Venice (Italian: Venezia, Venetian: Venesia or Venexia) 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 Venetian Republic 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.
The name is connected with the people known as the Veneti, perhaps the same as the Eneti (Ενετοί). The meaning of the word is uncertain. Connections with the Latin verb 'venire' (to come) or (Slo)venia are fanciful. A connection with the Latin word venetus, meaning 'sea-blue', is possible.
Origins and history
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 incola 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. This left the Eastern Roman Empire a small strip of coast in 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 across 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.
In 828, the new city's prestige was raised by the theft of the 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.
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, 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 Byzantium, being twice granted trading privileges in the 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; Venice itself carved out a sphere of influence known as the Duchy of the Archipelago. 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.
Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Venice 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 most influential families in 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).
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 maintain Thessalonica against the Ottomans (1423-1430). It 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. It lasted thirty years and cost Venice much of its eastern Mediterranean possessions. Next, Spain 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 could not traverse the great oceans. It 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
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) 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.
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 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.
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 newly created Kingdom 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.
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.
Sinking of Venice
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 centimeters 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. Many Venetians have resorted to moving up to the upper floors and continuing with their lives.
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.
Venice is world-famous for its canals. It is built on an archipelago of 118 islands formed by about 150 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. 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.
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 trains and the Eurostar (Italian Train Service). One of the easiest ways to travel from Roma or other large Italian cities is to use the train. Roma is only slightly over four hours away. Florence and Padua are two of the stops between Roma and Venice. The St. Lucia station is a few steps away from a vaporetti stop.
Venice is practically 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 Rome. Cars can be parked there anytime for around €25 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.
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), Santa Croce, San Marco (including San Giorgio Maggiore), and Castello (including San Pietro di Castello and Sant'Elena). 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).
The villas of the Veneto, rural residences for nobles during the Republic, are one of the most interesting aspects of Venetian countryside. They are surrounded by elegant gardens, suitable for fashionable parties of high society. Most of these villas were designed by Palladio, and are now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. According to the architects, water around the villas was a very important architectural element because it added more brilliance to the façade and allowed Venetian nobles to reach them by boat.
In 2007, there were 268,993 people residing in Venice, of whom 47.5% were male and 52.5% were female. Minors (children ages 18 and younger) totalled 14.36 percent of the population compared to pensioners who number 25.7 percent. This compares with the Italian average of 18.06 percent (minors) and 19.94 percent (pensioners). The average age of Venice residents is 46 compared to the Italian average of 42. In the five years between 2002 and 2007, the population of Venice declined by 0.2 percent, while Italy as a whole grew by 3.85 percent.
As of 2006, 93.70% of the population was Italian. The largest immigrant group comes from other European nations (Romanians, the largest group: 3.26%, South Asia: 1.26%, and East Asia: 0.9%). Venice is predominantly Roman Catholic, but due to immigration now has some Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist observers.
In the 14th century, many young Venetian men began wearing tight-fitting multicoloured hose, the designs on which indicated the Compagnie della Calza ('Trouser Club') to which they belonged. The Senate passed sumptuary laws, but these merely resulted in changes in fashion in order to circumvent the law. Dull garments were worn over colourful ones, which then were cut to show the hidden colours resulting in the wide spread of men's 'slashed' fashions in the 15th century.
During the 16th century, Venice became one of the most important musical centers of Europe, marked by a characteristic style of composition (the Venetian school) and 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; Ottaviano 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 groups.
By the end of the 15th century, Venice had become the European capital of printing, being one of the first cities in Italy (after Subiaco and Rome) to have a printing press after those established in Germany, having 417 printers by 1500. The most important printing office was the Aldine Press of Aldus Manutius, which in 1499 printed the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, considered the most beautiful book of Renaissance, and established modern punctuation, the page format and italic type, and the first printed work of Aristotle.
Canvases (the common painting surface) originated in Venice during the early renaissance. These early canvases were generally rough.
In addition, Venice was also home to Lord Byron (George Gordon) for a number of years.
