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History & Culture

The history of La Serenissima is a story best encapsulated by the lives of two of its best-known citizens: Marco Polo, the 13th-century merchant and explorer, and Giacomo Casanova, the 18th-century lothario. One used his mastery of the sea to explore the world and trade in the most precious goods, while the other worshipped beauty and romance.

Over many centuries, great industry and art have forged a truly magical city. The city was founded in Rialto, Venice’s first harbour. Here, barrels and boxes of spices, wine and perfume oils were unloaded onto the banks of the Grand Canal to be housed in warehouses called fondaci.

From the 15th to the 18th century, Venice enjoyed unprecedented wealth and influence under the Repubblica Serenissima di Venezia, a system of government close to modern democracy, but ruled by the Doge.

The 18th century was a time of great decadence in Venice, brought to an abrupt end in 1797 when Napoleon Bonaparte invaded and the city became part of the Austrian empire. It was many years later, in 1860, that Italy was united as a nation, with Venice joining in 1866.

During its long history, the biggest barrier to Venice’s development was the difficulty of maintaining a fresh water supply. The solution was to channel rainwater from the rooftops into subterranean wells, part filled with sand, from where the filtered water was then pumped up into the city - you'll see the wells in every square.

The shallow waters of Venice gave rise to the creation of the gondola, the city’s most instantly recognisable symbol. A flat-bottomed boat, it inclines to the right and works without a keel. The gondoliers, famous not only for their incredible skills at controlling the craft, but also for their singing, have serenaded lovers through the ages as they propel them gently along the canals.

Venice has always been a centre for architecture, fine arts and exquisite crafts. Most well-known are the glass factories centred on the islands of Burano and Murano, producing breathtakingly beautiful lamps, tableware and objets d'art.

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