"The Venetian people have little to call their own--little more than the bare privilege of leading their lives in the most beautiful of towns. Their habitations are decayed; their taxes heavy; their pockets light; their opportunities few.....
The only way to care for Venice as she deserves it, is to give her a chance to touch you often--to linger and remain and return."
-- Henry James (1843-1916)
First Prize, Most Picturesque or Unusual
International Photography Contest Awards 2007
The uniquely romantic city of Venice was built entirely on water and has managed to survive into the 21st century without cars. Narrow alleyways and canals pass between sumptuous palaces, colourful neighbourhood markets and quiet backwaters, unchanged for centuries.
For a thousand years the city was one of the most enduring mercantile sea powers on the face of the earth. Today the brilliance and influence of Venice Italy have long since faded. What is left behind is a shadow of what was, leaving a town of tarnished glories, so out of time and out of place.
Venice is built on 117 small islands and has some 150 canals and 409 bridges. Only three of the bridges cross the Grand Canal whilst a fourth, designed by Calatrava, has been interminably delayed.
Venice in true colours
Located in the Venetian lagoon, a large inlet on the Adriatic Sea, Venice was founded in 421 AD. From 1000 AD to about 1630 AD, it was a powerful maritime empire controlling the spice trade and ruled by a succession of toughminded, and sometimes bloody, Dukes - or Doges as they were called locally.
The city's incredible wealth found expression in gilded palaces and merchant villas lining the main thoroughfare, the Grand Canal. The personal wealth of the powerful enabled them to commission works from the finest Italian and foreign artists including Titian, Carpaccio, Tintoretto, Veronese and many others for the decoration of their palazzos, guild halls. It is the legacy of this civil munificence which attracts art-loving tourists today.
The city has not only inspired gifted artists. Many writers including Henry James, Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, who spent a lot of time in Harry's Bar - Bellini's, have found themselves enthralled with Venice.
Venice is famous for its canals. It is built on an archipelago of more than 100 islands in a shallow lagoon. 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 railroad 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 unique in remaining a sizable functioning city in the 21st century entirely without motorcars or trucks.
From TERRA satellite
The picture is oriented correctly (north at the top)
The history of Venice like the city itself is unique. Inhabitants from the neighboring mainland seeking refuge from the savage Barbarians who conquered Italy after the fall of the Roman Empire, the history of Venice began with the Venetian lagoon offering a refuge for these people. Slowly, but surely, these people learned how to adapt to life on water and the city of Venice rose from the brackish waters of the lagoon to become one of the most celebrated cities in the world. During the history of Venice, the Venetian Republic still remains the longest ever running Republic in the history of the world.
For nearly 1400 years, the two or three miles of shallow water separating Venice from mainland Italy, had not only protected Venice from invaders but effectively isolated the Venetians from the Italian political life.
Untouched by the papalist and imperialist warfare, feudalism and territorial squabbles; they fixed their attention towards the East and the rich markets of the Levantine and Constantinople. And so began the great mercantile empire of the Venetian Republic.
A city built from fear, was soon to be heralded as the most dazzlingly beautiful city in the world. While the Florentines were regarded as great thinkers, the Venetians should be regarded as great doer's. For they alone conquered the malaria-ridden swamps to build a city from nothing.
Venice is the capital of the region of Veneto. At first an outpost of Byzantine civilization, as the community developed an anti-Eastern character emerged, leading to the growth of autonomy and eventual independence.
After 1070 years its independence was lost 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: it was during the "Settecento" that Venice became perhaps the most elegant and refined town in Europe, influencing art, architecture, and literature. Napoleon was seen as something of a liberator by the city's Jewish population. He removed the gates of the Ghetto and ended the restrictions on when and where Jews could live and travel in the city.
At the conclusion of the Napoleonic era, Venice became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when on October 12, 1797 Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio. 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 Seven Weeks War, Venice, along with the rest of Venetia, became part of Italy.
View of Grand Canal from Rialto Bridge
The Grand Canal
The classical Venetian boat is the gondola, although it is now mostly used for tourists, or for weddings, funerals, or other ceremonies, due to its cost. 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 unmotorized gondolas still in common use by Venetians are the traghetti, foot passenger ferrys crossing the Grand Canal at certain points without bridges.