FM Radio frequencies in Venice are the following: 87.60 - Easy Network; 88.10 - RAI1; 89.00 - RAI2; 89.30 - Deejay; 89.60 - Radio24; 89.90 - RAI3; 90.40 - Bum Bum Energy; 92.40 - Venezia; 94.80 - Deejay; 95.00 - Città Stereo; 96.00 - Company; 97.00 - Bella e Monella; 97.50 - Veneto 1; 97.90 - Sherwood; 99.80 - RDS; 102.00 - RTL 102.5; 103.00 - Ottanta; 103.40 - RDS; 104.50 - R101; 104.70 - Radio Radicale; 105.00 - Marilù; 105.80 - Capital; 106.50 - Maria; 106.80 - Radio 24; 107.00 - Sorrriso; 107.30 - R101. In surrounding areas of the region: 106.00 - AFN Eagle (American Forces in Italy radio), and radio stations from Slovenia and Croatia, even from Austria and throughout Italy can be received on the MW dial.
The Venice Art Biennale is one of the most important events in the arts calendar. During 1893 headed by the mayor of Venice, Riccardo Selvatico, the Venetian City Council passed a resolution on April 19 to set up an Esposizione biennale artistica nazionale (biennial exhibition of Italian art), to be inaugurated on April 22, 1894. Following the outbreak of hostilities during the Second World War, the activities of the Biennale were interrupted in September 1942, but resumed in 1948.
Venice has cooperation agreements with the Greek city of Thessaloniki, the German city of Nuremberg, signed on September 25, 1999, and the Turkish city of Istanbul, signed on March 4, 1993, within the framework of the 1991 Istanbul Declaration. It is also a Science and Technology Partnership City with Qingdao, China.
The City of Venice and the Central Association of Cities and Communities of Greece (KEDKE) established, in January 2000, in pursuance of the EC Regulations n. 2137/85, the European Economic Interest Grouping (E.E.I.G.) Marco Polo System to promote and realise European projects within transnational cultural and tourist field, particularly referred to the artistic and architectural heritage preservation and safeguard.
History of Venice
Founding refugees: AD 568
When the Lombards invade Italy, in 568, one of the first cities in their path is Aquileia - a Christian town of long-standing importance, traditionally held to have been founded by St Mark. Many of its inhabitants, alarmed at the prospects of life under the rule of Germanic tribesmen, opt for the uncertain status of refugees. Fleeing southwards, some seek safety on a low-lying offshore island - probably occupied at the time only by a fishing community.
The island is Torcello. And the refugees, seen with the hindsight of history, are the founders of Venice.
Less than twenty years later, in about 584, those parts of the east Italian coast still in Byzantine hands are grouped together as the exarchate of Ravenna - a defensive arrangement against the Lombards. The islanders of Torcello, who have perhaps already spread to neighbouring islands in the Venetian lagoon, are included in the exarchate. But with the northern mainland in Lombard hands, and with a considerable distance separating them from the centre of Byzantine government at Ravenna, their survival is largely in their own hands. They become increasingly independent.
In 726 the Venetians for the first time elect their own doge (the equivalent of 'duke', from the Latin dux meaning 'leader').
Doges and diplomacy: AD 726-814
Orso, the first Venetian doge, comes to power specifically as an opponent of Byzantine rule over the islands of the lagoon. This first bid for independence fails. Byzantine officials continue to govern the islands until the fall of the exarchate of Ravenna in 751. The Venetians, now of necessity on their own though still legally subject to the Byzantine empire, develop skills as middlemen which eventually bring them great wealth and power.
When Pepin, the son of Charlemagne, campaigns in northeast Italy in 809, the Venetian doge makes an alliance with him - a move involving considerable risk, in that it is unlikely to please the Byzantine emperor.
Others might be crushed between the new Carolingian empire to the west and the ancient Byzantine empire in the east. But Venice successfully plays the giants off against each other and thrives. A treaty in 814 between the Franks and the Byzantines establishes that Venice is to remain independent of the Carolingian empire; but no special emphasis is laid on the existing obligation to Constantinople.
As part of both worlds, east and west, perfectly placed between the Mediterranean and the mountain passes up through the Alps into northern Europe, Venice is now poised to make her fortune from trade.
