Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Aerial view of Venice including the bridge to the mainland

The Ponte dei Sospiri, the "Bridge of Sighs".

Venice is world-famous for its canals. It is built on an archipelago of 118 islands formed by 177 canals in a shallow lagoon. The islands on which the city is built are connected by about 400 bridges. 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 railway 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 urban car free 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. Most Venetians now travel by motorised waterbuses (vaporetti) which ply regular routes along the major canals and between the city's islands. Many gondolas are lushly appointed with crushed velvet seats and Persian rugs. Gondoliers typically charge between 80 and 100 euros for a 35 minute "giro" or excursion around some canals. The city also has many private boats. The only gondolas still in common use by Venetians are the traghetti, foot passenger ferries crossing the Grand Canal at certain points without bridges. Visitors can also take the watertaxis between areas of the city.

Public transportation

Azienda Consorzio Trasporti Veneziano (ACTV) is the name of the public transport system in Venice. It combines both land transportation, with buses, and canal travel, with water buses (vaporetti). In total, there are 25 routes which connect the city. A one way pass good for one hour costs 6.50 €; longer term passes for 12 to 72 hours are available, costing 14 to 31 €. An even better deal is the "Venice Card" for 7 days, starting at 47.50 €, which includes unlimited vaporetto travel.

Venice also has water taxis, which are fast but quite expensive.


Venice is served by the newly rebuilt Marco Polo International Airport, or Aeroporto di Venezia Marco Polo, named in honor of its famous citizen. The airport is on the mainland and was rebuilt away from the coast; however, the water taxis or Alilaguna waterbuses to Venice are only a seven-minute walk from the terminals.

Some airlines market Treviso Airport in Treviso, 20 km from Venice, as a Venice gateway. Some simply advertise flights to "Venice" without naming the actual airport except in the small print.


Venice is serviced by regional and national trains. One of the easiest ways to travel from Rome or other large Italian cities is to use the train. Rome is only slightly over four hours away; Milan is slightly over two and a half hours away. Treviso is thirty-five minutes away. Florence and Padua are two of the stops between Rome and Venice. The St. Lucia station is a few steps away from a vaporetti stop.


Venice is a no car zone, being built on the water. Cars can reach the car/bus terminal via the bridge (Ponte della Liberta) (SR11). It comes in from the West from Mestre. There are two parking lots which serve the city: Tronchetto and Piazzale Roma. Cars can be parked there anytime for around €30 per day. A ferry to Lido leaves from the parking lot in Tronchetto and it is served by vaporetti and buses of the public transportation.

View of Venice from St Mark's Campanile.


Sestieri of Venice:
San Marco
San Polo
Santa Croce

The city is divided into six areas or "sestiere". These are Cannaregio, San Polo, Dorsoduro (including the Giudecca and Isola Sacca Fisola), Santa Croce, San Marco (including San Giorgio Maggiore) and Castello (including San Pietro di Castello and Sant'Elena). Each sestiere was administered by a procurator and his staff.

These districts consist of parishes — initially seventy in 1033, but reduced under Napoleon and now numbering just thirty-eight. These parishes predate the sestieri, which were created in about 1170.

Other islands of the Venetian Lagoon do not form part of any of the sestieri, having historically enjoyed a considerable degree of autonomy.

Each sestiere has its own house numbering system. Each house has a unique number in the district, from one to several thousand, generally numbered from one corner of the area to another, but not usually in a readily understandable manner.

At the front of the Gondolas that work in the city there is a large piece of metal intended as a likeness of the Doge's hat. On this sit six notches pointing forwards and one pointing backwards. Each of these represent one of the Sestieri (the one which points backwards represents the Giudecca).

Sinking of Venice

Acqua Alta or high water in Venice.
Venice and surroundings in false color, from Terra. The picture is oriented with North at the top.

