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Venice


 


Venice

The history of Venice begins between the 5th and 7th centuries when the barbarian invasions of the Germanic Lombard tribes had intensified across Europe causing the inhabitants of many towns of the Veneto region, which belonged to the Roman Empire under the name of X regio, to take refuge on the islands in the lagoon which make up Venice nowadays. Fishermen, farmers and salt farmers inhabited these islands. The geographical characteristics and the poverty of these islands made them isolated places, ideal for the refugees. The refugees got organised and constituted local governments called “Tribunos Marítimos”. With its growing population and the need for greater protection against the Lombard who ruled on land, came to power the figure of the Doge (“el dux”), supreme leader who replaced the “Tribunos”. During the period that followed, the watercourses of the rivers were turned into small streets and the first buildings were built in Venice, the palafitos (houses resting on pillars) made of Alerce wood.

During the 9th and 11th centuries, Venice experienced a period of prosperity, as it became an important commercial enclave, which made it the merchant capital of the Adriatic. Venice became a city of great importance, not only from a commercial point of view, but also from a military and political one.

The confederation of islands in the Venetian lagoon was part of the Byzantine Empire with its administrative seat in Ravenna. Constantinople conceded important privileges to Venice because of its strategic situation for trade between East and West. With the signature of the treaty of Aquisgrana, between Charlemagne and the Emperor of Byzantium, the influence of Byzantium was itself much reduced, as illustrated for instance by the fact that, in 828, the body of Saint Mark was stolen from Alexandria by the Venetians, who made him Patron Saint of the city, in place of its former Patron Saint, San Teodoro.

In 1000, Venice saw its position strengthened even more on the Adriatic Sea thanks to the conquest of the region of Dalmacia. Subsequently, in the High Middle Ages, its commercial power also increased considerably in the Black Sea and in Syria, as it extended its commercial control over the eastern routes, in particular during the Crusades, thus converting itself into a maritime city par excellence. From the year 1100, Venice represented a great Mediterranean power, and offered the services of its fleet to the Byzantine Empire.

Finally Venice freed itself from the tutelage of the decadent Byzantine emperor in 1203 during the fourth Crusade, when the Venetian soldiers attacked and conquered Constantinople. The Venetian soldiers returned from the East, bringing with them riches that they had plundered, and which can still be admired in the church of San Marcos, amongst others, precious marbles, sculptures, etc. After the conquest of Constantinople, Venice managed to extend its supremacy, thus creating a large colonial empire.

In 1410, Venice was the great military, commercial and political power of the Veneto region, thanks to its powerful fleet which maintained an active trade with the whole of the Mediterranean and extended its network of commercial contacts across the whole of Europe and the Middle East, from England as far as Egypt; thanks also to the high number of inhabitants it had at that time, in the region of 100.000.

Its government and its organisations operated according to principles of internal and external justice. Its symbol remains represented on the facade of the Palacio Ducal by the sword and the scales.

The government of Venice was called “Serenísima Signoria” and consisted of the Doge, el dux, whose mission was to guarantee the respect of the law and the proper organisation of the government, el “Maggior Consiglio” (Great Council), made up of 2000 members whose main task was to write the laws, the Senate which was responsible for foreign affairs and economic and military affairs, “L' Avogadoria de Comùn” (Magistracy, made up of three members), which was responsible for protecting the interests of the patrician families in Venice and guaranteeing the respect of the law , and la Quarantia, or Supreme Tribunal.

Venice went through a period of great magnificence in the 15th century, a period when churches and palaces, mainly in the gothic style, were built. Venice gained international fame thanks to its production of precious fabrics made of silk which came from the east, and also thanks to its lace, jewellery, and garments, which were admired by the royal families in Europe. It was also a period of magnificence in the domain of the arts. Sculpture, painting, theatre, poetry, music, and other art forms endowed Venice with eternal beauty. Objects made of glass, produced on the famous island of Murano were very important for its exports, and still are to this day. Because of its magnificence and economic prosperity, Venice was a military target coveted by several countries, amongst which France, Spain and Turkey, which conquered Constantinople in 1453.

The arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492 heralded the decline of trade for the Venetian Republic because of the discovery of new commercial routes that then became controlled by the Portuguese, Dutch and English.  Also contributing to the decline of Venice was the rapid growth of Genoa, which competed commercially with Venice, and the peace treaty of Cateau-Cambrèsis (1559), which recognised the supremacy of Spain over Italian territories. After that an excessively conservative government also contributed to its decline, but in spite of it all, Venice maintained its independence until 1797 when Napoleon signed the treaty of Capo Formio and handed over Venice to the Austro-Hungarian Empire in exchange for Milan. Venice was finally incorporated into the Kingdom of Italy in 1866 with the third war of independence.


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