The neutrality of the Venetian state in the Seven Years’ War would only offer some temporary gains for the city’s fleet which had to compete with new competition like the fleets of  Livorno, Ancona and Trieste, all nibbling an increasing number of pieces out of the Venetian pie. As a result the once dominant fleet of the Mediterranean had by the year 1792 plummeted to just 309 merchant vessels. In March of 1789 Ludovico Manin, a Venetian patrician who had already served as captain of Vicenza, then Verona and Brescia becomes the last Venetian Doge in history, four months before the start of the French Revolution. By the time Napoleon invaded Italy in 1797 the Venetian war fleet numbered only 4 galleys and 7 galliots.  On 25 April 1797, the French fleet arrived at the Lido. Ludovico Manin surrendered on 12 May 1797 and left the Doge’s Palace two days later. On 16 May French troops entered Piazza San Marco and the surrender contract was officially signed, submitting Venice to French rule.

In October 1797 the Treaty of Campo Formio splits the Venetian territories between France and Austria. Venice, Istria and Dalmatia pass under the control of the Austrian Emperor. Napoleon’s biographer, Felix Markham, wrote “the partition of Venice was not only a moral blot on the peace settlement but left Austria a foothold in Italy, which could only lead to further war”. Indeed in 1805 the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy would be formed out of the territories of the Duchies of Milan, Mantua, Modena and the greatest part of the Republic of Venice among others.

Under Napoleon the status of the city was reduced to that of a free port with Milan serving as the capital of the kingdom. However public funding was funneled in the city’s infrastructure, many buildings were demolished to make way for gardens and parks, the Napoleonic wing was constructed in Saint Mark’s square, new port facilities and lagoon defenses were all constructed during that period. After the end of the Napoleonic Empire in 1815 the new Kingdom of Lombardy–Venetia was formed and Venice came under Austrian rule again. The Austrian Emperors would resume the public works initiated by the Napoleonic regime. In 1846 a new railway bridge is constructed across the lagoon connecting Venice with Mestre and the rest of the Italian cities that were interconnected by train in the following years.

Despite their efficacy in several areas the Austrians didn’t manage to win the hearts of the Venetians who saw their resources being exploited by a foreign power and Trieste being favored as the imperial port. In addition the Venetian economy stagnated due to the bureaucratic Habsburg system which held up with red-tape all the capital that was destined for Venetian entreprises. In 1844 two brothers from Venice, Attilio and Emilio Bandiera members of the movement Giovine Italia for a united Italian Republic became symbols of the cause for independence after their failed attempt to stage a revolt against Bourbon rule in Calabria and their execution by the authorities. Their cry “Viva l’Italia!”(Long live Italy!) would become the slogan of every Italian patriot and their martyrdom would immediately bear fruits.

In 1848 the whole Italian peninsula was at a boiling point. The demand for independence was common ground. In January of 1848 Daniele Manin, a Venetian patriot with studies in law, who presented to the Venetian assembly (a mere consultative organ tolerated by the Austrians) a petition intended for the emperor, that was informing him about the Italian nation’s demands, is arrested on the charge of high treason. On March 17, 1848 the people of Venice force the Austrian governor to release Manin. On March 22 Daniele Manin with a group of patriots enter the Venetian Arsenal. Four days later the Austrians withdrew from Venice and Manin had been proclaimed President of the independent Republic of San Marco.

Most of the cities of Venetia sided with the lagoon and rejected Austrian rule investing Manin with dictatorial powers during the state of emergency. Despite the great support Manin had from the middle class, a class which emerged as the city’s most vociferous group after more than a millennium when the mercantile patricians pulled all the strings, the dream of self-rule proved to be short lived. The Austrians launched a counter-attack and in May of 1849 Venice was under siege. A heavy bombardment of the city for three weeks, along with famine that came as a result of the blockade by the Austrian army and cholera that was sweeping the city by August led to the surrender on August 27 and the exile of Manin and 39 more of his fellow-revolutionaries.

Venice had to wait until the outbreak of the Austro-Prussian war in 1866 when the newborn Kingdom of Italy and Victor Emmanuel II seized the opportunity to capture Venetia from Austrian rule and allied itself with Prussia. With the Peace Treaty of Vienna on 12 October 1866, Venetia was ceded to Italy  in exchange for the Italian acquiescence to the French annexation of Savoy and Nice. After a typical referendum on 22 October when only 69 out of more than 642,000 votes were against the annexation, Venice became part of the new Italian state. Victor Emmanuel triumphantly entered the city and performed an act of homage in the Piazza San Marco.

The unification had its cost with Venice paying the results of uneven economic development with a great many of its people choosing to leave their homes in order to escape from poverty. Between 1870 and 1910 nearly 3 million residents of the region of Veneto emigrated to the Americas.

