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This was Venice, the flattering and suspect beauty – this city, half fairy tale and half tourist trap, in whose insalubrious air the arts once rankly and voluptuously blossomed, where composers have been inspired to lulling tones of somniferous eroticism


Death in Venice by Thomas Mann

Image by Henrique Ferreira


According to tradition, Venice was founded in 421 by the Celtic people called Veneti, who lived along the coast of Northeast Italy and became Roman citizens. In 453 Attila the Hun invaded Italy, later on in 568 the Lombards also invaded the mainland, so many Veneti progressively fled to the islands along the shore with an increase of population.


Venice was at first controlled by the Byzantine Empire – the Eastern half of the Roman Empire, which survived the fall of Rome. In 726 the Venetians partly gained their independence and elected their first Doge (a Venetian word for duke).

The Franks tried but failed to conquer Venice in 810. The city flourished as a trading center and ships sailed to and from its ports. Its population grew steadily. In 828 the body of St. Mark was smuggled from Egypt to Venice and became the patron saint of the city.


In the Middle Ages Venice continued to flourish. The city of Genoa was a powerful rival and during the 13th and 14th century the two cities fought five wars. In 1508 several European countries formed the League of Cambrai and started a war against Venice. After 8 years of war the dominance of Venice over the Mediterranean Sea was largely unchanged. At that time Venice was also under threat by the Turks, who conquered Constantinople in 1453. In 1571 a fleet of the Holy League led by the Venetian Republic and the Spanish Empire inflicted a major defeat on the fleet of the Ottoman Empire near Lepanto.


The discovery of America started the decline of Venice. Trades shifted away from the Mediterranean, and Venice gradually lost power and influence. In the 18th century Venice was politically unimportant although the arts such as opera flourished. Napoleon dissolved the Republic of Venice in 1797. After his fall in 1815, the Venice region was handed to Austria.


The railway reached Venice in 1846. Upheavals swept Europe in 1848 and Venice rose in rebellion against the Austrian rule. For a short period, Daniele Manin became president of an independent Venice, but soon Austrian forces prevailed. The Austrians were defeated by a Prussian-Italian alliance in 1866 and Venice joined the new Italian nation.


In the late 19th century Venice flourished as a port and a manufacturing center. A road and railway connecting the mainland to Venice opened in 1933. In recent times the population has fallen sharply and today it is about 264,000 Mestre included.


Venice was largely spared from the ravages of the Second World War, and the city preserved its superb architectural patrimony. The city remains a main tourist destination: its prestige and fascination is founded on architecture, arts, doges, gondolas and canals, a bundle of sights not to be missed.

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