The buildings of Venice are constructed on closely spaced wood piles, which were imported from the mainland. (Under water, in the absence of oxygen, wood does not decay. It is petrified as a result of the constant flow of mineral-rich water around and through it, so that it becomes a stone-like structure.) The piles penetrate a softer layer of sand and mud until they reach the much harder layer of compressed clay. Wood for piles was cut in the most western part of today's Slovenia, resulting in the barren land in a region today called Kras, and in two regions of Croatia, Lika and Gorski kotar (resulting in the barren slopes of Velebit). Most of these piles are still intact after centuries of submersion. The foundations rest on the piles, 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 early spring.

Six hundred years ago, Venetians protected themselves from land-based attacks by diverting all the major rivers flowing into the lagoon and thus preventing sediment from filling the area around the city. This created an ever-deeper lagoon environment.

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 subside. It was realized 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 former staircases used by people to unload goods are now flooded, rendering the former ground floor uninhabitable.

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 the Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi inaugurated the MOSE project (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico), an experimental model for evaluating the performance of inflatable gates; the idea is to lay a series of 79 inflatable pontoons across the sea bed at the three entrances to the lagoon. When tides are predicted to rise above 110 centimetres, the pontoons will be filled with air and block the incoming water from the Adriatic sea. This engineering work is due to be completed by 2011.

Some experts say that the best way to protect Venice is to physically lift the City to a greater height above sea level, by pumping water into the soil underneath the city.This way, some hope, it could rise above sea levels, protecting it for hundreds of years, and eventually the MOSE project may not be necessary (it will, controversially, alter the tidal patterns in the lagoon, damaging some wildlife). A further point about the "lifting" system would be that it would be permanent; the MOSE Project is, by its very nature, a temporary system: it is expected to protect Venice for only 100 years.

In 1604, to defray the cost of flood relief Venice introduced what could be considered the first example of what became elsewhere a 'stamp tax'. When the revenue fell short of expectations in 1608 Venice introduced paper with the superscription 'AQ' and imprinted instructions which was to be used for 'letters to officials'. Initially this was to be a temporary tax but in fact remained in effect to the fall of the Republic in 1797. Shortly after the introduction of the tax Spain produced similar paper for more general taxation purposes and the practice spread to other countries.


Weather data for Venice
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Average high °C (°F) 6
Average low °C (°F) -1
Precipitation mm (inches) 58
Source:[14] 2008



While there are no historical records that deal directly with the origins of Venice, the available evidence has led several historians to agree that the original population of Venice comprised refugees from Roman cities such as Padua, Aquileia, Altino and Concordia (modern Portogruaro) who were fleeing successive waves of Germanic invasions and Huns. Some late Roman sources reveal the existence of fishermen on the islands in the original marshy lagoons. They were referred to as incolae lacunae (lagoon dwellers).

Beginning in 166-168, the Quadi and Marcomanni destroyed the main center in the area, the current Oderzo. The Roman defences were again overthrown in the early 5th century by the Visigoths and, some 50 years later, by the Huns led by Attila. The last and most enduring irruption was that of the Lombards in 568, leaving the Eastern Roman Empire a small strip of coast in the current Veneto, and the main administrative and religious entities were therefore transferred to this remaining dominion. New ports were built, including those at Malamocco and Torcello in the Venetian lagoon.

The Byzantine domination of central and northern Italy was subsequently largely eliminated by the conquest of the Exarchate of Ravenna in 751 by Aistulf. During this period, the seat of the local Byzantine governor (the "duke/dux", later "doge") was situated in Malamocco. Settlement on the islands in the lagoon probably increased in correspondence with the Lombard conquest of the Byzantine territories.

