Today we had the amazing privilege to take a day trip to the City of Venice. The City of Venice is amazing in its rich history and unique geography. The city is actually composed of about 120 different small islands connected by canals and bridges. There are over 400 bridges in the City of Venice putting it on the list of one of the cities with the most number of bridges in the world (Pittsburgh is also on this list). The water throughout Venice shaped both how it developed and how it operates today and is the defining characteristic of the city.
Venice started out as a small village, but eventually grew into a merchant city. Due to their proximity to water Venetians became expert boat builders and navigators. They managed trade with countries others of the time had not yet reached. The islands that composed Venice were sandy and could not support the tall structures that now make up most of the city. To combat this Venetians dug precise holes in the ground and stuck wood into these holes and filled the holes in airtight. Sealing the wood in the ground allowed it to petrify and fortify the ground. The foundations of buildings were now placed on the pieces of wood fortifying the ground, allowing the Venetians to build upwards. The base layer of the whole city is brick due to its relative lightness and elasticity. With this strong ground Venetians were able to build an impressive city. It was upon this type of fortification that St. Mark’s Basilica was built. St. Mark’s Basilica was definitely the most beautiful church I have ever seen. Constructed with designs acknowledging the Byzantine roots of the city, the ceilings are decorated with mosaics of 24 karat gold and stained glass. The designs depict both the old and the new gospel in breathtaking detail. Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside the basilica.
Venetians are unique in that they have always either been conquered by the French and Austrians or they have been a republic. They have never been ruled by a royal family and due to this the richest merchants became the aristocracy in this town. While the Venetians prefered their independence, the rule of the Austrians ended up being very advantageous for Venice because it allowed their major train and road infrastructure to enter the city to be built and also caused the addition of many more bridges to create walkability in the city. Despite the addition of the trains and roads, cars do not really enter the City of Venice. If items need transported into the city, they are often brought as far as possible by truck and then are transferred to boat to deliver the items. Venice still keeps water ambulances and police. There are water taxis as public transportation and of course there are still the traditional gondolas, though mostly for tourists anymore.
Due to the logistical difficulty of living in Venice, many Italians have chosen to live outside of the old City of Venice. Much of the city now operates for and is reliant on the tourist industry. This transition did not start recently though. Even when Venice was a merchant city the residents decided to start opening up small clubs in the ground levels of their homes. These clubs became known as casinos and serve as the namesake for modern day casinos. Upon this change, Venice decided to become an entertainment city. This started the real transition to the tourist industry. However, many of the activities in Venice were considered scandalous, so the trend of wearing traditional Venetian Carnival masks around the city was adopted. This allowed important figures of the past to keep their identities hidden when going around the city. Anymore these days the masks are once again reserved for Carnival.
Venice is a city unlike any other that I have seen. The water that runs through the city has largely affected both its past and present. As a UNESCO heritage sight I am sure many things will be done to try and preserve Venice from now into the future. I am very grateful for the time I have spent in Venice.