Rialto and St Mark's: 9th - 11th century AD
Early in the 9th century the government of the lagoon is transferred to two adjacent islands where the land is a little higher above water level, though in Venice the distinction is a fine one. To either side of the intervening waterway is a rivo alto ('high bank'), from the which the name Rialto derives. The Rialto bridge subsequently joins these two banks.
The growing town needs status. In the Christian Middle Ages status requires a distinguished patron saint and, if possible, the possession of his relics. St Mark, the patron saint of Aquileia (in effect the parent city), is the obvious candidate. In about 828 Venice comes of age. The city acquires, from Alexandria, some relics of St Mark.
Legend rapidly provides exciting details of how the bones were secured. It is said that two Venetian merchants stole them from the saint's shrine in Alexandria and then smuggled them out of Egypt in a barrel of pork - an unclean meat to Muslims and therefore unlikely to be inspected.
Whatever the actual means (theft of relics is common in the Middle Ages, but purchase is equally possible), the arrival of the bones is the occasion for the building of the first St Mark's in Venice. The church, rebuilt in the 11th century and subsequently enlarged and altered, has been ever since the proud centerpiece of the city.
Eastern trade: 11th - 14th century
Two developments in the 11th century prove of lasting benefit to Venice, which is by now the leading maritime power in the Adriatic. The first is the appearance of a rival in Italian waters. The Normans drive the Byzantines from their last seaport in southern Italy by 1071, and soon they begin raiding across the Adriatic; in 1082 they take the important harbour of Durrës (or Durazzo) in Albania.
In return for help against these marauders, the Byzantine emperor grants Venice an astonishing concession. Venetians may henceforth trade freely throughout the Byzantine empire, without being liable for any dues or customs.
The other new development of the late 11th century opens up extra routes for trade, along the coasts of the Byzantine empire and beyond. In 1096 the contingents of the First Crusade set off eastwards to recover the holy places of Christendom from the Muslims. They are in Syria by 1098. By the end of 1099 there is a Latin kingdom of Jerusalem.
A great increase in trade, travel and pilgrimage to the eastern Mediterranean is the inevitable result. Venice, which has the skills to provide the transport and an already established trade concession, is once again perfectly placed. But it soon meets strong rivalry from two other great maritime communes, Genoa and Pisa.
The Italian communes of the west coast demonstrate their strength in the 11th century when Genoan and Pisan fleets, often working in alliance, protect Corsica and Sardinia from the depredations of Muslims. Both cities subsequently develop extensive trade in the western Mediterranean. Genoa also plays a large part in the crusades, establishing strong trading links in the eastern Mediterranean and coming into direct competition with Venice.
Warfare between these two Italian city states is long and intermittent, with Venice by no means always the stronger - until the issue is finally resolved in 1380 at Chioggia.
Venetian mosaics: 12th - 13th century AD
Venice's long link with Constantinople is evident in the mosaics, in the Byzantine style, for which the islands of the lagoon are famous. The earliest are on Torcello, the first centre of the Venetian state, where the cathedral apse contains a superb 13th-century image of the Virgin and Child.
The entire west wall of the cathedral is occupied by a vast mosaic of the same period depicting the Last Judgement. The subject is more characteristic of the western church than of Byzantium, as is the somewhat radical manner in which figures of authority are prominently displayed among the damned - including the Byzantine emperor, the Venetian doge and the German emperor.
When the Torcello mosaics are being installed, this cathedral is no longer the most important one in the Venetian lagoon. That honour has passed to St Mark's, where craftsmen in mosaic are busy at the same period. Their labours produce probably the most sumptuous church interior in the world, with every corner a sombre glittering gold. It has been calculated that the mosaics of St Mark's cover an area of about an acre.
Dating mainly from the 12th and 13th centuries, these Italian mosaics represent the culmination of a great Byzantine tradition. But at the end of the 13th century Italy also provides a new beginning in an equally great theme in the history of art - that of the European fresco.
