The History of Venice Italy - The Canal City That Mesmerizes

Historicalfacts.net: The History of Venice - The area to the north-west of the Adriatic Sea, where several rivers flow from the Alps, was inhabited since ancient times by fishermen and sailors. This area was part of the region created by Auguste X and was a religious center and important port.

The History of Venice Italy - The Canal City That Mesmerizes

The invasions of Alaric I Goths and Huns of Attila forced local populations to take refuge in the marsh islands along the Adriatic Sea, near the Po delta. In 452, the first institution was founded by refugees from Padua and Aquileia. The region fell subsequently, to the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and was recovered with the rest of Italy by General Belisarius, becoming a province of the Eastern Roman Empire under Justinian II.

The city of Venice was founded in the late sixth century by people from neighboring regions who were seeking refuge in the islands of the lagoon, following the invasion of northern Italy by the Lombards in 568. Indeed, this marshy area was difficult to access for ships and remained under the jurisdiction of the Exarchate of Ravenna, in the province of the Eastern Roman Empire. This area was originally a shelter in the Roman-Byzantine civilization, but as it developed, it eventually achieved independence.

The refugees built houses made of daub and wattle, with the posts driven into the mud and anchored with woven tree branches to protect their houses from the motion of the waves. Most of these refugees became fishermen and engaged in trading and drying sea water to make salt. They grew prosperous from this trade.
The History of Venice
The History of Venice Italy - The Canal City That Mesmerizes
By 548 AD the former refugees already had full control of the trade on the Adriatic Sea. While Venice did not have its own natural resources, being located in a lagoon, their very location became their most important advantage. They were protected and made secure by their strategic position from attackers. They learned how to move merchandise and handle ships; they had become trading experts. The city was right in the middle of trading between Europe and the Orient, with Marco Polo playing a major role in the opening of trade routes, particularly to China.

In a short time, Venice became one of the wealthiest cities in Europe and was a dominant influence in the Mediterranean. By the ninth century, Venice was already a city-state and was one of the Maritime Republics in Europe. The others were Amalfi, Pisa, Ragusa and Genoa. These city-states were the main controllers of trade between the world and Western Europe.

The Venice Arsenal (Porta Magna) was established in 1104 AD. It was a state-owned complex of armories and shipyards, located in the district of Castello. This was the proof of Venice's naval power and was considered one of history's earliest industrial enterprises on a larger scale. After the Fourth Crusade, during the 13th century, Venice was hailed as an imperial power, employing 36,000 sailors, owned 3,300 ships and was in control of trade and commerce in the Mediterranean.

Due to its maritime prowess, Venice was involved in the Crusades. It was one of the richest and largest cities in the west by 1095 AD. It had received protection from the king of the Kingdom of Jerusalem by 1125 AD and had direct control of the city of Tyre in Lebanon.

During the 12th century Venice had acquired several locations on the Adriatic, on the route to Constantinople and the Holy Land, especially Crete. The Arsenal became very useful for the Venetians as it was a convenient departure point. The city gained from the use of its ships and its soldiers during the Crusades, the expeditions that were part political, religious social and economic in nature, and was a way to gain more territories.

The Venetian sailors supplied armies, fought in battles against the Egyptians while the Venetian diplomats worked on having their trading interests furthered and protected. Venice became heavily involved during the Fourth Crusade in the War of St. Sabas (Venetian-Genoese Wars), although it was mainly concerned with the protection of its trading rights. The city of Venice did not truly become independent until the withdrawal of the Byzantines in the Adriatic, shortly after the year 1000, during the emergence of the Kingdom of Hungary.

The salt trade led to a strong growth of the city. In the fourteenth century, Venice was the most important port of the Mediterranean, edging out its former metropolis Constantinople. Venice has maintained its cultural influence, becoming the European city's most elegant and refined of the eighteenth century, with a strong influence on art, architecture and literature.

Venice is known throughout the world as a beautiful and romantic city where time has stood still for hundreds of years. As you wander the narrow streets of Venice and cross its many hundreds of bridges, consider the fact that the city has barely changed since the end of the Venetian Republic, and the lack of cars and trucks only adds to this timeless atmosphere.

For more than a thousand years Venice was at the heart of the Republic of Venice though the islands in the Venetian Lagoon were inhabited even before that. Fishermen made their livelihoods here even back in Roman times, and by the year 421 the first church was dedicated. A governing committee for the lagoon islands was established in 568 so this really signifies the beginning of Venice as we know it today.

There are conflicting stories as to when the first elected leader of Venice came to power, and who it was, but the Republic of Venice was formed in 697 and was recognised as an independent republic from the 9th century onwards.

The Powerful Venetian Republic

It didn't take long for the Republic of Venice to become a powerful force. Their strategic position at the north end of the Adriatic Sea certainly helped, and they formed a large and strong navy to defend themselves and to battle for outside territories.

The Republic of Venice was not just a warring nation though. Much of the wealth of the Republic came from trading, and the city state became a popular commercial centre where particularly silk, spices and grain were bought and sold.