In 775-776, the bishopric seat of Olivolo (Helipolis) was created. During the reign of duke Agnello Particiaco (811-827) the ducal seat was moved from Malamocco to the highly protected Rialto (Rivoalto, "High Shore") island, the current location of Venice. The monastery of St. Zachary and the first ducal palace and basilica of St. Mark, as well as a walled defense (civitatis murus) between Olivolo and Rialto were subsequently built here. Winged lions which may be seen in Venice are a symbol for St. Mark

In 828, the new city's prestige was raised by the acquisition of the claimed relics of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, which were placed in the new basilica. The patriarchal seat was also moved to Rialto. As the community continued to develop and as Byzantine power waned, it led to the growth of autonomy and eventual independence.

Piazza San Marco in Venice, with St Mark's Campanile in the background.

These Horses of Saint Mark are a replica of the Triumphal Quadriga captured in Constantinople in 1204 and carried to Venice as a trophy.


From the ninth to the twelfth century Venice developed into a city state (an Italian thalassocracy or Repubblica Marinara, the other three being Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi). Its strategic position at the head of the Adriatic made Venetian naval and commercial power almost invulnerable. The city became a flourishing trade center between Western Europe and the rest of the world (especially the Byzantine Empire and the Islamic world).

In the 12th century the foundations of Venice's power were laid: the Venetian Arsenal was under construction in 1104; the last autocratic doge, Vitale Michiele, died in 1172.

The Republic of Venice seized a number of locations on 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 of Duke of Dalmatia and Duke of Istria. Later mainland possessions, which extended across Lake Garda as far west as the Adda River, were known as the "Terraferma", and were acquired partly as a buffer against belligerent neighbours, 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 dominated the trade in salt,[3] acquired control of most of the islands in the Aegean, including Cyprus and 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 remained closely associated with Constantinople, being twice granted trading privileges in the Eastern Roman Empire, through the so-called Golden Bulls or 'chrysobulls' in return for aiding the Eastern Empire to resist Norman and Turkish incursions. In the first chrysobull Venice acknowledged its homage to the Empire but not in the second, reflecting the decline of Byzantium and the rise of Venice's power.

Venice became an imperial power following the Fourth Crusade, which seized Constantinople in 1204, and established the Latin Empire. In 1204 the Venetians sacked the city and brought great quantities of booty back to Venice. Following this, the former Roman Empire was partitioned among the Latin crusaders and the Venetians. Venice subsequently carved out a sphere of influence known as the Duchy of the Archipelago, and seized Crete. This seizure of Constantinople would ultimately prove as decisive a factor in ending the Byzantine Empire as the loss of the Anatolian themes after Manzikert. Though the Byzantines recovered control of the ravaged city a half century later, the Byzantine Empire was greatly weakened, and existed as a ghost of its old self, struggling on with the help, among other things, of loans from Venice (never repaid) until Sultan Mehmet The Conqueror took the city in 1453. Considerable Byzantine plunder was brought back to Venice, including the gilt bronze horses which were placed above the entrance to St Mark's cathedral.

View of San Giorgio Maggiore Island from St. Mark's Campanile.

Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Venice always traded with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world extensively. By the late thirteenth century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. At the peak of its power and wealth, it had 36,000 sailors operating 3,300 ships, dominating Mediterranean commerce. During this time, Venice's leading families vied with each other to build the grandest palaces and support the work of the greatest and most talented artists. The city was governed by the Great Council, which was made up of members of the noble families of Venice. The Great Council appointed all public officials and elected a Senate of 200 to 300 individuals. Since this group was too large for efficient administration, a Council of Ten (also called the Ducal Council or the Signoria), controlled much of the administration of the city. One member of the great council was elected "Doge", or duke, the ceremonial head of the city, who normally held the title until his death.

The Venetian governmental structure was similar in some ways to the republican system of ancient Rome, with an elected chief executive (the Doge), a senate-like assembly of nobles, and a mass of citizens with limited political power, who originally had the power to grant or withhold their approval of each newly elected Doge. 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 separate, except when on occasion the Doge personally headed the military. 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, and later its reliance on foreign mercenaries when the ruling class was preoccupied with commerce).

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo.

