The Origins of Venice

It is difficult to trace back the founding of Venice to an exact date. With the fall of the Roman Empire and the invasion of Germanic tribes and Huns from the north, many of the residents of what is now Veneto fled to the protected Venetian lagoon. The first settlements were founded on the islands of Torcello, Murano and Lido. In 697 a new city on the central group of islands at Rivus Altus – the Venice of today was born. In 726 Venetians elected their own ruler which they called the Doge. Ursus was the first of 117 “doges” (doge is the Venetian dialect development of the Latin dux).

Rise of the Queen of the Adriatic

An agreement between Charlemagne and the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus in 814 recognized Venice as Byzantine territory and granted the city trading rights along the Adriatic coast. In 814, as a result of skillful Venetian diplomacy, Byzantium finally granted Venice political independence. In 828 Venetian merchants stole the bones of St. Mark the Evangelist from Alexandria, who became Venice’s patron saint. His symbol, the winged lion, was from now on the landmark of Venice.
From the 9th to the 12th century, Venice developed into a city state (an Italian thalassocracy or Repubblica Marinara: the other three of these were Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi). The city became a flourishing trade center between Western Europe and the rest of the world.
Living on the water, the Venetians were skilled sailors and merchants. With some 150,000 inhabitants, Venice itself had grown to become the third largest city in Europe after Paris and Naples.
At the peak of its power and wealth, it had 36,000 sailors operating 3,300 ships, dominating Mediterranean commerce. The city was governed by the Great Council, which was made up of members of the noble families of Venice. A Council of Ten (also called the Ducal Council or the Signoria), controlled much of the administration of the city. The best commercial and strategic location on the Grand Canal, where it meets the Lagoon, was selected as the spot for the Doge’s residence, and in 814 grandiose Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s palace) was built.

Destruction of the proud naval power

Venice’s long decline started in the 15th century. In 1453 the tide began to turn with the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans. Venice was involved in a 300-year war against the Turks and Venice slipped increasingly into political isolation. The Venetian empire began to crumble across the board. The Black Death devastated Venice between 1575 and 1577. In three years, the plague killed some 50,000 people. Venice finally gave up its possessions in the Mediterranean region and focused on defending its territory around the lagoon.

Venice from modern times to the present day

During the 18th century, Venice became perhaps the most elegant and refined city in Europe, greatly influencing art, architecture and literature. But the Republic lost its independence when Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice on 12 May 1797 during the First Coalition. Napoleon looted the city before giving it to the Austrians, who incorporated Venice into the Habsburg Empire until 1866. In 1866, after the Third Italian War of Independence, Venice, along with the rest of the Veneto, became part of the newly created Kingdom of Italy.
With the onset of tourism in the second half of the 20th century, the recent rise of the lagoon city began, which has continued to the present day.


The buildings of Venice are constructed on closely spaced wooden piles. Most of these piles are still intact after centuries of submersion. The foundations rest on plates of Istrian limestone placed on top of the piles, and buildings of brick or stone sit above these footings. The piles penetrate a softer layer of sand and mud until they reach a much harder layer of compressed clay. Submerged by water, in oxygen-poor conditions, wood does not decay as rapidly as on the surface. Most of these piles were made from trunks of alder trees, a wood noted for its water resistance.

The influence of Byzantine art

The mere sight of St. Mark’s Basilica with its five domes and numerous Byzantine mosaics clearly shows the influence of Byzantine art in Venice. Domes, mosaics, sculptures, Byzantine spoils and many other elements bear witness to the Byzantine cultural influence in Venetian art.

Gothic art in Venice

Gothic art is easily recognisable to visitors on the facades of many buildings. Officially, there is just one palace in Venice – Palazzo Ducale – the buildings, modestly called “Casa” are very similar to palaces. But a number of churches, like the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari and the Santi Giovanni e Paolo, also number among the greatest examples of the late Gothic period in Venice.

Renaissance art in Venice

To be mentioned here are only the facades of Il Redentore, San Francesco and San Giorgio Maggiore churches, which the famous master Palladio designed himself. The influence of the Renaissance on painting was considerably more important. Great artists such as Jacopo and Gentile Bellini, Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Paolo Veronese supplied the Doge and the numerous churches, noblemen and wealthy citizens with their works of art.

In the following centuries it was primarily Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and his son Domenico who significantly influenced Venetian art. The Santa Maria della Salute, the most important Baroque church in Venice, was finally built in the 18th century.

Must see in Venice

1. tour vaporetto gran canale
2. ponte di Rialto
3. piazza San Marco
4. campanile di San Marco
5. ponte dei sospiri
6. galleria dell’Accademia
7. ghetto
8. gran teatro La Fenice
9. palazzo ducale
10. San Rocco
11. San Giorgio Maggiore
12. Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
13. sestiere dorso duro
14. Santa Maria della Salute
15. National archeological museum
16. Casa dei tre oci
17. Ca’ Giustinian – la Biennale

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