Best of Venice Italy - Venezia Italia
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Venice (Italian Venezia), the city of canals, is the capital of the region of
Veneto, population 271,073 (2001). The city stretches across numerous small islands in a marshy
lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. The saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between
the mouths of the Po (south) and the Piave (north) Rivers. The Venetian Republic was a major sea power and a
staging area for the Crusades, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially the
spice trade) and art in the Renaissance.
The city was founded as a result of the influx of refugees into the marshes of the
Po estuary following the invasion of northern Italy by the Lombards in
568. In the mid-8th century, the Venetians resisted the empire-building efforts of
Pepin III and remained subject to Byzantium, at least theoretically. As the community continued to develop
and as Byzantine power waned, however, an increasingly anti-Eastern
character emerged, leading to the growth of autonomy and eventual independence.
Venice was a city state (an Italian thalassocracy or Repubblica Marinara, the other three being
Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi). Its strategic position at head of the Adriatic made Venetian naval and commercial power almost
The Republic of Venice seized the eastern shores of the Adriatic before
1200, mostly for commercial reasons, because pirates based there were a menace to trade. The Doge already carried
the titles Duke of Dalmatia and Duke of Istria. Later mainland possessions, which
extended across Lake Garda as far west as the River Adda, were known as "Terra Firma", and
were acquired partly as a buffer against beligerent neighbors, partly to guarantee
Alpine trade routes, and partly to ensure the supply of mainland wheat, on which the city
depended. In building its maritime commercial empire, the Republic acquired control of most of the islands in the
Aegean, including Crete, and became a major power-broker in the
Near East. By the standards of the time, Venice's stewardship
of its mainland territories was relatively enlightened and the citizens of such towns as
Bergamo, Brescia, and Verona rallied to the defence of Venetian sovereignty when it was threatened by invaders.
Venice became an imperial power following the
Fourth Crusade, which (with Venetian aid) seized Constantinople in 1204 and established the
Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem. Only Venetian ships could efficiently transport the men, supplies, and
(especially) war horses.
The Venetian governmental structure was a mix of Byzantine and
Islamic systems, but the social order was entirely feudal. Church and various private properties were tied
to military service, though there was no knight tenure within the city itself. The Cavalieri di San Marco
was the only order of chivalry ever instituted in Venice, and no
citizen could accept or join a foreign order without the government's consent.
Venice remained a republic throughout its
independent period and politics and the military were kept completely separate. War was regarded as a
continuation of commerce by
other means (hence, the city's early production of large numbers of mercenaries for service elsewhere).
The chief executive was the Doge (duke), who, theoretically, held
his elective office for life. In practice, a number of Doges were forced by pressure from their
oligarchical peers to resign the office and retire into
monastic seclusion when they were felt to have been discredited by perceived political failure.
Though the people of Venice generally remained orthodox
Roman Catholics, the state of Venice was notable for its freedom from religious fanaticism and it enacted not
a single execution for religious heresy during the Counter-Reformation. This
apparent lack of zeal contributed to its frequently coming into conflict with the
Papacy. Venice was threatened with the interdict on a number of
occasions and twice suffered its imposition. The second, more famous, occasion was on
April 27, 1509, by order of Pope Julius II (see
League of Cambrai).
Venetian ambassadors sent home still-extant secret reports of the politics and rumours of European courts,
providing fascinating information to modern historians.
After 1070 years, the Republic lost its independence when
Napoleon Bonaparte on May 12, 1797, conquered Venice during the
First Coalition. The
French conqueror brought to an end the most fascinating century of its history: It was
during the "Settecento" that Venice became perhaps the most elegant and refined city in
Europe, greatly influencing art, architecture, and
literature. Napoleon was seen as something
of a liberator by the city's Jewish population. He removed the gates of the Ghetto and
ended the restrictions on when and where Jews could live and travel in the city.
Venice became part of the Austrian-held
Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio on
October 12 1797. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798. It was taken from Austria by
the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 and became part of Napoleon's
Kingdom of Italy, but was returned to Austria following Napoleon's defeat
in 1814. In 1866, along with the rest of Venetia,
Venice became part of Italy. After 1797, the city fell into a serious decline, with many of the
old palaces and other buildings
abandoned and falling into disrepair, although the
Lido became a popular beach resort in the late 19th century.
Naval and military affairs
By 1450, more than 3,000 Venetian merchant ships were in operation, and most of these
could be converted when necessary into either warships or transports. The government required each merchant ship
to carry a
specified number of weapons (mostly crossbows and javelins) and armor; merchant passengers were also expected to be armed and
to fight when necessary. A reserve of some 25 (later 100) war-galleys was maintained in the Arsenal. Galley slaves
did not exist in medieval Venice, the oarsmen coming from the city itself or from its possessions, especially Dalmatia. Those
from the city were chosen by lot from each parish, their families being supported by the remainder of the parish while the rowers
were away. Debtors generally worked off their obligations rowing the galleys. Rowing skills
were encouraged through races and regattas.