The chief executive was the Doge, who theoretically held his elective office for life. In practice, several 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 Venice's frequent conflicts with the Papacy. Venice was threatened with the interdict on a number of occasions and twice suffered its imposition. The second, most 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.

The newly-invented German printing press spread rapidly throughout Europe in the fifteenth century, and Venice was quick to adopt it. By 1482 Venice was the printing capital of the world, and the leading printer was Aldus Manutius, who invented the concept of paperback books that could be carried in a saddlebag. His Aldine Editions included translations of nearly all the known Greek manuscripts of the era.


Venice’s long decline started in the 15th century, when it first made an unsuccessful attempt to hold Thessalonica against the Ottomans (1423-1430). She also sent ships to help defend Constantinople against the besieging Turks (1453). After the city fell to Sultan Mehmet II he declared war on Venice. The war lasted thirty years and cost Venice much of her eastern Mediterranean possessions. Next, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. Then Portugal found a sea route to India, destroying Venice’s land route monopoly. France, England and Holland followed them. Venice’s oared galleys had no advantage when it came to traversing the great oceans. She was left behind in the race for colonies.

The Black Death devastated Venice in 1348 and once again between 1575 and 1577. In three years the plague killed some 50,000 people. In 1630, the plague killed a third of Venice's 150,000 citizens. Venice began to lose its position as a center of international trade during the later part of the Renaissance as Portugal became Europe's principal intermediary in the trade with the East, striking at the very foundation of Venice's great wealth, while France and Spain fought for hegemony over Italy in the Italian Wars, marginalising its political influence. However, the Venetian empire was a major exporter of agricultural products and, until the mid-18th century, a significant manufacturing center.

Military and naval affairs

Historic map of Venice by Piri Reis

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 as 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 (the very famous Schiavoni or Oltremarini)[9] 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.

By 1450, more than 3,000 Venetian merchant ships were in operation. 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 armour; 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.

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 effective in Italy, largely because of the tradition of all classes carrying arms in defense of the city and official encouragement of general military training.

Venice, by Bolognino Zaltieri, 1565.

The command structure in the army was different from that of the fleet. By ancient law, no nobleman could command more than twenty-five men (to prevent the possibility of 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 Savi or "wise men". Not only was efficiency not degraded, this policy saved Venice from the military takeovers that other Italian 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.

Modern era

A map of the sestiere of San Marco.

After 1,070 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: during the Settecento (18th century) 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, although it can be argued they had lived with fewer restrictions in Venice. 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 Austrian territory 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, when it became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. In 1848-1849 a revolt briefly reestablished the Venetian Republic under Daniele Manin. In 1866, following the Third Italian War of Independence, Venice, along with the rest of the Veneto, became part of the newly created Kingdom of Italy.

During the Second World War, the city was largely free from attack, the only aggressive effort of note being Operation Bowler, a precision strike on the German naval operations there in 1945. Venice was finally liberated by New Zealand troops under Freyberg on 29 April, 1945


Comune di Venezia
Panorama of Venice

Coat of arms
Venice is located in Italy

Venice (Italian: Venezia, IPA: /ve'nĪµttsia/, Venetian: Venesia) is a city in northern Italy, the capital of the region Veneto, a population of 271,367 (census estimate January 1, 2004). Together with Padua, the city is included in the Padua-Venice Metropolitan Area (population 1,600,000). The city historically was an independent nation. Venice has been known as the "La Dominante", "Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Bridges", and "The City of Light". Luigi Barzini, writing in The New York Times, described it as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man".

The city stretches across 118 small islands in the marshy Venetian 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 population estimate of 272,000 inhabitants includes the population of the whole Comune of Venezia; around 62,000 in the historic city of Venice (Centro storico); 176,000 in Terraferma (the Mainland), mostly in the large frazione of Mestre and Marghera; and 31,000 live on other islands in the lagoon.

The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain and spice trade) and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century. Venice is also famous for its musical, particularly operatic, history, and its most famous son in this field is Antonio Vivaldi.