History of Venice

In the beginning....

The first settlers of Venice were the Ligurians who perhaps came first and established themselves on the Euganei hills arriving here from the sea and the land, the Trojans escaping from their town and the Venetians coming from the Slavonic countries. All these peoples who came to our region joined the inhabitants of the Euganei Hills to form a single people.

Hypothesis on who really were the inhabitants of the lagoon in the pre-roman era are advanced. Sided by the toponymy we may argue that they seem to come from the inland with gallo-celtic and Greek inflexions. From this study we deduce the existence of human seltlements in the South Lagoon which was more exposed to the sea and which clearly was as healthy as the woody places. These peoples made contact with the Roman civilization without fighting, since it seems that they were submissive to the Romans, receiving in exchange some remarkable economic advantages. The Lagoon extended from Ravenna to the outlet of the Timavo River and Augustus exploited it as a commercial way connecting Ravenna, Altino and Acquileia. During the whole Roman Empire, the lagoon was little inhabited. It was a holiday resort for noblemen of that time. There were small ports for inland navigation and small settlements of fishermen.

Which area of Venice was first inhabited?

During their restless peregrinations the fore-fathers of the present Venetians, landed at Rivoaltum on the banks of a River which crossed the Lagoon and flowed into the sea at the present-day harbour of San Nicolò. The first Venetians arrived there in two separate moments. First when Pipino the Frankish King tried to seize the rich islands for his tradings and second, after a terrible sea-quake which destroyed Medoaco, situated on the outlet of the Brenta River between Malamocco and the petroleum channel ( Canale dei petroli ).

Today in Malamocco's Church there is a big picture showing Christ and the Madonna of Marina, both made of wood, which were found in the sea after the tragedy.

The very picture reminds us of the sea-quake. It was at Rialto that the maritime tribunes or the oldest captains handed over command of the city to the first Doge, Paolo Luciano Anafesto.

Early Venice

Little remains of early Venice, which was all made of wood - The early proof of this is the map called Temanza, This map was drawn by an anonymous before 1150. Temanza, while working for the Serenissima, found the map itself and by studyng it, he realized that the island of San Clemente had been named " cavana " while we know that a monastery and hospital had already been built in 1152.

By looking at the map we may understand that several rivers came through the Lagoon towards the Sea beyond the sandbank. From the 1st nucleus around Rialto the town stretched Eastwards with the district of Castello. It was chiefly inhabited by the workers of the Arsenale.They lived in poor woodenhunts, built ships and bred fish in the small lake of San Daniele.

When Venice grew bigger and started to trade with the East, they stopped breeding fish and the lake became the dock of the " Arsenale ", where some thousands of workers prepared the Serenissima fleet. Here, at the Arsenale, the heavy cargo boats stopped in order not to ruin the town by their displacement of water.


Rialto was the first harbour of Venice. The barrels, boxes, spices, wine and oil perfumes which were unloaded on the bank of the GrandCanal were housed in the warehouses called " fondaci ". During the day the goods brought outdoors were sold on the stalls around the church of San Giovanni Elemosinaro. The market could be reached by an opening in the bridge called the monete which today can be seen only in a picture in the collection of the Academy of Fine Arts. The bridge, painted by Carpaccio was replaced with that planned by Antonio da Ponte, - built in stone on a single arch -, in the second half of a fifteenth century.

Life in early Venice

It was from Rialto that the steets started. The were all in beaten earth and covered with rubbish, since the Venetians had the bad habit of throwing it out of the windows.

The streets used to became a real quagmire when it rained or when there were high hides. The only scavengers were the pigs which were abundantly bred because they destroyed a large quantity of rubbish by eating it.

With streets such as these, men and women used shoes with very high leels to go out on foot. Since people went round on horses, the bridges were without steps in the early centuries.

Venetian Women used usually to stay at home getting some air and sitting in the sun with the old people and children on the roof-terraces and the verandas called " liago ".

It was a serious problem for the young women to find a husband. Yearly in spring all the girls and boys met with the Patriarc on the island of Olivolo ( San Pietro di Castello) were marriages were arranged under the olive-trees. One year, during the feast-day, some pirates attempted to rape the girls and to steal their dowries, but unfortunally for them, they failed. From then on during the following feasts some big dummies called " marione " were used instead of the girls.

The problem of the water-supply in Venice

The peoples who arrived on the sandbanks resorted to wells to solve the serious problem of the water-supply. The rain-water of the walls was gathered by the " pilele " after having run along the white stone stripes which can be seen also today in the small squares called " campi ". the rain water went in to the subterranean cisterns throug the " pilele ". When it rained little and water was not enough, the venetians went to take it to the Brenta river using some floatboats called " lintre ". The water lightered to Venice and thrown into the wells by buchet hygienically left much to be desired. The waterworks reached Venice only hundred years ago. It was inaugurated with a jet of water in St.Mark's square. From then on the wells in the " campi " are useless, but the beautiful engraved well-cunbs remain.

The Gondola

The Gondola is a flat-bottned boat which is used to go on shallow water. It is in 11,20 long and weighs 8 quintals, it also is inclined to the right and can do without the keel.

The oar stands on the crude made of walnut root, with a curve to turn right and left and another curve to go backword's and forwords.

Since the gondola's were also used during the winter they were covered with a cabin which in dialect was called " caponera ". In Summer they were covered with silk curtains which sheltered the ladies from the sun. Once the gondolas were painted several colours, but not they are all black. People say as a sign of mouring for Venice lost freedom. On the head of the gondola there is a ironwork called " ferro " : here six stripes recall the six districts of Venice while the laces rapresent the three gothic palaces along the Grand Canal. Behind it, the Grand Canal itself and the Giudecca are represented; over the Rialto bridge there is the Doge's hat.

Today, motorboats have repleced most of the gondola's which however are still used by tourists. The wave motion, caused by motorboats. damages the foundations of the palaces, while the Serenissima used to stop even the bigrowing-boats & sailing-boats at the " Arsenale ".

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