Water bus into San Marco. Venice is composed of more than a hundred tiny islets, packed closely together around canals. The city is in a lagoon, protected from the sea by a long strip of land called the Lido.
Venice is famously sinking. Every year high water levels threaten the city’s fabric, and it has long been feared that the beautiful city will one day disappear beneath the water. Many ideas (and funds) have been put forward to protect the endangered heritage site, but the problem is a complex one and ‘solutions’ such as those to construct a giant water-gate are controversial.
For centuries Venice was a republic of immense power; controlling trade routes in the Adriatic, and waging successful wars with rival states. Ruled by a doge, who had his powers controlled by a cabinet, Venice was a proud and rich republic, known as la Serenissima, the most serene.
Every year the Doge would take part in a symbolic ceremony, the Marriage of the Sea, to celebrate Venice’s mastery over the ocean. Like most great powers, however, Venice’s glory was followed by a decline. La Serenissima lost her chattels in wars, and the city’s trade routes declined in importance.
Venice (Venezia) really needs no introduction. The Serenissima has been a fabled destination for centuries. Just the name Venice is enough to conjure up a host of images, even for those who have not yet set foot in Italy: gondoliers in striped jerseys, the Rialto and the Bridge of Sighs, masked balls, golden barges, courtesans in gondolas and crumbling palaces facing streets made of water.
The western world’s most famous figures visited Venice, marvelled at the gold mosaics of St Mark’s, admired art in churches, explored the city’s maze of canals (or, in Byron’s case, swam in them), and then proceeded to preach Venice’s wonders to those unable to make the journey.