Much of the rich architecture of Venice was built during this time of great wealth and power, and the exquisite and lavish buildings and interiors were constructed as a display of this power and to show what a wonderful place the Republic of Venice was to the outside world.

The Origins of the Carnival of Venice

The flamboyant culture of Venice was also later highlighted by the Venice Carnival, known throughout Europe for hundreds of years as a time for balls and parties. The first Carnevals were seen in the mid to late 1100s, but the festival really gained its reputation from 1268 onwards when the beautiful Venetian Masks first started to appear. Over the next 30 years the Carnival of Venice grew in popularity and in 1296 the Senate declared it (the day before Lent) would be a public holiday.

From the 17th century the Carnival of Venice really attracted the attention of non-Venetians and the aristocracy of Europe travelled to Venice to have fun at the masked balls and parties. The Carnival earned quite a reputation for debauchery, helped by the fact that most people were wearing masks so there was a very laisser faire attitude among many of the carnival goers!

Unfortunately the revelry was eventually banned and the Carnival of Venice became a thing of the past. Wearing Venetian Masks had become a daily habit for many Venetians and so mask wearing was also greatly restricted because the Senate was worried about malicious intents and not being able to identify the culprits.

Napoleon Conquers the Republic of Venice

Although the Venetian Republic had been a powerful and wealthy force their stature began to falter from the second half of the 15th century onwards. When Napoleon Bonaparte came to conquer in 1797 the Republic had run out of power and Napoleon easily took Venice. Unlike many conquering forces Napoleon respected and appreciated the wonderful architecture and culture of Venice and didn't interfere greatly with the Venetian's lives. Both Napoleon and Austria ruled over Venice for a time, then in 1866 the city state became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

The History of the Carnival

As a religious formality Ash Wednesday obliged people to fast and as a result people needed to use up meat, butter and eggs. This became an excuse for a party that echoed pagan festivities and the word carnival was derived from the Latin for "Farewell, meat!".

After the Republic defeated the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162 the Carnival tradition began with the slaughtering of a bull and 12 pigs in the Piazza San Marco to commemorate the victory. This celebration gradually grew and in 1268 the first use of masks for the Carnival was mentioned in documents.

Christianity licensed a period of celebration from the Twelfth Night before Ash Wednesday until the midnight of Shrove Tuesday. Several Popes tried to bring the Carnival within proper religious limits, but they weren't able to influence Venice.

History of Venice Carnival

In the eighteenth century the Carnival reached it's heyday. Although Venice declined in power it continued to enjoy it's pleasures. Over time Carnival's significance declined until the 1930s, when Mussolini banned it. In 1979, a group of lovers of Venice decided to revive the tradition. The image of the masked reveller has now become a worldwide icon of Venice in winter.
The History of Venice
Venice Carnival
The Venetian Carnival has become unique because of the masks. The idea being that the social status of the wearer is hidden by the mask. In this way Venice was able to temporarily overturn her social order. Some of the masks depicted Commedia dell'Arte characters. Others were more sinister. The white-beaked mask of the plague-doctor, famous from photographs, copies a doctor's long breathing apparatus that held a sponge soaked in vinegar, thought to hold the plague at bay. Severe penalties were implemented if a mask was worn outside of the Carnival period due to the dangers masks allowed.

The Carnival of Venice is Revived

Meanwhile carnival time in Venice had taken a back seat and became a time for children to dress up and have parties, not the adults! Finally in 1979 it was decided that the Carnival of Venice should be started again, following the great tradition of years gone by, and helping to attract tourists to Venice during a time of year that's usually very quiet.

The Venice Carnival has now become one of the world's most popular carnivals once again, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to Venice every year around the time of Lent.

The History of Venice Courtesans

In a cosmopolitan city like Venice, where foreigners were coming and going all the time, the courtesans' phenomenon was tolerated and sometimes even encouraged.

According to a census of 1509 there were 11,164 courtesans in Venice. In addition to the trade in oriental spices, salt and cloth, a very important chapter of the Venetian economy was made up of what today we would call "tourism". To attract this clientele, the Serenissima had cornered a large number of precious relics. But as businessmen and pilgrims did not live in a pure spirit, the prostitution flourished.

From the first half of the fourteenth century, the courtesans were obliged to live in a district near the Rialto called "Castelletto". In addition to the "Castelletto" the prostitutes had abode by the areas of San Cassiano, and exactly in the houses owned by the noble and ancient family Rampani, in Venitian language: Ca' (house) Rampani, nowadays called the zone of carampane, for a long time the nickname "carampane" has been synonymous of prostitute. The Rio terà of Carampane came up to the Bridge of tits. Above this bridge the courtesans faced with uncovered breasts to entice passers-by. Sometimes you could saw them at the window completely naked to show off their beauty.