By 1303, crossbow practice had become compulsory in the city, with citizens training in
groups. As weapons became more expensive and complex to operate, professional soldiers were assigned to
help work merchant
sailing ships and as rowers in galleys. The company of "Noble Bowmen" was recruited in the later
14th century from among the younger aristocracy and
served aboard both war-galleys and armed merchantmen, with the privilege of sharing the captain's cabin.
Though Venice was famous for its navy, its army
was equally effective. In the 13th century, most Italian city states
already were hiring mercenaries, but Venetian troops were still recruited from
the lagoon, plus feudal levies from Dalmatia and Istria. In times of emergency,
all males between seventeen and sixty years were
registered and their weapons were surveyed, with those called to actually fight being organized into companies of twelve.
The register of 1338 estimated that 30,000 Venetian men were capable of bearing arms; many of
these were skilled crossbowmen. As in other Italian cities, aristocrats and other wealthy men were
cavalrymen while the city's conscripts fought as infantry.
Early in the 15th century, as new mainland territories were expanded,
the first standing army was organized, consisting of condottieri on
contract. In its alliance with Florence in 1426, Venice agreed to supply 8,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry in time of war,
and 3,000 and 1,000 in peacetime. Later
in that century, uniforms were adopted that featured red-and-white stripes, and a system of honors and pensions developed.
Throughout the 15th century, Venetian land forces were almost always on the offensive and were regarded as the most
Italy, largely because of the tradition of all classes carrying arms in defense of the city and official encouragement
The command structure in the army was different from that in the fleet. By ancient law, no nobleman could
command more than twenty-five men (to prevent against sedition by private armies), and while the
position of Captain General was introduced in the mid-14th century, he still had to answer to a civilian
panel of twenty "wise
men". Not only was efficiency not degraded, this policy saved Venice from the military takeovers that other
city states so often experienced. A civilian commissioner (not unlike a
commissar) accompanied each army to keep an eye on things, especially the
mercenaries. The Venetian military tradition also was notably cautious; they were more interested in
achieving success with a
minimum expense of lives and money than in the pursuit of glory.
Venice is famous for its canals. It is built on an archipelago of more than 100
islands in a shallow lagoon. In the old center, the canals serve the function of roads, and every form of
transport is on water or on foot. In the 19th century a causeway to the mainland brought a
railroad station to Venice, and an automobile causeway and
parking lot was added in the 20th century. Beyond these land entrances at
the northern edge of the city, transportation within the city remains, as it was in centuries past,
entirely on water or on foot.
Venice is Europe's largest carfree area, unique in Europe in
remaining a sizable functioning city in the 21st century entirely without
motorcars or trucks.
The classical Venetian boat is the gondola,
although it is now mostly used for tourists, or for weddings, funerals, or other ceremonies, due to its cost.
Most Venetians now
travel by motorised waterbuses ("vaporetti") which ply regular routes along the major canals and between
the city's islands. The
city also has many private boats. The only unmotorized gondolas still in common use by Venetians are the
passenger ferries crossing the Grand Canal of Venice at certain points without bridges.
Venice is served by the newly rebuilt Marco Polo International Airport, or Aeroporto di Venezia Marco Polo,
honor of its famous citizen. The airport is on the mainland and was rebuilt away from the coast so that visitors
now need to get
a bus to the pier, from which watertaxi or Aliliguna waterbus can be used.
Places of note
The sestieri are the primary traditional divisions of Venice.
The city is divided into the six districts of
Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro (including the Giudecca),
San Marco and
Castello (including San Pietro di Castello and Santa Elena).
Piazzas and Campi
- Doge's Palace
- The Arsenal
- La Fenice opera house
- Palazzo Grassi
- Ca' d'Oro
- Ca' Rezzonico
- Peggy Guggenheim Collection museum
- Basilica di San Marco
The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark (officially known in Italian as the Basilica Cattedrale
Patriarcale di San Marco and commonly known as Saint Mark's Basilica) is the cathedral church of the
Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, northern Italy. It is the most famous of the city's churches and
one of the best known examples of Italo-Byzantine architecture. It lies at the eastern end of the
Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge's Palace. Originally it was the chapel of the Doge,
and has only been the city's cathedral since 1807, when it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice,
archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, formerly at San Pietro di Castello.
For its opulent design, gold ground mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power,
from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro (Church of gold).