The Pala d'Oro: 10th - 14th century AD
In addition to its Byzantine mosaics, St Mark's contains in the Pala d'Oro the most spectacular surviving altarpiece of a kind familiar in imperial Byzantine churches. Small scenes in cloisonné enamel of Jesus, the Virgin and saints are set in a gold background encrusted with jewels. Commissioned from the workshops of Constantinople by a doge of the 10th century, the original Pala d'Oro is dismantled and extended several times to incorporate new panels. It acquires its present form in 1345.
Some of the added panels are brought here from Constantinople in 1204, among the loot which greatly enriches Venice as a result of the shameful episode of the fourth crusade.
Venice as a commune: 12th - 18th century AD
From the circumstances of its foundation, Venice has been from the start unique - a small self-governing community of refugees which grows rich on its own audacious merits. But in the 12th century other north Italian cities adopt a communal form of government, similar to what Venice has always had.
Venice, at the same period, takes steps to preserve its republican identity. Reforms are put in place to ensure that the position of the doge (who holds office, like the pope, until death) cannot evolve into that of a hereditary signore - as will subsequently happen in other Italian communes.
In various stages between 1140 and 1160 the government of Venice (which now includes Venetian colonies along the Dalmatian coast) is removed from the sole personal responsibility of the doge and is transferred to powerful councils. The supreme body is the Great Council of 45 members, with ultimate responsibility for state affairs. On day-to-day matters an executive Minor Council of six members is appointed to guide the doge.
Over the years Venice's councils grow and proliferate.
During the 13th century the Great Council expands from 45 members to 60 and then 100. A new Council of Forty is added at some time before 1223, followed by another body of 60 members with special responsibility for financial affairs; this is the Consiglio dei Rogati, known also as the Senate. A Council of Ten is added in 1310, to check on everybody else.
The doge, richly attired and publicly honoured, is a powerless figurehead at the centre of this state administration. The system is brilliantly devised to preserve the status quo in two ways - preventing the present doge's family from acquiring power and preventing the wider group of patrician families from losing it.
The doge is not allowed to engage in trade or any financial activity. No member of his family may hold office in government or serve on the councils. Safeguards are in place to prevent an election being rigged (the final group of electors is chosen by lot). Thus the graft and nepotism which disfigures the papacy is ruled out for the doges of Venice.
Similarly stringent measures are introduced to prevent outsiders getting in. Between 1290 and 1300 the so-called 'closing of the Great Council' limits membership to those families which have provided members in the past. Oligarchy is thus enshrined, in a system which survives until the French Revolution. Rarely has power been so successfully ring-fenced for so long.
Venice and Constantinople: AD 1082-1201
During the 12th century Venetian merchants make excellent use of the exclusive trading privilege granted them in the Byzantine empire, in 1082, for their help against the Normans. But their wealth and arrogance provoke profound hostility in Constantinople.
In an attempt to curb them, the emperor makes trading agreements with Genoa in 1169 and with Pisa in 1170, following this in 1171 with the confiscation of the goods of every Venetian merchant in the empire. In 1182 the people of Constantinople take matters into their own hands with a massacre of the Latins (or Roman Catholics) living in the city.
Dynastic conflicts in the last years of the 12th century compound the troubles of the Byzantine empire, and accidentally play into the hands of Venice. In 1195 the emperor Isaac II is deposed and blinded by his brother. Isaac's son, Alexius, is imprisoned. In 1201 he escapes and makes his way to western Europe to seek assistance in the recovery of his throne.
In the same year arrangements are being made in Europe for yet another crusade, the fourth, to the Middle East. This time it is proposed that the crusaders depart in a great fleet from Venice. The Venetians, masters of secret diplomacy, suddenly have all the necessary threads in their hands. They weave them into an intricate and profitable web of deceit.
The fourth crusade: AD 1202-1204
Inspired by the pope's preachers to set off for the east, a new wave of crusaders makes travel arrangements in Venice in 1201. Their immediate target is Egypt, now thought to be the most vulnerable part of Saladin's empire in the eastern Mediterranean.
