Just before you cross the lagoon, on the long road and Rail Bridge leading to Venice, you’ll find “Mestre”. It’s a built-up area that has developed around the major economic activities of Venice’s mainland, with a port, shipyards, large factories and refineries that have sprung up near the new commercial port and the Marghera.
We know very little about the ancient settlement of Mestre as the earliest documents that mention it only date back to the year 1000. What is certain, though, is that it was an important crossroads for trade between the lagoon and the mainland. The port of Cavergnago grew up on the nearby Marzenego River and became a major defensive fortress during the middle ages, when the two castles of Castelvecchio and Castelnuovo were built. Today, only a few ruins of the old walls and 11 towers still remain. The only, very visible trace of the past is the Torre dell’Orologio, at one end of Piazza Ferretto.
Mestre was important for defending Venice from threats from the land, first under Venetian rule and later as part of the Austrian Empire. To strengthen Mestre’s defences, a series of fortifications known as the ‘entrenched camp’ were built. There’s an interesting cycling route across the surrounding countryside and forest that you can take to visit these structures, which were still being used during the First World War.
The Forte Marghera, with its large network of moats, stands next to the Parco San Giuliano and is well worth a visit. Nowadays it’s used for shows and concerts, particularly in the evenings. There are also plenty of places inside where you can grab a bite to eat.
The city centre is home to all sorts of shops where it is guaranteed to have something to suit every fan of retail therapy, while also being less touristy than nearby Venice.
As for road and rail links, it’s a convenient destination for visitors who want to get to Venice by public transport as, obviously, all of the trains to and from Venice pass through Mestre station. It’s also close to the airport and has plenty of hotels. And besides that, it makes a great base for visiting the neighbouring cities of Padua and Treviso.