A Brief History of Venice
24th December 2014
"I have fallen in love, which next to falling into the canal is the best or worst thing I could do." Lord Byron stated upon arrival in Venice.
This gorgeous city is threaded by a vast series of canals and as the sun shines on the glistening Venetian waters you will truly understand this area’s beauty. Such a stunning city is bound to have a long and extensive history but that is perhaps an understatement. A Star Clippers cruise around the Western Mediterranean, stopping at Venice, will allow you to delve into this city’s extensive history.
The origins of Venice remain uncertain, but it is thought that Venice was originally a home for refugees from Roman cities near Venice such as Padua, Aquileia, Treviso, Altino and Concordia (currently known as Portogruaro); and those fleeing from successive Germanic and Hun invasions.
It is thought that the very first Venetians settled on mud islands and lived in huts, which were mounted on stilts and there was no land to farm. The Venetians looked to the seas and Europe took refuge in an array of cold castles. The Republic of Venice grew without walls and enjoyed a sense of freedom that was considered unique in the Middle Ages. Riches of the Orient arrived in the city, with the arrival of merchant princes helping to contribute to Venice’s image. The city survived many attacks and became the greatest trading and cultural site in Europe – boasting a navy of 3,300 ships.
Palazzos were built in the city hundreds of years before Columbus traversed the seas and discovered the modern world. Over 1,000 years of history have passed since travelling merchant adventurers stole the body of St. Mark in Alexandria and brought it to Venice – causing the great cathedral to be built in order to serve as a tomb. Sea captains scoured the Mediterranean, determined to ensure Venice became a truly wonderful city and they returned with precious stones and sculptures. What followed was the rise of a number of beautiful pillars, domes, gold, opal and pearl.
Piazza San Marco
The next ten centuries saw artisans arrive from various lands to labour on the Piazza San Marco (St Mark), bringing stone angels, golden spires and cupolas, broad domes and lacy curlicues – creating a mixture of what were normally considered untidy ideas. Somehow, however, the glowing sunlight, glistening canals and café chairs of today have blended with the features to create a unique and beautiful atmosphere.
These beautiful features could not stop Venice from decline following the discovery of a new trade route by Vasco de Gama around Africa. The loss of trade followed invasion by the Turks in the 16th century, followed by the fall of the Republic at the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. The years after saw Venice exchange hands between Austria and Napoleon Bonaparte, before the revolt in 1848-49 which re-established a Venetian Republic until 1866, when it became part of the new Kingdom of Italy.
Four Bronze Horses
Venice has seen the arrival of and been influenced by many historical figures over time including, Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, Vasco de Gama and Napoleon Bonaparte. The different rulers of Venice have implemented different features and changes to the city that can be visited on board a Star Clipper ship today. The history is perhaps best summed up with the four bronze horses which stand over the main portal of St Mark’s (although have been moved inside St Marks Basilica and replaced with replicas in recent years for restoration purposes).
These bronze horses were thought to have been constructed in the days of Alexander the Great, adorning the triumphal arch of Nero. They were removed to adorn those of Trajan and the emperors that followed. Following Constantine’s Constantinople; the horses were taken to adorn the hippodrome of his New Rome. They were later taken to Venice and placed outside St Mark’s Basilica, before later being taken by Napoleon in 1707, where they placed in Paris to adorn his triumphal arch. In 1815, the horses were returned to Venice once again by the Austrians and have remained there ever since. Whilst the horses may have changed location over the course of history, St Marks Basilica has remained unchanged for 800 years and has withstood many periods of change.
How did the Gondolas come about? The gondolas were around as early as the 1500’s, when up to 10,000 of them roamed the canals of Venice. However, they were not the only method of water-based travel available. Despite Venice exchanging hands many times the traditional gondolas still float on the canals today – although only 500 gondolas serve the city today.
This is merely a brief overview of the history of Venice - but this city has been influenced by thousands of years of changes and rulers. Star Clippers provides one of the most traditional methods of wind sailing, and arriving into Venice on one of these ships will make for a majestic sensation unlike anything experienced before. Star Clippers provides a range of itineraries around the Eastern and Western Mediterranean and also in the Caribbean; providing for a wonderful holiday experience in 2015.