Image by Robert Simmon
NASA’s Earth Observatory
The Grand Canal curves in a great “S” through the heart of the red tile roofs of Venice, Italy, in this Ikonos image (above), acquired on April 2, 2001. The Canal is the main thorough-fare through the city, which is built on 117 tiny islands linked by canals and bridges. The city sits in the center of the Laguna Venetta, three kilometers from the Italian mainland and three kilometers from the Adriatic Sea. Boats, the primary form of transportation, can be seen as small white strips in the Grand Canal and the water around the island. In the large image, the causeway leading to the mainland stretches northwest from the island. The narrow length of land east of Venice, which is covered by the city of Lido, separates the Laguna from the Adriatic.
This image also emphasizes Venice’s fragility. Like the fabled city of Atlantis, the city is at risk of being submerged. Autumn and winter high tides flood city streets and raise water levels on the canals, making it difficult or impossible for boats to squeeze under the bridges. The high tides, called aqua alta, are also eroding the foundations of buildings, which are tightly packed along the edge of the canals and the city’s outer shores.
A pastry shop, December 1, 2008
Flooding in Venice
A gondola passes through flood waters near Rialto Bridge
December 2, 2008
Franco Debernardi/Getty Images
The sirens warn Venetians that the tide has reached roughly 43 inches—enough to spread shallow water across 12 percent of the city. These alarms typically sound in fall or winter. But here stood Carrera in early June and the tide had reached more than 47 inches, the only summer tide above 43 since modern records began in 1923.
Flooding in Venice is nothing new. High tides have been invading the city since the 6th century. The biggest tide on record hit November 4, 1966, reaching more than six feet above sea level. In the decades that followed, the Italian government poured billions into developing a barrier, finally settling on a complex system of floodgates, called MOSE. Building began in 2003 and the system is scheduled to be operational by 2012.
But recent global warming forecasts have caused MOSE—already controversial for its $4.5 billion price tag—to draw scrutiny from scientists the way St. Mark's Square draws tourists. A report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calls into question whether the elaborate floodgate will be sufficient to handle changing sea levels.
The report predicts a rise between about seven inches and two feet within the next 100 years. That range could increase by another seven inches or more based on ice sheet melting in Greenland and Antarctica. MOSE will only protect the city from a sea level increase of about two feet, says Pierpaolo Campostrini, director of CORILA, which organizes all scientific research in Venice.
"It's not changing anything," says Campostrini of the new report. "It's just confirming our worries."
(Venice's Uncertainty by Eric Jaffe at smithsonianmag.com)
Fewer Venetians are able to live on the island these days. Home prices—and prices for basic goods—have left the merchant class with little choice but to move onto the mainland neighborhood, Mestre. Too many high-priced boutiques have replaced the local shops. The owner-occupied apartments are slowly going to the well heeled. Still, Venetians hang on to their island, their city, and their heritage. New housing construction for middle-income Venetians help, and the city is making a comeback.
If you’ve ever spent time getting in to—and then out from—the center of a hedge maze, you’ll enjoy Venice. Get Lost! There’s no worries; you’re on a small island whose narrow alleys eventually lead to a wide canal, and then to the Grand Canal. At worst, you can flag down a private boat taxi or a gondola for that bit of extra special holiday moment. At best, you’ll find a local bar or café where the locals all turn their heads when you walk in, and the menu is in Italian.
from Clark Bunchrom at clarkbunch.wordpress.com
In Venice Italy, even the ambulances are waterborne. The addresses are numbered in an erratic fashion - to put it diplomatically - and often times the city appears to be nothing more than a confluence of boats and gondolas lugging confused looking visitors to parts unknown. Many Venetians have fled the city, looking for a break from tourists and the city's overwhelming prices. The history of Venice Italy is unclear. The city was first formed by refugees escaping from barbarian hordes, weary evacuees who gave up their land for the possibility of freedom upon the nearby islands deemed uninhabitable by many at the time. Like their ancestors, the Venetians are running again.
Every year, the city's water levels rise. The muggy summer air cooks the canals and scrapes the paint and enamel from the city's finest pieces of art. Faithful to its origins, everything in Venice seems to be in peril. This has - logically - spiked tourism in Venice, which for years has been the sole means of support for the historic city, so at least you can rest assured that the high prices you"ll encounter will be funneled into programs to renovate the city. Because, despite its continual decay and a layout so confounding it makes your eyes spasm, the city is still one of the most beautiful destinations in the world.
The pageantry and history of Venice Italy are still alive and well for the time being. And dont worry about getting lost, either - it is said by locals that there are no wrong turns in Venice.