It’s 568, and you’re living in Torcello. Bad news for you. The Lombards are coming out of Germany to take over your island. What do you do? You decide it’s a good idea to abscond to the local swamp and live on sticks.
That’s right. The founding of Venice was the action of refugees who moved away from invasion. Essentially, the matter of building the city was along the lines of St. Petersburg’s building: when something sinks, build on top of it. Eventually, it will stop sinking.
What makes Venice a unique city is that Venice has incorporated so much water into the actual design of the town. Rather than fight the water flow, they have used it to their advantage for such things as water conservation and sewage control. Canals are drained in Venice so that gunk and other unmentionables can be scooped out of them and taken away on barges. The beautiful waters of Venice are a bit murky underneath.
In my research about Venice, I have glossed over a great deal of the early material, because the section that I wanted to study was that of the 19th century. There are a couple of things that you need to know about the city. First of all, Venice and the rest of Italy were a series of city states, not unified, and that would make them particularly susceptible to attack from other European cities. Secondly, in spite of this, Venice was an aggressive, rich trading city, always on the attack, gaining artifacts and and protecting its own port with a strong navy. Venice was in the position of the conqueror for a great deal of the Renaissance.
The system of government was built largely around the economy and the nobility. Some families were better than others, but if you were successful, you could buy your way into the noble families. At the head of the ruling body into which these families had input was a doge, elected and/or appointed, depending on your viewpoint, through a series of arcane and unusual rules.
Venice continued along in this vein until roughly the 16th century.
Mind you, there’s a lot I’m not covering. Venice has serious Byzantine influence, trade with the east, the sheltering of a Pope during a time of turmoil in the Catholic church, many wars with many traders, and an entire soap opera with the reputed remains of St. Mark. But that’s not the time frame of Venice I needed to know about, so I didn’t go too deep.
However, next time, we’ll talk about Napoleon and the Austrians, and the unification of Italy.