The history of Venice has always been closely associated with the sea. Today the city – at one time the world’s greatest trading empire – still fights a constant battle with the sea as well as the crowds of visitors it receives.
Venice has had a long and often turbulent history. There was a settlement in the area as far back as 2000 years ago – archaeological evidence indicates hunters and fishermen settled on the banks of the lagoon. During the 5th century, the ravages of the notorious Attila the Hun caused many more people to seek refuge in the area.
During its early days, the city was ruled by Byzantium (now known as Istanbul) but in 726, the city decided to elect its first Doge, or duke. The spectacular Doge’s Palace was built between 1309 and 1424. From the 9th century onwards, the city experienced a steady increase in population – along with more demand for space to build on.
To ensure a stable foundation, people in the area began to build on wooden pilings driven deep into the mud of the lagoon. Today, many buildings in Venice still stand on those same pilings and the layout of modern Venice still reflects that initial “building boom”. Learn more about how was Venice built
By the end of the 10th century, Venice had become a rich and powerful trading state. Treasures poured into the city from all four corners of the world – from the sacking of Byzantium, from the crusades in the Middle East and from the once powerful Roman Empire.
The gondola – the enduring symbol of the city – made its first appearance during the 11th century. The gondola was first designed to be a means of transport for rich people and its distinctive flat bottomed design was so that it could easily be navigated through the many sandbanks.
Today, there are just a handful of traditional gondola builders left in Venice and the design has changed little over the years. Gondola licenses are passed down from one generation to another. The most picturesque gondola workshop can be found in the working-class Accademia neighborhood.
Venice’s famous carnival dates back to the year 1162, when the city slaughtered a dozen pigs to celebrate victories in battle. Over the years, the celebration grew and carnival masks were first worn in 1268. Masks were worn for various reasons, one of which was to hide the social order of the wearer. Today, the carnival attracts revelers from all over the world and carnival masks have become a well known symbol of the city.
The city’s fortunes changed again during the early 16th century when Venice found itself at war not only with the Papacy, but with several European powers as well, including Spain. Gradually, the once powerful trading city began to slide into bankruptcy as the Netherlands and England became the dominant trading powers.
By the beginning of the 19th century, the beautiful city of Venice was in a sad state of decay. The city was saved by tourists who discovered the city – and haven’t stopped coming since.
The area of Venice known as the Lido was transformed into a fashionable seaside resort and Venice became a required stop on the “Grand Tour” – a sort of cultural experience for British men. And the city became even better known with the publication of Thomas Mann’s novel “Death in Venice”
In the 1960s Venice was hit by a series of devastating floods which helped to increase efforts to permanently protect the city from the elements. Today, the city still experiences regular floods depending on the tide and the winds. Efforts have been made to prevent flooding by dredging some of the shallower canals and raising the level of some of the streets.
And Venice’s other big problem today is the ever increasing crowds. Venice is a much smaller city than London or Paris, but attracts the same number of visitors every year. One solution proposed has been to charge admission price into the city itself. We can only hope that Venice will be around for another 200 years.