For alternate meanings see: Venice (disambiguation).

Venice (Italian Venezia), the city of canals, stretches across numerous small islands in a marshy lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in the northeast of Italy. The saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po (south) and the Piave (north) Rivers.

Venice is the capital of the region of Veneto.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Transportation
3 Places of note
4 Sinking of Venice
5 Miscellaneous
6 Venice in arts and fiction
7 External links


The city was founded as a result of the influx of refugees into the marshes of the Po estuary following the invasion of Northern Italy by the Lombards in 568. 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. Venice was a city state (an Italian thalassocracy or Repubblica Marinara - the other three were Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi). The chief executives were called Doge (duke), and, theoretically, held their elective office for life. In practice a number of Doges were forced to resign the office and retire into monastic seclusion by pressure from their oligarchical peers when they were felt to have been discredited by perceived political failure. At the height of its power, Venice controlled much of the coastal territory along the Adriatic, most of the islands in the Aegean, including Crete, and was a major power-broker in the Near East. The territory of the Republic on the Italian mainland extended across Lake Garda as far west as the River Adda. By the standards of the time, Venice's stewardship of its mainland territories was 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.

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 its frequently coming into conflict with the Papacy, and Venice was threatened with the interdict on a number of occasions and twice suffered its imposition. The second, more famous, occasion was on April 27, 1509 by order of Pope Julius II (see League of Cambrai).

Venetian ambassadors sent secret reports about the politics and rumours of European courts, these supply fascinating information to modern historians.

Venice in true colours

Venice and surroundings in false colour, from TERRA satellite. The picture is oriented correctly (north at the top).

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.


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.

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.

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 so that visitors now need to get a bus to the pier, from which watertaxi or Aliliguna waterbus can be used.

Places of note

The Grand Canal, Venice
painted 1835 by J.M.W. Turner

Sinking of Venice

The buildings of Venice are constructed on closely spaced poles, or pilings, which penetrate alternating layers of clay and sand. Most of these pilings are intact after centuries of submersion. The foundations rest on the pilings, 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.

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 sink. It was realised 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 centimetres over its quays, regularly following certain tides. In many old houses the ground floor is unoccupied due to the periodic floods, but people continue to live and work in the upper stories.

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 inaugurated the "Moses" project, which will 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 challenging engineering work is due to be completed by 2011.


Venice in arts and fiction

Famous Venetians

English words of Venetian origin

See also

External links