Venice drives a hard bargain. The city will provide ships for 4500 knights and their horses, 9000 squires to serve them and 20,000 foot soldiers; food for a year for the entire expedition; and fifty galleys as an escort. For this the crusaders will pay 85,000 silver marks and will cede to Venice half of any lands they conquer. This is agreed, with a departure date planned for some time after June 1202.
Venetian diplomats immediately get in touch with the sultan in Egypt, with whom they have excellent trading agreements, to assure him secretly that Venice will not allow the crusading fleet to reach his shores. Behind the scenes the doge is also negotiating with agents of Alexius, son of the deposed emperor in Constantinople. It seems possible that the crusaders might be diverted to this rich and ancient city, where Venice by now has several grudges to settle.
Soon the hard facts of commerce are playing into Venetian hands. The crusading army is assembled in Venice by the summer of 1202. But it has nowhere near assembled the agreed sum of 85,000 silver marks.
The Venetians propose a compromise. They will accept deferred payment and yet honour their side of the bargain, if the crusading army will do them a small favour on the journey out to Egypt. Venice has for a while been disputing control of Dalmatia with the king of Hungary. The Hungarians have recently seized an important coastal city, Zara (now Zadar). It would be a fine thing if the crusaders would recover this city.
The crusaders sail from Venice on November 8 and arrive at Zara on November 10. They besiege the city for five days and pillage it for three. It is then decided that it is too late in the year to continue eastwards. They make a winter camp.
During the winter the Venetians agree terms with Alexius. If placed on the throne in Constantinople, he will pay Venice the sum owed by the crusaders. He will also provide funds and men to help the crusade on its way.
The proposal is put to the crusading army and with some reluctance is accepted. The fleet reaches Constantinople in June 1203. The crusaders break through the great chain protecting the harbour and breach the city walls in July. On August 1, in Santa Sophia, Alexius is crowned co-emperor - alongside his blind father. With the immediate purpose achieved, the crusade should be able to continue on its way. But now it is Alexius who cannot deliver his side of the bargain.
The sack of Constantinople: AD 1204
The crusaders camp outside Constantinople while Alexius, as emperor, tries to raise his debt to the Venetians by taxing the citizens and confiscating church property. For nine months growing resentment within the city is matched by increasing impatience outside. In April the Venetians persuade the crusaders to storm Constantinople and place a Latin emperor on the throne. For the second time they succeed in breaching the walls.
The doge of Venice and the leading crusaders install themselves in the royal palace. The army is granted three days in which to pillage the city.
The Venetians, from their long links with Constantinople, can appreciate the treasures of Byzantium. They loot rather than destroy. St Mark's in Venice is graced today by many rich possessions brought back in 1204 - parts of the Pala d'Oro, the porphyry figures known as the tetrarchs, and above all the four great bronze horses.
The crusaders, mainly French and Flemish, are less refined in their tastes. They tend to smash what they find. They ride their horses into Santa Sophia, tear down its silken hangings, destroy the icons in the silver iconostasis. A prostitute, placed on the patriarch's throne, obligingly sings a bawdy song in Norman French.
Venice's maritime empire: 13th - 15th century AD
In the scramble to grab Byzantine land after the fourth crusade, in 1204, the Venetians concentrate on territories suiting their maritime interests. They take the islands of Corfu and Crete.
They yield Corfu ten years later to the Greek ruler of Epirus (the nearest part of the mainland), but Crete remains a Venetian possession for more than four centuries. It is the first in a chain of valuable staging posts to the eastern Mediterranean. Venetian control over Cephalonia is established in 1350. In 1380, at Chioggia, Venice finally defeats Genoa and becomes the undisputed maritime power in eastern waters. The other links in the island chain to the east are acquired during the following century.
Corfu is recovered in 1401. The Dalmatian coast is ceded to Venice by the king of Croatia in 1420. Zante is acquired in 1482. Finally Cyprus, the jewel at the end of the chain, is annexed in 1489.
This is precisely the period during which the Ottoman Turks have been winning control of the mainland facing these Mediterranean islands, from Anatolia to the Balkans. Constantinople falls to them in 1453, Greece is in Turkish hands by 1460. For the next two centuries the Venetians in the islands confront the Turks on the mainland in a struggle which the Turks ultimately win. Meanwhile the Venetians have been establishing an extensive realm in their own backyard.
