Srinagar on its way to the Indus River. A series of canals, both current and historical, prevented flooding and regulated water levels. They also connected two large bodies of water, Dal Lake and Anchar Lake, as well as several smaller ones. The city became known for its majestic waterside Mughal architecture, its wonderful parks and its iconic houseboats. All of those conditions underlied its claim.
Venice of the Netherlands
Giethoorn in the Overijssel province of the Netherlands also featured a network of interlaced canals and an abundance of water.
It is so peaceful, so different and has such simple beauty that it hardly seems real – gently gliding along small canals past old but pretty thatched-roof farmhouses… Giethoorn is at the centre of Overijssel’s canal system. Indeed, the little village is so dependent on its waterways, many of the houses cannot be reached by road. When the postman delivers the mail he travels by punt.
Giethoorn made some pretty bold claims too. Some called Giethoorn (map) the "Venice of the Netherlands" and others extended it even farther to "Venice of the North." I think the fine folks in Amsterdam might question either claim although that hardly seemed to stop little Giethoorn from drawing its line in the sand.
It looked like something out of a fairy tale. Were there any trolls under those bridges?
Florida featured an entire city of Venice although nobody called it the "Venice of America," or even the "Venice of Florida." It got its name in the 1880’s and even the city itself admitted that a couple of early settlers simply picked the name. Venice didn’t have any more or any fewer canals than other coastal cities in Florida. A completely different Florida location claimed to be the Venice of America; Fort Lauderdale (map). The city featured "65 miles of interconnected canals" spanned by 52 separate bridges. Cruises and water taxis delighted many tourists who flocked there.
A Special Note
The nation of Venezuela might be the most significant Venetian namesake. Most sources agreed that Amerigo Vespucci, navigator for the Alonso de Ojeda expedition of 1499 bestowed the name. Supposedly he noticed stilt houses built upon Lake Maracaibo that reminded him of the Italian City so he named it Veneziola ("Little Venice"). This became Venezuela when filtered through Spanish. Amerigo fared even better however, with a little corner of the world known as America named in his honor.
Occasionally Twelve Mile Circle likes to feature lesser known architectural styles in articles such as Rock Cut, Pueblo Deco, Egyptian Rivival and Octagons. I came across another one I found both fascinating and rare that I wanted to share: Moorish Revival. This design became modestly popular during the second half of the Nineteenth Century and the first half of the Twentieth Century. Europeans and North Americans looked nostalgically upon Middle Eastern themes and it reflected in their architecture too. Onion domes, horseshoe arches and ornate design elements came from the Moors, a medieval Islamic culture from North Africa and Spain. Architects found the style particularly suitable for theaters, synagogues and the temples of fraternal organizations. I selected a single example from each category.
Georgians always loved opera and long flocked to their magnificent theater in Tbilisi (map). The opera house first opened in 1851 at the beginning of the Moorish Revival although it underwent several stressful episodes during its history. It burned twice. It also survived Russian and Soviet occupations. It then nearly fell during Georgia’s 1991 civil war:
"One day a group of paramilitaries gunned down the front door, telling us they needed the opera for shelter," he remembers. "After the gunmen left we had no front door and a wall riddled with bullets. When we opened again after the fighting, I wanted to cover that wall in glass and put up a big sign saying: ‘This is not how you treat culture."
The opera house underwent an extensive multi-year renovation recently, reopening in January 2016.
I wondered why so many of the notable synagogues built in the 1800’s adopted Moorish Revival designs. The Museum of the Jewish People provided an explanation.
The style of these synagogues, inspired from the oriental architecture, especially Moorish, was intended to evocate the glorious past of the Jewish people in the land of Israel and in medieval Spain, while the size and location of the synagogues in the city centers expressed the newly acquired legal status and social respectability of the Jewish community.
The Great Synagogue of Stockholm (map) offered an excellent case study. The building held 900 people at a time when "the entire Jewish community of Stockholm had less than two thousands members." The year of its completion, 1870, also coincided with the lifting of the last legal restriction placed on Sweden’s Jews.
Masonic organizations — branches of the Freemasons — came in many different forms and affiliations. The Shriners offshoot began in the 1870’s in New York City. This happened during a height of fascination with Middle Eastern themes.
Billy Florence had been on tour in France, and had been invited to a party given by an Arabian diplomat. The exotic style, flavors and music of the Arabian-themed party inspired him to suggest this as a theme for the new fraternity. Walter Fleming, a devoted fraternity brother, built on Fleming’s ideas and used his knowledge of fraternal ritual to transform the Arabian theme into the Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine (A.A.O.N.M.S.).
They adopted Moorish trappings, most famously the red fezzes they wore on their heads. Their logo also featured a scimitar and crescent. Their fraternal meeting places became Neo-Moorish monuments they called temples. The Tripoli Shrine Temple in Milwaukee, Wisconsin followed these principals upon its construction in 1928 (map). It attempted to emulate the Taj Mahal. Oddly while the Taj Mahal was Mughal not Moorish, I guess it was considered "close enough" to be lumped in with Neo-Moorish when adapted in the US.
