A Brief History of Venice

A Brief History of Venice

Brief History | Interesting facts | Famous people

Where it started

Palazzo Ducale, Venezia Follow Me on Pinterest

Doge's Palace, Venice

According to tradition, Venice was founded in 421 AD on April 25th, St. Mark’s Day (St. Mark is now the patron saint of Venice) when to escape the Barbarian invasions, refugees from the Veneto took shelter in the Lagoon. At that time the most important village in the lagoon was Torcello, where a cathedral was built in 639.

The Doges

In Venice government by the Doges was first formally established by Paolo Lucio Anafesto in 697, but the construction of Palazzo Ducale (Doges’ Palace) in what is today St. Mark’s Square did not begin until the year 814. The Basilica of St. Mark’s was built in 834, but this first basilica was burnt down.

Venice expands

Mainly thanks to the energy of its mercantile inhabitants, Venice became an important trading centre for shipping in the Mediterranean and the East. In 1000 its fleet defeated the pirates of the Adriatic sea, greatly facilitating trade. The Crusades constituted a business opportunity for the Venetians and they extended their rule over the Aegean islands, Peleponesia, Crete and part of Constantinople. Much wealth and many works of art were taken to Venice as booty, especially from Constantinople, such as the four bronze horses of St. Mark’s (the original bronzes can now be seen in St. Mark’s museum, whilst the four horses on the Basilica’s facade are copies).

Marco Polo

Travels of Marco Polo Follow Me on Pinterest

Travels of Marco Polo - Il milione

The journey of the Venetian merchant Marco Polo from Venice to China is one of the most fascinating true stories of Middle Ages (1271-95). His adventures and his meeting with Genghis Khan are recounted in the book ‘Il Milione’.

La Serenissima: Venice reaches its zenith

In 1348, Venice’s population was halved by the plague, but in spite of this, it increased its territories on the Venetian mainland, occupying Treviso, Padua, Vicenza and later Verona, Feltre, Belluno and Bassano (1404-1405), until in 1454 its boundaries stretched as far as the Adda river to the west, and into Friuli to the east. Venice soon became the most powerful of the Mediterranean’s four sea-powers (the other ones were the republics of Amalfi, Genoa and La Spezia) and in 1489 it conquered the island of Cyprus.

Decline and Fall

However, the fall of Constantinople to the Turks and the discovery of America marked the beginning of commercial and political decline for la Repubblica Serenissima di Venezia. After a long period of gradual decay Venice was eventually defeated by Napoleon in 1797, who by the Treaty of Campoformio gave it to Austria (Hapsburgs).

A part of Italy

After the Napoleonic period (1805-14) and the Risorgimento (a failed 1848 uprising against the Austrians) the army of Giuseppe Garibaldi began the unification of Italy in 1860 , and in 1866 Venice became part of the new nation after the 3rd War of Independence.

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Interesting facts:

  • Giacomo Casanova is not a legend: he was born in 1725 in Venice. The myth of the irresistible seducer and lover was given birth in his book ‘Memorie di Giacomo Casanova’.
  • Teatro La Fenice, which was destroyed by fire in 1996 and has now re-opened after rebuilding, was founded in 1790 and was a favourite of Verdi. "Rigoletto", "La Traviata" and "Simon Boccanegra" all had their premierès there.
  • The Campanile, the square bell tower in St. Mark’s Square, collapsed in 1902, but it was completely rebuilt in 1912.
  • Disasters: During the 2nd World War (1940-45), Venice was not bombed but a flood in 1966 caused serious damage: the water level reached 2 metres. In many places in Venice you can see signs marking the height the water reached.

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Famous People

  • Canaletto (artist, 1697-1768)
  • Vittore Carpaccio (artist, 1465 circa-1526)
  • G. Battista Tiepolo (artist, 1696-1770)
  • Tintoretto (artist, 1518-1594)
  • Marco Polo (explorer 1254-1324)
  • Carlo Goldoni (playwright, 1707-1793)
  • Daniele Manin (patriot, 1804-1857)
  • Antonio Vivaldi (musician, 1678-1742)
  • Giovanni Bellini called `il Giambellino (1430-1516)
  • Giangiacomo Casanova (adventurer, 1725-1798)
  • Cesco Baseggio (actor, 1897-1971)

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