Venice (Italian Venezia), city and seaport in northeastern Italy, in Veneto Region, capital
of Venice Province. Venice is situated on 120 islands formed by 177 canals in the lagoon
between the mouths of the Po and Piave rivers, at the northern extremity of the Adriatic
Sea. Because of its historic role as a naval power and commercial center, the city is
known as the “Queen of the Adriatic.” A railroad and highway causeway connect Venice
with the mainland. Long sand bars, or barrier beaches, on the outer side of the lagoon
serve as protection against the sea. The islands on which the city is built are connected by
about 400 bridges. The Grand Canal, about 3 km (about 2 mi) long, winds through
Venice from northwest to southeast, dividing the city into two nearly equal portions. The
Giudecca Canal, about 400 m (about 1310 ft) wide, separates Giudecca Island, on the
extreme south, from Venice proper. No motor vehicles are permitted on the narrow,
winding lanes and streets that penetrate the old city, and the bridges are for pedestrians
only. For centuries the most common method of transportation was by gondola, a flat-
bottomed boat propelled by a single oar. Today, the gondolas are used mainly by tourists;
motor launches carry almost all the freight and passenger traffic in Venice.
Modern Venice has faced many challenges, including loss of population to other areas and
physical damage from flooding, sinkage, air and water pollution, and age. After severe
flooding in 1966, an international effort to preserve historic Venice was coordinated by
the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and
many structures were renovated and preserved. Flooding has occurred throughout the
history of the city; it is caused when high tides combine with storm winds, and has been
combatted with experiments using mechanical barriers. The sinkage of buildings and other
structures, caused by the drainage of underground aquifers, has been addressed by limits
on groundwater usage and the construction of an aqueduct from the nearby Alps.
The basis of the Venetian economy is tourism; along with the beauty of the architecture
and canals and the many art and cultural attractions, there are numerous film festivals and
other events throughout the year that draws visitors. The city is also famous for its
glassware, mirrors, and glass beads, most of which are manufactured on the nearby island
of Murano. Venetian lace, made chiefly on the island of Burano, is notable. On the
mainland, in Mestre and Marghera, are shipbuilding facilities and many industrial plants,
including steelworks, foundries, and chemical factories. Since World War II (1939-1945),
many Venetians have moved to these areas seeking jobs and housing. The Marghera port,
which handles most of the area's seagoing traffic, is reached by a channel that is an
extension of the Giudecca Canal.
Points of Interest
Venice is considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
The city buildings and decorations, from Byzantine to Renaissance styles, show great
artistic achievement. The works of the Venetian school of painting and art are represented
throughout Venetian palaces, public buildings, and churches.
The center and most frequented part of the city is Saint Mark's Square. At the eastern end
are Saint Mark's Cathedral and the Doges' Palace (Palazzo Ducale), the two most
important and imposing structures in Venice. The cathedral—begun about 828,
reconstructed after a fire in 976, and rebuilt between 1047 and about 1071—is considered
an outstanding example of Byzantine architecture. The palace—begun about 814,
destroyed four times by fire, and each time rebuilt on a more magnificent scale—is a
remarkable building in Italian Gothic with some early Renaissance elements. The northern
side of the piazza is occupied by the Procuratie Vecchie (1496) and the southern side by
the Procuratie Nuove (1584), both built in Italian Renaissance style. During the time of
the Venetian republic these buildings were the residences of the nine procurators, or
magistrates, from among whom the doge, or chief magistrate, was usually selected.
Along the two palaces and their extension, the Atrio or Fabbrica Nuova (1810), extend
arcades with cafés and shops. Near the Doges' Palace stand two famous granite columns
erected in 1180, one bearing the winged lion of Saint Mark and the other Saint Theodore
of Studium on a crocodile. The most conspicuous feature of the city is the campanile, or
bell tower, of Saint Mark, which is about 91 m (about 300 ft) high; it was built between
874 and 1150 and reconstructed after it collapsed in 1902.
In the rear of the Doges' Palace is the famous Bridge of Sighs, which connects the palace
with public prisons and was the route by which prisoners were taken to and from the
judgment hall. The most famous of the three bridges spanning the Grand Canal is the
Rialto (1588), lined with a double row of shops. The Grand Canal, the principal traffic
artery of Venice, is lined with old palaces of the Venetian aristocracy, among which are
many structures of historical and architectural renown. Farther north, near the lagoon, is
the 15th-century Church of San Giovanni in Bragora, a domed and columned edifice in
the Italian Gothic style and once the funeral church of the doges. In its vicinity is the
greatest monument in Venice, the 15th-century equestrian statue of the Venetian general
Bartolomeo Colleoni, the work of the Florentine artist Andrea del Verrocchio. The same
section is the site of the Arsenal, a former center of shipbuilding, and public gardens.
Islands extend to the east in the direction of the Lido, an island reef outside the lagoon
that is famous as a bathing beach and recreational resort. Great museums, such as the Ca'
d'Oro (located in a Gothic palace on the Grand Canal), and historic churches are found
throughout the city. The Libreria Vecchia (Old Library) contains about 13,000
manuscripts and more than 800,000 books, some of immense value. The University of
Venice was founded in 1868.
The area around Venice was inhabited in ancient times by the Veneti.
According to tradition, the city was founded in AD 452, when the inhabitants of Aquileia,
Padua, and other northern Italian cities took refuge on the islands of the lagoon from the
Teutonic tribes that invaded Italy during the 5th century. They established their own
government, which was headed by tribunes for each of the 12 principal islands. Although
nominally part of the Eastern Roman Empire, Venice was virtually autonomous. In 697
the Venetians organized Venice as a republic under an elected doge. Internal dissension
disturbed the course of government during the following century, but the threat of foreign
invasion united the Venetians. Attacks by Saracens in 836 and by the Hungarians in 900
were repulsed. In 991 Venice signed a commercial treaty with the Saracens, initiating the
Venetian policy of trading with the Muslims rather than fighting them. The Crusades and
the resulting development of trade with Asia led to the establishment of Venice as the
greatest commercial center for trade with the East. The republic greatly profited from the
partition of the Byzantine Empire in 1204 and became politically the strongest European
power in the Mediterranean region. The growth of a wealthy aristocracy gave rise to an
attempt by the nobles to acquire political dominance, and, although nominally a republic,
Venice became a rigid oligarchy by the end of the 13th century. In the 13th and 14th
centuries Venice was involved in a series of wars with Genoa, its chief commercial rival.
In the war of 1378-1381, Genoa was compelled to acknowledge Venetian supremacy.
Wars of conquest enabled Venice to acquire neighboring territories, and by the late 15th
century, the city-state was the leading maritime power in the Christian world.
The beginning of Turkish invasions in the middle of the 15th century marked the end of
Venetian greatness. Thereafter, faced with attacks by foreign invaders and other Italian
states, its power faded, and the discovery of a sea route to the Indies around the Cape of
Good Hope by the Portuguese navigator Vasco da Gama in 1497-1498 accelerated the
decline. In 1508 the Holy Roman Empire, the pope, France, and Spain combined against
Venice in the League of Cambrai and divided the Venetian possessions among
themselves, and although Venice reacquired its Italian dominions through astute
diplomacy in 1516, it never regained its political power.
In 1797 the Venetian Republic was conquered and ended by Napoleon Bonaparte, who
turned the territory over to Austria. In 1805 Austria was compelled to yield Venice to the
French-controlled kingdom of Italy but regained it in 1814. A year later Venice and