It was, they say, an imposition made by the government to "turn men away from sin against nature". The issue of homosexuality was strongly felt especially in the sixteenth century. Homosexuality was so prevalent during the sixteenth-century in Venice, to induce prostitutes, in 1511, to send a petition to the patriarch Antonio Contarini in order to do something about it, because it seems they had no more customers... Perhaps the real reason for their economic crisis was different: they were too much! Every Friday the Members of the Board decided the fate of those guilty of sodomy. Homosexuals were hanged between two columns of St. Mark's square, and then burned.

There were two classes of courtesans: those of lower rank, who lived in unhealthy houses (they were visited by the populace), and those of high rank (only rich people could afford). These courtesans were especially envied by noble women, slaves of a thousand rules, for the freedom they enjoyed and the important friendships they could ensure. Their clothes were elegant, their hair blond-reddish were appreciated, and more often they could also forget to show off the yellow neckerchiefs imposed by the Council of Ten, because among their friends were not lacking high magistrates of the Republic.

Exploring the History of Venice Through Its Museums

One thing you will notice the moment you arrive in a Venice airport water taxi is the history that surrounds you. There is no better way to learn more about this history than to take your pick from some of the museums on offer.

The following suggestions should help to make up the perfect itinerary for anyone who takes a Venice airport water taxi into the city itself.

Museo Storico Navale
If you want to know more about the city's naval history, this is the museum for you. The museum is known for presenting a thrilling history of naval exploits in the whole of Italy, not just Venice, so it is well worth a look. The entrance is easy to spot as it is marked out by two enormous anchors. Inside you will find models of famous ships, a complete exhibit featuring items from World War II - including a torpedo - and also a gondola that belonged to none other than Peggy Guggenheim.

The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Most people are familiar with the Guggenheim name. Peggy became rich as a result of her father's legacy to her, left when he died in the Titanic disaster. During her lifetime Peggy amassed an impressive collection of artwork and she found a home for it in the floating city. You can now see her private collection which includes works from such names as Picasso, Duchamp, Magritte and Pollock. Be sure you don't miss the Sculpture Garden either, as this features sculptures by the likes of Goldsworthy and Giacometti among others.

Museo Correr
If you have a liking for art and you want to learn more about the history of the city, the Museo Correr should feature on your list of places to go when you disembark from your Venice airport water taxi. The museum is named after Teodoro Correr, who left his collection to the city upon his death in 1830. The museum is laid out over several floors and in a collection of rooms, each presenting a period of Venetian history through artwork and other items. As such you can see portraits of aristocrats in times gone by, as well as an impressive display of cartography that shows how the city has changed over the years. Artists whose works are presented here include Lorenzo Lotto, Stefano Veneziano and Jacopo Bellini.

These represent just three of the many museums worth seeing while you are in this stunning city. You may even see some of them as you approach via a Venice airport water taxi. But there are others, including Ca'Pesaro, a modern art gallery, and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, an impressive collection of archaeological discoveries and artwork from many areas. It would take some considerable time to visit all the museums, but by choosing just two or three to visit while you are there, you can get a feel for and an understanding of this city that goes way beyond the surface.

Tourism is one of the major income generators of Venice today, along with shipbuilding, which is located in Porto Marghera and Mestre. The ancient Venice Arsenal is still used by the Italian Army although parts of it are allocated for art, cultural and theater productions.

The city of Venice also gets its revenue from industrial exports, trade and services. Exquisite items made of glass, intricate and delicate lace materials are major exports that are produced in Murano and Burano, respectively.

Architecture and the arts are major tourist draws. Its' artistic and musical heritage is quite unique. The city itself is like one giant postcard, with luxurious 19th century establishments like Caffè Florian and the Danieli Hotel. Venice has been a center of international festivals and conferences since the 1980s, with events such as the Venice Film Festival and the Venice Biennale. The city has numerous attractions that will definitely beckon a visitor to come back again and again.

Top of a visitors' list should include Piazza San Marco, the large public square near St. Mark's Basilica, built during the 9th century. The majestic St. Mark's Basilica that dominates the square was constructed in 828 A.D. and houses the relics of St. Mark the Evangelist.

Venice is a city well-loved by its visitors. In a day, the city can receive about 50,000 tourists, according to 2007 statistics. Another major attraction of the city, which should not be missed, is the Grand Canal, the city's ancient waterway that measures 2.36 miles or 3,800 meters.

One should not miss riding in one of the city's famous gondolas and view the beautiful examples of Venetian architecture, all 170 of them as you glide on the water amid the modern-day vaporeti (water buses), private boats and water taxis.

Stroll around the city and see some charming bridges: the Calatrava, Ponte dell'Accademia, Ponte Degli Scalzi and the Rialto Bridge. The city also has several palaces, museums and art galleries that all require closer attention.

The historical development of Venice has been a hard and painful journey. However, the fruits of that journey is a truly great and beautiful city that beckons worldwide visitors to come and experience its awesomeness.

A visit to this historically rich and beautiful city would truly be a memory of a lifetime!

The History of Venice Italy - The Canal City That Mesmerizes