Short history of Venice's Canals
When villagers from the mainland initially settled Venice in the 5th century, the canals were essentially the naturally occurring inlets and channels between the marshy islands of the Lagoon of Venice (Laguna Venezia). Buildings were constructed on pilings made from closely spaced tree trunks set into the layers of sand and clay that made up the islands. As the buildings became more and more elaborately built of stone and brick, more and larger trees had to be brought from farther and farther away – many of the pilings still in use today came from Slovenia hundreds of years ago. The bases of the canals were eventually solidified with limestone. The city was also expanded through time by filling part of the Venetian lagoon to add more canals and structures. All of this lead to the present maze that makes up the city today. Learn more about how Venice was built and the history of its canals.
Since the canals are the city's main circulatory routes, a great deal of maintenance is constantly being done. Canals are shallow – no more than 10-15 ft deep in many places – and are defined by spaces between the buildings that crowd their banks. They must be dredged regularly to remove the silt and sand that is deposited in the canals by the frequent high tides that can flood the city (also known as 'acqua alta, or 'high water').
Human activity and the rerouting of rivers and streams into the lagoon have caused the city to begin sinking. The dredging of canals to maintain a useful depth is constant; many residents who could once step from their homes into a private boat to traverse the city have moved into their houses' upper floors to avoid frequent flooding canals. In 2011, a system of inflatable gates was put into place to control the water that floods the city.
Despite the continued threat to the health of the canals of Venice, they remain one of the most distinctive and compelling architectural features in the world. The canals of Venice are one of Europe's top tourist attractions. A ride through the channels, whether by gondola or in a powered boat, exposes the magic of this unique city in a way that's unequaled by any other method. Travel the Canalasso at night, or explore the maze of smaller waterways during the day; the traveler is sure to come away with memories never to be erased.