Venice and the Veneto: 14th - 15th century AD
While the Venetians are acquiring islands on the route to the Middle East, they also gain control of a large part of the Italian mainland. The first territory to be won is the region adjacent to their own lagoon - the Veneto (named like Venice itself from an Indo-European tribe, the Veneti, who migrated here in about 1000 BC).
Venice occupies these mainland territories by force. But the Venetian role is that of the jackal coming in after the lion.
The lion in northern Italy in the late 14th century is Gian Galeazzo Visconti, the signore of Milan. Gian Galeazzo is a voracious conqueror, suspected in his own time of harbouring the ambition to become king of all Italy. He systematically seizes the territories of lesser signori. Those lying between Milan and Venice include Verona and Vicenza, two cities ruled by the della Scala family (known also as Scaliger in the Latin version of their name).
Vicenza falls to Gian Galeazzo in 1384 and Verona in 1387. His next target is Padua, ruled by the Carrara family, which he takes in 1388.
Padua is recovered for the Carrara in 1390 with Venetian help, but its long-term independence looks unlikely as Gian Galeazzo's realm continues to expand. Pisa and Siena accept his rule in 1399; he captures Bologna in 1402; but later that year, as he is preparing to attack Florence, he dies suddenly of the plague.
The rapidly enlarged Visconti realm crumbles on Gian Galeazzo's death, and Venice is on hand to pick up some of the pieces. Vicenza is captured in 1404, followed by Verona and Padua in 1405. A generation later, with the Veneto now securely Venetian, the republic's territory is further enlarged to north and west.
Heyday of the republic: 15th - 16th century AD
In the 1420s Venice extends its territory on the Italian mainland to give it an unbroken stretch of rich land south of the Alps, from the northern tip of the Adriatic almost to Milan. The northern extension is the first to be secured. In 1420 Venice conquers the region of Friuli, ancient lands of the patriarch of Aquileia - from whose cathedral city the first Venetians had fled nearly nine centuries earlier.
A few years later Brescia is captured (1426) followed by Bergamo (1428), gains from Milan which are acknowledged in the peace of Lodi (1454). With this rich hinterland, and a string of Mediterranean islands all the way to Cyprus, Venice is now a Mediterranean power of exceptional splendour.
Yet at this very moment there is a worm in the bud. With the new ocean trade resulting from the discovery of America and of the sea route to India, ocean-going vessels are set to become of greater economic significance than the Mediterranean galleys which have held sway for three millennia. Venice in her prime is about to be sidelined.
But her prime is magnificent. In the 15th century Venice provides the last great flowering of Gothic architecture. By 1500 the city leads the world in its printing skills. In the 16th century Venetian culture produces Europe's leading architect of the period (Palladio) and an outstanding school of regional painting.
The Italian bran tub: AD 1499-1512
During the first three decades of the 16th century Italy is the scene of almost ceaseless warfare between local contenders (particularly Venice and the papacy) and foreign claimants (France and Spain), with occasional interventions from north of the Alps by Habsburgs and by armies from the Swiss cantons.
The Italian adventures of the French king Charles VIII are continued by Louis XII, his cousin and successor. To the long-standing French claim to Naples, Louis adds a new demand - he believes himself to be duke of Milan, by descent from his Visconti grandmother.
French armies seize Milan for Louis XII in 1499, and the French occupy part of the kingdom of Naples in 1501. The Spanish soon recover full control of Naples (by 1504), but the presence of the French in Milan causes an ambitious new pope, Julius II, to intervene in the unstable affairs of northern Italy. He marches north and captures Bologna in 1506.
Julius believes Venice and the French to be the two main threats to the papal states of central Italy. With ruthless diplomatic skill he organizes two different alignments of the principal players, to deal with each of his enemies in turn.
The pope forms first the league of Cambrai, in 1508, in which he persuades France, Spain and the Austrian Habsburgs to join him against Venice. The Venetians are defeated at Agnadello in 1509, after which Julius and the Habsburgs appropriate much of Venice's mainland territory.