Although times were harsh, the extraordinary charm the mythic city exerted on outsiders would restore her to life and transform her to what we know today. Outsiders had never stopped travelling to Venice. Traders that came to Venice from all the corners of the world and the Italian peninsula, people fleeing from more conservative backward cities who chose Venice to live their short or long-term dream of a liberal society, or even crusaders who flocked to the city’s port on their way to the east. A bit later came the first tourists who wanted to experience the  lightheartedness of the famous Carnival, enjoy the delights of the notorious courtesans, gamble at one of the Ridotti or enrich their education as part of their Grand Tour across Europe. In fact the British idea of Venice as the “locus of decadent Italianate allure” made it an epitome and cultural set piece of the European Grand Tour. K. & J. Jacobson

From the beginning of the 19th century a new wave of tourists, the so called romantics, drawn by the refined decay that followed after the French occupation, was consisted by poets like Lord Byron (1816-1819), writers like Mary Shelley (1818) and Charles Dickens (1844, described the city as an Italian dream) and Henry James (late 1880’s) painters like Manet (1875), Renoir (1881),Turner (1818-1819, 1829 & 1840), philosophers like Nietzsche (1879) and composers like Wagner (very frequent visits between 1858 and 1883) all sought inspiration in the lagoon city.

Old patrician palaces like the Palazzo Dandolo were converted into grand hotels attracting rich tourists who nevertheless came in contrast with the poor majority of the city’s population. The rich and famous operated as the best advertisers for the masses that followed suit. By 1845 a city of about 120.000 residents was already visited by 100.000 tourists per year, offering the Venetians a way out of the economic slump. Especially after the Italian unification the numbers increased exponentially with its fellow countrymen placing Venice on the top of their list along with Rome. In 1857 the first sea bathing facility in Europe was set up at the Lido, nothing more than a sandy strip of deserted fortresses until then. By 1880 The Lido has become a European byword for a beach resort.

Towards the end of 19th century many mainland companies transferred their factories to the edges of the lagoon. They were drawn by the new railway system and of course the strategic location and infrastructure of the port. The new factories were added to the about 50 already operating -mostly- in the island of Giudecca which became Venice’s first industrialized district. Cotton, textile and flour mills, breweries, pasta, tobacco and cement , watch and ice factories created a new industrial landscape dominated by smokestacks and huge building blocks.

The puzzle was completed with the introduction of steel in the city’s new bridges and street furniture and the inauguration of the first public motorized boats, the vaporetti used to transport passengers around the lagoon in 1881. The operation of the first vaporetto line within the limits of the city would create a huge wave of protest from the city’s boatmen and gondoliers who perceived the arrival of the ugly water-buses as an immediate threat to their profession. The reactions would ware off after a few weeks. Sharanath Shetty

Eager to speed up Venice’s touristization by firmly establishing its place in the mind of international travelers and having the great exhibitions of London and Paris as an example the Venetian City Council passes a resolution to set up a biennial exhibition dedicated to the city’s favorite subject. Art. The first Venetian Biennale in April 1895 attracts more than 224.000 visitors and instantly becomes a popular European institution.

Italy entered the First World War in 1915 on the side of France despite its initial alliance with the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Great concerns about the fate of Italy’s main naval base in the Adriatic started to materialize when the bombs released by a squadron of Austrian aircrafts intended for Santa Lucia railway station destroyed a large part of Santa Maria degli Scalzi Church. courtesy of

In October 1917, the troops of the Central Powers broke through the Italian lines and advanced almost unhindered through Veneto until they reached Piave River. In the decisive battle of Piave River outside Venice the Italian troops achieved a resounding victory that saved Italy from invasion and became the swan song of Austria-Hungary on the Italian front. 42 air raids, 84 people injured, 52 civilian deaths and extensive damage to artistic heritage, homes, industries and public buildings, especially the Arsenal, the railway station and St. Mark’s Square that were hit repeatedly, was the sad overall account of WWI.,_June_1918_Q19080.jpg,_June_1918_Q19087.jpg

Τhe assurances from the allies that Italy would get Dalmatia would be revoked soon after the war. It would become a perfect excuse for Benito Mussolini and his fascists who based many of their expansionist claims to the Venetian cultural heritage of territories like Dalmatia, Albania and the Ionian islands to the east among others.


The fascist party won the elections of April 1924. In the beginning Mussolini’s fiscal policies followed the lines of classical liberalism. In the same time, tourism that had already played a crucial role in Venetian economy from the end of the 19th century seemed to be on a booming trajectory.

