Why Venice is the watery gem it is

Facade of the Doges palace at sunset

Doge's Palace shows a Mediterranean accent on Gothic Architecture. From scpgt on Flickr

Venice certainly is one of the most intriguing cities in Europe, a bizzare and medieval metropolis. Built in the swampy waters in a tidal lagoon, it swapped streets for canals and mountain castles for ocean fortresses. It dominated coastlines as far as Southern Russia, monopolised European trade and even succeeded in toppling one of the world’s most powerful empires, all from a scattering of islands off Italy’s Adriatic shores.

Why is Venice built on islands when the coast is so close?

The answer to that is simple: safety. Venice was founded at a troubled time in the history of Europe, the islands were first occupied by refugees from nearby Roman cities and countryside fleeing the successive invasions of barbarian hordes during the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The nature of the lagoon Venice is in made it an excellent harbour to manufacture, protect and house Venice’s enormous navy in.

Bronze horses of st mark in venice

The Bronze Horses of St Mark, stolen from the Hippodrome of Constantinople. From Kevin H on Flickr

How did Venice come to be so rich and beautiful?

Venice’s fortified island location meant is was safe from attack, but with little arable land, it also meant it was in danger of starvation. Venice overcame this by virulently acquiring and guarding mainland farmland even as far as Verona in the West. It was important that Venice had fingers in many pies and the most important source of wealth was trade. Venice monopolised trade on goods from the East with their two most important partners were the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire with their capital Constantinople and the Islamic nations.

Venice long had territory on the Croatian coast but as Byzantium began to weaken with attacks from the Turks, Venice snapped up most Greek islands and even parts of mainland Turkey and Southern Russia. The exotic architectural styles from these countries became woven into every new building in the city of Venice. Opportunist Venice made it’s biggest military claim during the 4th crusade with it’s fleet of 3300, hired to transport the crusaders to the holy lands. The crusade was diverted and culminated in the Venetians and crusaders sacking Constantinople, much of the treasure – like the beautiful bronze horses of St Mark’s basilica – returned to Venice to decorate the city.

Emirates Venice

Rooftops of basilica of St Mark in venice

The basilica of St Mark shows off Byzantine archtecture the Venitians borrowed from Constantinople

Venice is part of Italy now, how?

After 1100 years of independence, Venice finally fell to Napoleon in 1797. Over the next 70 years Venice changed hands between France and Austria during successive wars. Eventually the fledgling Kingdom of Italy set about making clever alliances during Europe’s tumultuous 19th century which saw it siding with Prussia (Germany) against Austria, a war during which it was able to oust the Austrians from all of what is modern day Italy, including Venice.

That, in a nutshell, is how Venice came to be, some food for thought when you’re viewing those stunning sights of beautiful Venice.

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