Venice: Destined for the Sea, day 8

During what was the most fun day so far, we all journeyed by train to Venice. The most notable difference between Venice and the other Italian cities we visited was its unique geography. Since Venice was constructed on a lagoon, its interconnected waterways forced the Venetians to become competent boaters. As a result, mercantilism became the strongest industry of Venice, resulting in great wealth for the aristocratic families of Venice. The strength of numerous trading and banking families encouraged a republican style of government and lef to economic innovations such as insurance. The city’s geographic location on the Mediterranean resulted in both Byzantine and Austrian influence on the architecture of the city, and a thirst for greatness as a city state. 

Venice’s location in the world influenced the powers that ruled it and the cultures that dominated the architecture. Being on the east part of the peninsula of Italy, Venice was closed to the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. Many of the leaders of Venice remembered the greatness of Constantinople and strove to build Venice into a new Constantinople in a new Byzantine Empire. The city thus had a lot of Byzantine influence in the architecture and art, as we saw in St. Mark’s basilica. The paintings on the ceiling that were done toward the beginning of the construction of the basilica (it took over four hundred years) reflected the Byzantine art style, while the paintings toward the end of the construction resembled the Renaissance art style. This is easily a result of being in close proximity to Florence, the capital of the Renaissance. Being situated on the Mediterranean, which borders so many powerful other countries, Venetian merchants were able to access wealthy markets and grow very rich. Following the fall of Venice’s time as a city-state, it was ruled by the Austrians, just to the North. This influence can be found in the Baroque styles around the more modern buildings. It was widely agreed upon that the Austrians treated the city and its inhabitants well, even though they rule from so far away. Many of the city’s major bridges were constructed under the government of Austria, and we crossed several of these bridges today. 

The lagoon upon which Venice was built is the only lagoon in the Mediterranean Sea. Though people originally built houses on the islands in the lagoon, the Venetians developed a process to give better structure to the foundations of their buildings; our tour guide explained that they drive wood into the ocean bed and use pressure to petrify the wood. As a result, the magnificent stone buildings could be constructed on the islands. Until the 19th century the city of Venice was only accessible by boat, at which point the Austrian empire funded construction for a rail bridge to the city. This means for over a thousand years the Venetians were forced to perfect their ship building just to bring supplies into the city. Thus the unique geography of the area of resulted in the Venetians using their shipbuilding prowess (they were the best in the world) to transport large amounts of goods around the world. Merchants grew rich because they accessed new markets around the Mediterranean and dominated in their industry. One interesting result of this I learned from our tour guide was the invention of insurance. Merchants wanted to be sure they wouldn’t lose money if one of their trade ships as lost, so large banks of Venice created the option for insurance. Another interesting result of the trading industry was the republican government. Since so many different families in Venice were involved in the trading industry, many families grew rich from either trading or banking. These families formed a government in the style of a Republic, just like the earlier days of Rome. On our tour we saw the building where the representatives in the republic voted on the Doge (the president) to lead the government. 

Venice is unique in that it was built in an unlikely location. The Venetians separated themselves from the mainland and thus encouraged seafaring life. Their superior ships and location on the Mediterranean allowed them to trade large volumes of goods and become very rich, leading to banking families and an aristocratic republic. In addition, being surrounded by so many cultural powers also resulted in a variety of architectural styles, just like many of the other cities in Italy. However, just like Verona and Florence, preserving its past has prevented Venice from maintaining its position as a dominant global trading power.

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