Things would drastically change with the coming of the Great Depression in 1929. The economic precipice of USA and Germany, two of the major sources of visitors of Venice immediately affected the city. Despite Mussolini’s proclamation about the importance of tourism in Italian prosperity in 1931 and the efforts to boost the public’s interest about Venice Biennale with the inauguration of the first film festival in the world , the Venice Film Festival in 1932, things would get downhill in an accelerating pace. In June of 1934 Mussolini would receive the newly elected Adolf Hitler in Venice, the city mostly associated with the Italian fascists’ claim to dominate the Mediterranean. Their grand plans would cost dearly to both of their countries and many of their cities that were bombed repeatedly if not razed to the ground by the Allies. Venice was miraculously spared by both warring sides. Koninklijke Bibliotheek - National Library of the Netherlands in pinterest

The Jewish community of Venice however would not be spared, especially after Italy’s occupation by the Nazis in the late 1943 hundreds of citizens of Jewish origin were arrested and sent to various concentration camps. Venice was liberated in April of 1945 with the first allied forces that entered the city coming from New Zealand. Annabel Freyberg

By Annabel Freyberg Annabel Freyberg

Following the ugliness of WWII Venice’s timeless beauty and role as a museum of the world, had to battle with the erosive damages of industrial pollution, the sinking of the historic center and the increasing decay of its countless old buildings. Earth subsidence became even greater in the 1950’s after a series of fresh water extractions made by industries on the nearby mainland. When this water started to be extracted on a large scale, Venice began to sink at an alarming rate. The intensity of the floods already part of Venetian life from the foundations of the city, especially during the period of Aqua Alta, between autumn and spring, were accentuated, turning the area Piazza San Marco into a giant swimming pool for almost two months every year.

After a disastrous flood in 1966, and given the incapacity of the Italian government at the time to face the enormous problems of the sinking city, UNESCO issued a report in July of 1969 about the urgency of prompt action in order to save the city. The Venice Defense Front, a cross-party body which tried to alert public opinion was established in 1968 with the British being the first from the international community to act, launching the initiative of Venice in Peril fund in 1971. They were followed by a big list of countries around the world that joined in to support financially the much needed projects for the maintenance and salvation of this wonder of the world. Since the early 1970’s more than €10 bn have been spent by the Italian governments on saving Venice. The best known and controversial in the same time plan is called Project Moses that has started in the early 1980’s and is still under construction. Today Venice, despite of all of its problems and the hoards of tourists that debark from cheap flight planes and cruise ships on a daily basis doubling up its population, is still what it always was. The dream of every romantic and history lover in the world.


Venice gained exclusive, in essence ruling rights, to a large part, about three-eighths of the Byzantine Empire, which would be from then on known as Imperium Romaniae, the Empire of Romania or Latin Empire of Constantinople. The Venetian Doge was the first choice for the imperial crown but chose to decline the offer due to his advanced age (90 years old). He would die a year later (1205) and would be buried in Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.

The new emperor, Baldwin IX of Flanders , later his younger brother Henry of Flanders were assisted by a council in which the Venetian Chief Magistrate was the most influential member, practically a vicegerent  independent of the emperor. The islands of the Ionian Sea, of the Saronic Gulf and the Cyclades passed under the direct control of the Venetian Stato da Màr (State of the Sea). Ten years later and after a prelude war of the full scale warfare that would follow, the Venetians take the island of Crete from the Genoese (1218) who had held it since the fall of the Byzantine capital.

The Greek islands opened up new trade routes to Anatolia & the Eastern Mediterranean which were now controlled by Venice while valuable raw materials like the famous marble from Naxos and the agricultural products mostly coming from Crete filled up the markets of the city. Trade routes became longer, transactions increased exponentially. With the increase of trade, new wealth was generated, creating a new cast of rich citizens in an unprecedented pace. Impressive new palaces like Fondaco dei Tedeschi (The fondaco– from the Arab word fonduk– then served as a multifunctional home, warehouse, and market), Fondaco dei Turchi and Ca’ Farsetti were built to house the city’s increasingly influential nobility.

Thousands of Venetians left their cramped, damp houses to become landowners and nobles in the sun-bathed, conquered lands, without however this always being easy, as in the case of Crete for example, which would account for more than one uprisings for every single decade of Venetian occupation until the early 14th century.