- Other churches
Bridges and channels
- The Bridge of Sighs
- The Venetian Lagoon
- Islands of Murano, Burano, Torcello, Isola Di San
Sinking of Venice
The buildings of Venice are constructed on closely spaced poles (made of a wood specially chosen because
it strengthens with
age), or pilings, which penetrate alternating layers of clay and sand. Most of these pilings are intact after
centuries of submersion. The foundations rest on the pilings, and
buildings of brick or stone
sit above these footings. The buildings are often threatened by flood
tides pushing in from
the Adriatic between autumn and
During the 20th century, when many artesian wells were sunk into the periphery of the lagoon to draw water
for local industry, Venice began to
sink. It was realised that extraction of the aquifer was the cause. This sinking
process has slowed markedly since artesian wells were banned in the
1960s. However, the
city is still threatened by more frequent low-level floods (so-called Acqua alta, "high water")
that creep to a height of
several centimetres over its quays, regularly following certain tides. In many old houses the ground floor
is unoccupied due to
the periodic floods, but people continue to live and work in the upper stories.
Some recent studies have suggested that the city is no longer sinking, but this is not yet certain;
therefore, a state of
alert has not been revoked. In May 2003, Silvio Berlusconi, the Italian Prime Minister, inaugurated the "Moses" project,
which will lay a series
of 79 inflatable pontoons across the sea bed at the three entrances to the lagoon. When tides are predicted to rise
centimetres, the pontoons will be filled with air and block the incoming water from the Adriatic sea. This challenging
engineering work is due to be completed by 2011.
Venice in culture, the arts, and fiction
In the 14th century, many young Venetian men began wearing tight-fitting
multicolored hose, the designs on which indicated the Compagnie della Calza ("Trouser Club") to which they belonged.
passed sumptuary laws, but these merely resulted in changes in fashion in
order to circumvent the law. Dull garments were worn over colorful ones, which then were cut to show the hidden colors --
resulted in the wide spread of men's "slashed" fashions in the 15th
During the 16th century, Venice became one of the most important musical
centers of Europe, with the development of the Venetian polychoral style under composers such as
Adrian Willaert, who worked at San
Marco. Venice was the early center of music printing;
Petrucci began publishing music almost as soon as this technology was available, and his publishing enterprise helped to
attract composers from all over Europe, especially from
France and Flanders. By the end of the century, Venice was famous for the splendor of its music, as
exemplified in the "colossal style" of Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, which used multiple choruses and instrumental
- William Shakespeare's Othello and The Merchant of
- Death in Venice, a 1912 novel by Thomas Mann
- Nicolas Roeg's 1973 film Don't Look Now, based on a story by
Daphne du Maurier
- The city's patron is St. Mark the Evangelist.
- Venice is also famous world-wide for its unique Carnival.
- Venice and its lagoon are listed as World Heritage
Sites by UNESCO.
- Marco Polo (1254-1324), traveller.
- Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741), composer, musician.
- Canaletto (1697-1768), painter.
- Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798), legendary womanizer
- Hugo Pratt (1927-1995), cartoonist and creator of Corto Maltese
Foreign words of Venetian origin
- arsenal, ciao, ghetto, gondola, lagoon,
- "Venezuela" means "small Venice".
- Doges of Venice
- Venice Arsenal
- Venice Film Festival (This article incorporates some
information taken from http://www.hostkingdom.net by
- Venice Biennale
- List of places known as 'the Venice of something'
- Venetian School of music composition (1550-1610)
- Venetian polychoral style Music in St. Mark's
- Fourth Crusade
- Duchy of the Archipelago
- Chambers, D.S. (1970). The Imperial Age of Venice, 1380-1580. London: Thames & Hudson. The best brief
in English, still completely reliable.
- Contarini, Gasparo (1599). The Commonwealth and Gouernment of Venice. Lewes Lewkenor, trsl. London:
"Imprinted by I.
Windet for E. Mattes." The most important contemporary account of Venice's governance during the time of its
available in various reprint editions.
- Drechsler, Wolfgang (2002). "Venice Misappropriated." Trames 6(2), pp. 192-201. A scathing review
of Martin &
Romano 2000; also a good summary on the most recent economic and political thought on Venice.
- Grubb, James S. (1986). "When Myths Lose Power: Four Decades of Venetian Historiography." Journal of
58, pp. 43-94. The classic "muckraking" essay on the myths of Venice.
- Martin, John and Dennis Romano (eds). Venice Reconsidered. The History and Civilization of an Italian
1297-1797. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP. The most recent collection on essays, many by prominent scholars,
- Muir, Edward (1981). Civic Ritual in Renaissance Venice. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP. The classic of
studies, highly sophisticated.
- Rösch, Gerhard (2000). Venedig. Geschichte einer Seerepublik. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer. In German,
but the most recent
top-level brief history of Venice.