Venice

Photo by Henrique Ferreira on Unsplash

Photo by Henrique Ferreira on Unsplash

Short history

Founded as a refuge for people fleeing barbarian invasions after the fall of the Roman Empire, Venice (Italian: Venezia) evolved from a collection of small communities on the Venetian Lagoon into a powerful maritime republic. By the 9th century, it had established itself as an independent entity, known as the Republic of Venice, and it continued to flourish as a major economic and naval power through the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Due to its location at the crossroads of trade routes between the East and West, Venice became a center in the trade of luxury goods, such as silk and spices, and its financial acumen led to the development of innovative banking and commerce practices. The establishment of the Venetian Arsenal in the 12th century cemented Venice’s naval dominance in the Mediterranean.

However, Venice’s fortunes began to wane in the 15th century as new trade routes were discovered and the Ottoman Empire rose to prominence. 

The Republic of Venice’s sovereignty came to an end in 1797 when Napoleon Bonaparte conquered the city, leading to its eventual incorporation into the Kingdom of Italy in 1866. 

Geography

Venice is positioned in the northeastern part of Italy, within the Veneto region, where it serves as the capital. This remarkable city is spread across 126 islands in the Venetian Lagoon, between the mouths of the Po and Piave rivers. Its unique urban layout is characterized by a maze of canals, the most famous being the Grand Canal, which snakes through the city, and a network of 472 bridges that facilitate pedestrian movement across the islands.

Venice’s topography is notably flat, with the highest point being just a few meters above sea level.

Venice experiences a humid subtropical climate, with hot summers and cool winters. July and August are the hottest months, with average temperatures hovering around 28°C (82°F), while January is the coldest month, with temperatures often dropping to around 3°C (37°F). The city also faces the phenomenon of “acqua alta” or high water, especially in the colder months, which leads to flooding in many of its districts.

Population

Venice’s population, as of 2020, stands at 258,685, with a notable distinction between those residing in the historic city and the greater metropolitan area. The historic center itself, is home to about 51,000 individuals. This demographic shift is attributed to factors such as high living costs, flooding, and the impact of mass tourism.

The population of Venice is predominantly Italian, with a small but significant presence of immigrants from Eastern Europe, North Africa, and Asia. 

Roman Catholicism is the predominant faith. However, because of the city’s history as a crossroads of trade and culture, there are communities of Orthodox Christians, Muslims, and Jews. The historic Jewish Ghetto in Venice, established in the 16th century, is one of the oldest of its kind and remains a center of Jewish life and culture.

Language in Venice is predominantly Italian, though the Venetian dialect, known as Veneto, is still widely spoken among locals. 

Main sights

  • St. Mark’s Basilica: This masterpiece of Byzantine architecture, located in the heart of Venice, is known for its opulent design and golden mosaics. It has stood as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power since the 11th century.
  • The Grand Canal: Venice’s main waterway, the Grand Canal,  serpents through the city, lined with palatial Renaissance and Gothic palaces. A gondola ride here provides a unique perspective on the city.
  • Rialto Bridge: Spanning the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge is one of Venice’s architectural wonders. This stone arch bridge is completed in 1591.
  • Doge’s Palace: Once the residence of the Doge of Venice, this Gothic palace is a a reflection of Venice’s complex political past Its lavish rooms and the famous Bridge of Sighs make it a must-visit.
  • Venice Lagoon: The city’s surrounding lagoon, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers escapes to islands like Murano, known for its glassmaking, and Burano, famous for its lace and brightly colored homes.
  • Teatro La Fenice: One of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, La Fenice has hosted numerous premieres of operatic masterpieces. Its interior and acoustics are remarkable.
  • Gallerie dell’Accademia: Housing the most significant collection of Venetian painting from the 14th to the 18th centuries, this museum presents works by artists such as Titian, Tintoretto, and Canaletto.

Food

  • Sarde in Saor: This sweet and sour dish consists of sardines marinated in vinegar, onions, raisins, and pine nuts.
  • Risotto al Nero di Seppia: This risotto is made with cuttlefish ink, giving it a special black color and a savory taste. It’s often served with pieces of cuttlefish.
  • Baccalà Mantecato: This creamy spread is made from dried and salted cod that has been whipped with olive oil and garlic. It’s typically served on a slice of polenta or crusty bread.
  • Fegato alla Veneziana: A classic Venetian dish, this recipe features thinly sliced liver cooked with onions and often served with polenta. 
  • Tiramisu: Although its origins are widely debated, Tiramisu is embraced as a Venetian specialty by many. This dessert layers coffee-soaked ladyfingers with a whipped mixture of eggs, sugar, and mascarpone cheese, topped with cocoa. 
  • Spritz Veneziano: Made with prosecco, Aperol or Campari, and a splash of soda water, this refreshing drink is a staple of Venetian social life.

sarde in saor

Fun facts

  • Venice is known for having no roads, just canals including the famous Grand Canal, making boats the primary mode of transport. This feature has earned it the nickname “The Floating City.”
  • The Venetian Ghetto, established in 1516, was the world’s first area designated for Jews by the government. The English word “ghetto” is derived from the Jewish area in Venice, the Venetian Ghetto in Cannaregio.
  • Venice is sinking at a rate of 1-2 millimeters a year. This phenomenon, combined with the rising sea levels, poses a threat to the city’s future.
  • The Rialto Bridge was originally a pontoon bridge built in 1173. It was replaced by a stone bridge in the late 16th century.
  • St. Mark’s Basilica features over 8,000 square meters of gold mosaics, created over eight centuries.
  • The Venetian Arsenal was one of the earliest large-scale industrial enterprises in history, capable of building a ship in a day during the height of Venice’s power.