Venice is the capital of the province of Venezia and the region of Veneto in northern Italy. It is one of the world’s oldest and most popular tourist destinations and was the greatest seaport in Medieval Europe. The city is situated on the 118 islands of the Venetian Lagoon and is criss-crossed by more than 150 canals and 400 bridges.
The settlement was established in the fifth and sixth centuries after barbarian invasions from the north drove the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside onto the islands of the lagoon.
In 466 a council of 12 townships was elected to give the refugee settlements a semblance of order. By 726 the first Doge, Orso, was elected to rule over the lagoon townships. This election was an act of defiance towards the Byzantine empire which threatened to capture the region. Independence was asserted more clearly in 828 when the several citizens of the lagoon stole the remnants of St Mark from Alexandria. To house these relics, work began on the Basilica di San Marco.
The city grew as a significant trading port and began to eclipse the Byzantine Empire in importance. The Crusades at the end of the eleventh century allowed the Venetians to gain control of trade routes across the Mediterranean. The Venetian trading empire expanded across the Aegean islands, Peleponesia, Crete and part of Constantinople and Venice also controlled many coastal forts on the Greek mainland.
The expansion of Venetian trade and the aggressive tactics displayed by the city’s traders encroached upon the trade of the Byzantine Empire and the emperor encouraged traders from Pisa and Genoa to compete. During the ensuing centuries Venice vied with Genoa for maritime supremacy. In 1380 the Venetians defeated the Genoans and subsequently turned their attention towards the mainland. They captured and colonized Veneto and much of Lombardia and Emilia-Romagna.
In the fifteenth century the Ottoman empire’s expansion coupled with Venice’s involvement in costly wars with other Italian city-states did much to harm the city’s ports of trade. Within a century the Venetian Republic had lost all its ports in the Mediterranean, and had embarked upon a lengthy decline in power and prosperity.
The end of the Venetian republic came in 1797 when Napoléon handed Venice to the Austrians. The last doge was deposed in May that year. Venice became a part of Napoléon’s Italian Kingdom in 1805. After his defeat Venice reverted once more to Austrian rule and was eventually incorporated into the unified kingdom of Italy in 1866.
Since this time there has been a constant struggle between those who want to modernize the city and those who wish to protect its treasures. In the post-war era the problem has been compounded by environmental factors, most notably those of flooding, subsidence and pollution. Since the severe floods of Nov. 1966 there have been genuine fears that the city could be lost forever, and several international initiatives have been launched to rescue Venice from the damaging effects of the environment.
Aeroporto di Venezia Marco Polo is 10 km from Venice and 25 km from Treviso. The Stazione Santa Lucia is located alongside the Canal Grande in Cannaregio and is directly linked with Padova, Verona, Trieste and Bologna. The Venice Simplon-Orient Express travels across Europe to and from major city destinations such as London, Paris Florence, Rome and Prague.
The A4 connects the city to the west and east of the country, the A13 runs to Padova, the A4 approaches Venice from the south and the A27 comes from the north.
Vaporetti are Venice’s answer to buses. Vaporetto 1 makes the journey from Piazzale Roma, up the Canal Grande to San Marco and then on to the Lido. Water Taxis are expensive but easily available. Gondolas are intrinsically and romantically linked with travel around Venice, but they are expensive.
Since the turn of the nineteenth century tourism has been of vital importance to the city’s economy. Arthur Symons once remarked that ‘A realist, in Venice would become a romantic, by mere faithfulness to what he saw before him’ and this mythical, romantic aspect to the city has appealed to visitors from all over the world. The negative side of this profitable industry is that there is very little in the local economy that does not depend on tourists for revenue, and the city has dwindled in population for decades.
Other industries include glassworking, lacemaking, textiles and the manufacture of furniture.
Places of Interest
Piazza San Marco has been the focal point of Venetian administration for over a millennium. Basilica di San Marco, which dominates the eastern side of the Piazza, is the cathedral church of the city. It was commissioned by Doge Domenico Contarini in the eleventh century. The original basilica dates back to the ninth century.
The Palazzo Ducale was the residence of the Doges until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797. This Venetian-gothic palace houses paintings by artists such as Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese.
The Bell Tower of St. Mark is known as ‘El paron de casa’ (the lord of the house) and this massive structure dominates Piazza San Marco.
The Bridge of Sighs, which spans the Rio di Palazzo, was built in about 1600 by Antonio Contino. It is said that prisoners, crossing the bridge from the Palazzo Ducale on their way to the prison on the other side, would sigh at their last sight of the lagoon.
Titian’s Assumption hangs above the altar in the church Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari where he is buried. Other works on show include the Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro and a statue of John the Baptist by Donatello.
The baroque Santa Maria della Salute stands at the point where the Grand Canal opens into the San Marco Basin. Its construction was begun in the 1631 by Baldassare Longhena in honour of the Virgin Mary. The Festa della Salute takes place every year on 21 Nov. City workers lay a pontoon bridge over the Grand Canal from the San Marco district to the church. Venetians parade to pay tribute to the continued health of the city and the Virgin Mary.
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is the biggest Venetian museum and is housed in the former church of Santa Maria della Carità. Its collection contains works by Giovanni Bellini, Tintoretto, Paolo Veneziano, Titian and Paulo Veronese.
The extensive Peggy Guggenheim modern art Collection was bequeathed to the city in 1979 and includes works by Picasso, Kandinsky, Chagall, Klee, Mirò and Dali.
The Correr Museum is housed in the Palazzo Pesaro. It is a civic museum and houses many important Venetian exhibits.
The Libreria Sansoviniani is located at the west side of the Piazetta di San Marco. It was designed by Jacopo Sansovino and built in the sixteenth century. Inside the Libreria Sansoviniani are the Libreria Marciana and the city’s archaeological museum.