If 12MC had to pick a place that went most completely overboard with Moorish Revival themes, I would respectfully bestow the title upon Opa-locka, Florida (map). Glenn Curtiss, its founder, had already been a successful aviation pioneer and entrepreneur. He then developed several towns in Florida during the latter part of his career.
Curtiss’s interests were not restricted just to vehicles of transportation. In 1921, he essentially left the aviation business and moved to Florida to become a highly-successful land developer. With friends, he developed the Florida cities of Hialeah, Miami Springs, and Opa-Locka. Opa-Locka was intended to be his crowning achievement, a planned community resembling something from the Arabian Nights.
Curtis built his Opa-locka dream world north of Miami. It even reflected his passion in street names such as Sinbad Avenue, Caliph Street, Ali Baba Avenue and Aladdin Street. Municipal buildings, shopping centers and residences alike adopted a Neo-Moorish style unrivaled anywhere outside of the Middle East. They were all thoroughly Americanized of course. Oddly the name of the town itself came from its earlier Native American inhabitants, from a Seminole phrase meaning "a big island covered with many trees and swamps."
The city fell into a long, steady decline after an adjacent Naval Air Station closed in the 1950’s. NPR reported in June 2016 that the state took control of Opa-locka’s finances and targeted city officials for corruption investigations. Many of its residents lived in poverty in those Arabian Nights houses. What a shame.
I selected US Route 23 through Ohio as we drove back from Michigan. This would have been a long detour in normal circumstances. However I wanted to count a few new counties so I cut through a quiet slice of the state. Hours passed, boredom hovered nearby and I invented little non sequiturs to pass the time.
Lame Dad Jokes became routine. I’m a trained master of Dad Jokes, the worse the better. Each new attempt drew eye rolls from the back seat and only encouraged me more. Then I found Waldo (map). I rarely spotted Waldo in those puzzle pictures. My brain didn’t work that way. Even so I clearly noticed a large sign pointing to a highway exit for Waldo, the township in Marion County, Ohio. A repeated string of "Where’s Waldo? — There’s Waldo" left my lips as I pointed to the sign to the kids’ complete indifference. Barely 300 people lived in Waldo although that made little difference. I only needed that large green side along a lonely highway as entertainment for the next fifteen minutes.
According to The History of Marion County, Ohio (1883), "Waldo was laid out in 1831, by Milo D. Pettibone, and named after his son Waldo." I felt sorry for a family with a Milo and a Waldo. I supposed if someone named me Milo I’d also call my kid Waldo out of spite.
The search for more Waldos began in earnest once I returned. I didn’t realize I’d already captured one, a big one, in Maine (map). Waldo County got its name from the colonial-era Waldo Patent, a land grant to an aristocratic military officer, Samuel Waldo. I traveled extensively through Maine several years ago. One day-trip brought me to Fort Knox — not the one with the gold — a different one. This Fort Knox perched high above the Penobscot River, protecting inland towns during the War of 1812. It sat adjacent to the very modern Penobscot Narrows Bridge and Observatory. The views from the observatory deserved a detour.
On the other hand, I’d probably try to avoid Waldo, Florida (map) although the situation improved recently. The Waldo police created quite a moneymaking operation at the height of their speed trap, one of the worst in the nation. CBS News reported that "Waldo’s seven police officers wrote nearly 12,000 speeding tickets [in 2013], collecting more than $400,000 in fines – a third of the town’s revenue." They also ran afoul of the law because they practiced a ticket quote system specifically prohibited by the State of Florida. Waldo disbanded its police force in 2014.
I’m still not sure I’d trust driving through there.
Some Waldos hid better than others. Oregon’s Waldo (map) disappeared by the 1930’s and quickly became a ghost town. It began with promise, even serving as the county’s seat of government during its heyday in the latter half of the 19th Century. Waldo depended on mining and the mines eventually played-out, and everyone left. Nothing remained except for a couple of cemeteries and an historical marker. The town started with a different name, Sailor’s Diggings, for the people who flocked there after the discovery of gold. They changed it to Waldo because of the most significant event in its brief history. The frontier hadn’t been mapped precisely. Nobody knew exactly where the border fell and residents assumed they lived in California. William Waldo, the Whig candidate for California governor thought so too. He came to Sailor’s Diggings to campaign in 1853.
Town officials with a sense of humor learned of the mistake and chose to honor Waldo, the man who courted California votes in Oregon.
The Waldo game could be played internationally too. A tiny sliver of Bolivia called Waldo Ballivián Municipality (map) existed in the Pacajes Province of the La Paz Department. Maybe a couple of thousand people lived there. I found a YouTube video featuring Waldo Ballivián. People danced, they packaged Quinoa and other Andean grains, they also talked a lot into a microphone. I couldn’t speak Spanish although they looked excited about something. Upon further digging and after liberal use of Google Translate it seemed they’d just received a new packaging machine. This would be quite useful in Waldo Ballivián, one of the poorest corners of the nation.