Queen of the Adriatic

Venice, ItalyVenice (Venezia) is situated in Italy’s northeast corner, known as the Veneto region, just off the coast, between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers in the Adriatic Sea.

Venice, the City of Canals and the Queen of the Adriatic, stretches across 118 islands which are divided and linked by over 160 canals and 409 bridges. The only access to the city is either via foot or water.

It is truly a marvel and miracle that the city has not been swallowed up by the sea. Many of the buildings are basement flooded and are perched on a bed of millions of wooden piles that have been pounded into the marshy mud and sand.

Brief History

Venice, ItalyInterestingly there is no historical records about the origins of Venice and historians could only surmise that the city was founded by refugees fleeing the rampaging Attila and the Huns around AD 422.

Prior to this, the area was mostly inhabited by fishermen and hunters. Many of the refugees were from (what is now) France and Northern Italy, who were forced to leave their burning towns and villages, which had been set alight by the barbaric Huns (on horseback).

During the mass exodus, people fled to the many islands in the lagoon of Venice in hope they wouldn’t be followed by the invaders. As luck would have it they remained relatively safe (though a tad damp).

The refugees found their new swampy abode a challenge, but they eventually built small cottages on rafts and before long they began to build cottages on posts which had been driven into the mud and sand. Many of the houses were perched just above the sea looking a little like seabird nests.

After the coast was clear of Attila and the Huns, many returned to the mainland but others chose to stay in their watery sanctuary. In 452 Venice was officially founded. Boatbuilding became a popular pastime and salt became their main source of income. Click for more history of Venice.

Things You May Not Know About Venice

Venice, ItalyDuring the Regata Storica (Historical Regatta) men on the peote and ballotine boats were armed with bows so they could shoot disruptive or unruly contestants with terracotta balls.

Rialto is the largest island in the lagoon.

The city of Venice is sinking and has been sinking about 7cm every century for the last 1000 years, but during the 1960’s the rate increased to 13cm a year, due to the draining of underground water supplies by the nearby town of Marghera.

There are less than 20 plumbers in the city of Venice, all of which I assume can swim!

Venice, ItalyThe writer Lord Bryon used to swim naked from the Lido to the end of the grand canal daily. This would be fine except Venice has no sewer system; household waste flows into the canals and is washed out into the ocean with the tides twice a day (not enough!) .

15% of all printed books before 1500 were printed in Venice.

On the Bridge of Sighs there are little grills where the condemned got a last peep at their families before being executed.

The winged Lion of St Mark is the symbol of Venice.

In 828 Venetian merchants stole the remains of St Mark, the Apostle, from Alexandria (a city in Egypt) and brought them back to Venice. St Theodore (Byzantine saint) was swiftly dropped as the patron saint and replaced by St Mark. St Mark’s Basilica was built to house the precious remains.

All gondolas in Venice, Italy must be painted black except if they belong to a high official.

The great lover Casanova was born, Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, in Venice in 1725. His home was on the Calle della Commedia, near the Teatro San Samuele.

Venice, ItalyThe Republic of Venice lasted for over 1000 years before Napoleon took power in 1797, making it the longest-running republic in history.

Isola di San Michele ( a former prison) is Venice’s cemetery. Unfortunately, space is pretty limited (and you can’t dig too deep!) so bodies are buried in tight rows of graves just long enough for them to decompose (approximately 12 years) before they are dug up and moved to either an urn or a cemetery on the mainland.

In 1991, contrary to popular belief, archaeologist Ernesto Canal made discoveries which suggested that the city was founded by the Romans in the 1st century.

Torcello is the smallest and longest inhabited island on the lagoon. Torcello is where Venice was first established.

Piazza San Marco floods about 70 times a year.

The Grand Canals about 3 km (about 2 mi) long and divides the city into two nearly equal portions.

The origin of the name Venice is unknown and much disputed but is currently believed to be Phoenician.