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History of Venice

History of Venice (1)

Although the name of Venice first appears in history in the 1st century BC, referring to an old region of the Roman Empire, the origins of the city are not very clear.

The region was originally inhabited by the Veneto people, and it appears that they fled from the devastating invasions by the Germanic tribes such as the Visigoths, seeking refuge on the islands of the lagoon that currently make up Venice and laying the foundations of the city in the 5th century. The present area of Rialto would thus constitute one of the very first settlements.

Forming part of the Byzantine Empire, Venice began to be organised as a republic in 697, when for the first time a Doge was chosen from among the members of the noble families.

As time passed, trade and the participation of Venice in the Crusades enabled unusual economic and military growth, which is shown through the historic events such as the mediation in the peace agreement between Pope Alexander III and Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa in 1177, or the taking of Constantinople in 1204, which provided fabulous booty for the Republic.

The 13th and 14th centuries were turbulent times involving conflicts with other political entities, such as Genoa, which was built up as the main rival for the commercial expansion of Venice in the Mediterranean. However, the military power of the Venetians, along with their enviable political organisation, expressed through the figure of the Doge and bodies such as the Council of Ten or the Grand Council, were of great support in maintaining its position of maritime power.

Concerned by the terrible epidemic of the plague in 1348 and by the pressure of neighbouring powers such as Florence, Ferrara or Milan, Venice consolidated itself despite having to fight the War of Chioggia against Genoa and its allies, Padua and Hungary. The conflict was settled in 1381 with the Peace of Turin, which despite not favouring either side marked the end of the Genoese threat.

After recovering supremacy in the Adriatic Sea, between the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15 centuries Venice  concentrated on achieving new feats, such as the conquest of Corfu or the definitive establishment of a colony in Dalmatia. 

The 15th century meant, on the one hand, the incorporation of mainland territories, such as Verona or Friul, and on the other hand, the constant struggle against the incessant advance of the Ottomans, who in 1453 had taken over Constantinople and were consolidating their advance in eastern Europe.

The annexationist yearnings of Venice were threatened in 1508, when the League of Cambrai was constituted, made up of the forces of Pope Julius II, France, Spain, Hungary, the Germanic Holy Roman Empire of Maximilian I and other Italian allies, such as Florence and Mantua. This alliance smashed the Venetian forces in the Battle of Agnadello, in 1509, and finally put a stop to its advance through the Italian Peninsula, placing the Republic in serious danger.

Combining intelligent diplomatic efforts with a new condition of neutrality in international conflicts, Venice shortly recovered the possessions lost after Agnadello, but never returned to its former glory, and gradually lost its colonies in the Mediterranean, such as Cyprus or Morea.

Nevertheless, the steady political and military collapse of the Serenissima Republic of Venice as an international power coincided with a notable blossoming of art and culture in the city. With great artistic figures, headed by the glorious trio of painters formed by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, Venice headed, along with Florence and Rome, the Italian Renaissance.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, the formidable military effort against the Turkish incursions was a hard blow for the Venetian taxpayers, who saw how the state coffers  were being inexorably emptied. To this delicate situation was added a serious epidemic of the plague in 1630 and a notable drop in the Republic’s trade dealings. 

In the 18th century, famous for the decadent excesses of the Carnival, there was a growing mistrust in the government institutions that had traditionally ruled Venice. This lack of trust resulted in the fall of the Republic, which was confirmed in 1797 when Napoleon conquered the city and ended the power of the Doge. The 19th century was a dark period for Venice, when, as if making simple changes of currency, it passed back and forth between the hands of Napoleon to the rigid and authoritarian Austrian domain.

One of the major events in the history of this region took place in 1866, when, after having supported Prussia, the king of the recently constituted Kingdom of Italy received Venice and its territories as compensation.

The brusque change therefore meant that the Venetians were able to obtain the much-desired liberation from the Austrian yoke, but had to give up, in return, their ancestral independence in order to form part of a new political entity that would consolidate itself in 1871.

Despite the fact that between the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, the area underwent a process of industrialisation and railway lines and roads were built that linked it to the mainland, Venice has remained ostensibly impassive to the changes of modernity, which in some ways is a positive trait, since its exquisite architectural and artistic treasures are a luxury heritage for mankind. 

However, many people state their concern for the future of this city, which must begin to respond forcefully to threats such a pollution, floods and, above all, the progressive emigration of a young population concerned by the excessive property prices and the evident fact that Venice is today, despite its exciting cultural life, which features the Film Festival or the Art Biennial, a city essentially designed for tourism and the services sector.

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