With this achieved, the pope moves on to his second objective. He organizes the Holy League of 1511. Again there is a single enemy, but this time it is France. Venice, recently humbled, is enrolled with Spain and the Habsburgs on the papal side; and there is useful support from the Swiss, now considered Europe's most formidable fighters. Even Henry VIII of England joins in, at a distance.
In 1512 a joint army of papal, Spanish and Venetian forces weakens the French in a battle near Ravenna, after which the Swiss are able to sweep through Lombardy and drive the intruders from Milan.
At this stage Venice and France are the clear losers. But this has only been round one. In the next bout, the contest becomes much more clearly a clash between Spain and France - and in particular a personal rivalry between two young kings. Francis inherits the throne of France in 1515. Charles, a Habsburg, becomes king of Spain in the following year on the death of Ferdinand II.
Italian realignment: AD 1508-1540
A series of shifting alliances, often brokered by the papacy and ending in inconclusive battles, redraws the map of Italy during the first decades of the 16th century.
Between the league of Cambrai (1508) and the treaty of Cambrai (1529), the territories of Milan, Venice, the papal states and Naples grow or shrink, and abruptly suffer changes of allegiance, according to the temporary effects of battles such as Agnadello (1509), Marignano (1515), Pavia (1525) and the sack of Rome by imperial troops in 1527.
Among the Italian players in this board game, the Medici are among those who gain - being restored, with Spanish support, to their rule in Florence. Venice, an early loser when alone against all the others in 1508, later recovers most of its territory and retains its independence.
The papacy, responsible for the scheming alliances which foster so much of the conflict, appears to receive its just deserts in the sack of Rome in 1527. But it too emerges much strengthened a decade or two later. Once the Catholic Reformation is under way, Rome and Spain - allies in spiritual severity - are well equipped to exercise strict control over the entire peninsula apart from republican Venice.
Venetian decline: 16th - 18th century AD
After the Italian turmoil of the early 16th century, Venice enters a long and gradual period of decline. This is in no way diminishes the artistic brilliance of the city. The Venetian school of the 16th century includes Giorgione, Titian, Veronese and Tintoretto; two centuries later Venice is home to Tiepolo, Canaletto and Guardi. But politically the great days are over.
This is evident in the fact that the republic, once so pugnacious, maintains a cautious neutrality from the mid-16th century onwards. Venice now fights only to defend its Mediterranean possessions from the Turks. In the long run even this proves a hopeless battle.
At first the omens seem good on the Mediterranean front. The Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1570 prompts a vigorous Christian response. A joint Spanish and Venetian fleet defeats the Turks decisively at Lepanto in 1571. But it proves a hollow victory. Only two years later, in 1573, Venice cedes the island to Turkey. A century later, in 1669, the Turks finally evict the Venetians from another great prize, Crete.
Of the island staging posts to the east, so carefully accumulated by Venice, only the Ionian group (including Corfu, Cephalonia and Zante) escapes Turkish encroachment.
Losing its political will, Venice finds the new role which it has enjoyed ever since - as a place of pleasure and delight, Europe's most sparkling tourist attraction. The city has the world's first public opera house, which opens in 1637. It has the pageantry seen in Canaletto, the titillating tradition of masked women who feature in paintings by Longhi, the social comedy of the plays of Goldoni.
This city of canals is an irresistible part of the fashionable Grand Tour. And it remains, under its doddery oligarchy of doge and senate, an independent republic - until the brusque intrusion of Napoleon in 1797.
Austrian and Italian Venice: AD 1797-1866
Napoleon, campaigning against Austria in Italy in 1797, deposes the last doge. By the treaty of Campo Formio, later in the same year, Venice and the Veneto are handed over to Austria.
Venice remains under Austrian rule until 1866, when Austria is defeated in the Seven Weeks' War. Venice and the Veneto (often collectively known as Venetia) are ceded to the newly independent kingdom of Italy. The ancient city becomes, as it remains today, the capital of the province of Venezia.
Editor for Asisbiz: Matthew Laird Acred
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