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As in the case of Crete the Venetians would mainly compete with their fellow countrymen, the Genoese. In 1256 the merchant colonies of the two engaged in open warfare over a piece of land in Acre, the capital of what remained of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. In the fierce war that broke out the Venetians had with them the Pisani, the Provencals, the Knights Templar and some of the local nobility while the Genoese had the support of the Catalans, the Anconitani and the Knights Hospitaller. Nearly 20,000 men in total lost their lives in the War of Saint Sabas which ended in 1270 with a truce mediated by Louis IX of France, who wished to embark on a crusade and needed the two rival fleets for this undertaking. Up

Nine years earlier Michael VIII Palaiologos, the ruler of the Empire of Nicaea, had reconquered Constantinople for the Greeks, had destroyed its Venetian quarter and had re-established the Eastern Roman Empire. Captured Venetian citizens were blinded, while many of those who managed to escape Constantinople had perished onboard overloaded refugee ships fleeing to the rest of the Venetian colonies or Venice. One of the Venetians who foresaw the new tectonic shift on time was Niccolò Polo (Marco Polo‘s father) a merchant who had resided in Constantinople for many years and had made his name and wealth through trade with the Near East. A year before the new fall of the city to the Greeks this time, he had liquidated his assets into jewels and had moved away.

In 1269, Niccolò met his son Marco in Venice, for the first time in both of their lives. Two years later the seventeen year old Marco, his father and uncle set off for Asia. Their series of adventures would be thoroughly documented by Marco who returned to Venice 24 years later (1295) with many riches and exotic treasures, after a journey of almost 24,000 km (15,000 miles) that was meant to inspire every aspiring explorer and bold adventurer in the future.

Marco Polo’s adventures were far from over. The war with Genoa had officially re-commenced (in essence it had never stopped) and Marco Polo fell into it as soon as his galley was armed and ready. He was captured however by the Genoese in 1296 off the Anatolian coast and was kept as a hostage for several months. He would dictate his adventures to the writer and fellow inmate, Rustichello da Pisa. Their co-written “Book of the Marvels of the World” about the travels of Marco Polo became one of the first and most famous best sellers in the known world.

The end of the 13th & beginning of the 14th century found Venice in a very precarious state. The fall of Acre, the last Crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, to the Mamluks of Egypt in 1291, inflicted the first serious blow to Serenissima’s future prospects. The victories of the Genoese who had grown stronger, culminated with the devastating for the Venetians naval Battle of Curzola in September of 1298 when the Venetian fleet was almost completely annihilated and about 7.000 Venetian soldiers lost their lives.,_13th-14th_centuries.jpg

Despite the heavy losses Venice managed to build and equip a brand new fleet of galleys in a very short period of time, a remarkable feat on itself that would help  Serenissima secure a reasonable truce. Although the power and colonies of the Republic were to a great extent preserved,  the self-confidence of the Venetians had been significantly bruised. The popular discontent quickly morphed into a dispute about Doge Pietro Gradenigo‘s (r. from 1289 to 1311) aptitude for the job. The doge had already caused a great discord with a law that restricted the eligibility for the Great Council to only a few families (1297). The straw that broke the camel’s back became his conflict with the papacy over the control of Ferrara, which in 1308 evolved into an open warfare. Pope Clement V used all the weapons at his disposal. In March 1309 the Republic was excommunicated and all Catholics were barred from trading with Venice. He then preached for a crusade against the Venetian Republic (May 1309), declaring that all Venetians captured by other Catholics could be sold into slavery without the worries of a sin, similarly to the practice followed for non-Christians. In June 1310 the members of some of the oldest aristocratic families in Venice organised a conspiracy to overthrow the doge and the members of the Great Council. The rebels were crushed near Piazza San Marco by the forces faithful to the Doge. During their retreat the wooden Rialto Bridge was burnt down. The leaders of the rebellion were exiled and their houses were razed to the ground. Another response to the revolt, was the creation of the Council of Ten, a governing body, of one-year term and emergency powers, with a task to preserve the government in cases of rebellion or corruption, that was established in July 1310. The members of the council were to be confined in the Palazzo Ducale during their whole tenure and would not be able to hold their post for two successive terms in order to prevent corruption or bribery.

People from the colonies in southern Greece and Croatia, from other Italian cities and France, Jewish people who found an ideal city to do business (lending money with interest was only a sin to Christians at the time), merchants and builders from the Holy Roman Empire, all flocked in the booming city which by 1300 had a soaring population of around 100.000. In the first half of the 14th century Venice waged new attacks against Byzantine outposts, had its first serious skirmishes with the advancing Turks in the east and was implicated in a full scale war against their ambitious neighbours from Verona who had seized the control of Vicenza, Padova and Treviso. Venice formed an alliance with Florence, Siena, Bologna and Perugia enhancing its own army of about 40.000 citizen soldiers who were conscripted for the war contrary to to the usual practice of the time which was the hiring of mercenary soldiers. A peace agreement that secured the interests of Venice was sealed in 1339, in St. Mark’s Basilica.

In the beginning of 1348 a double blow would bring the city to its knees. A great earthquake that had its epicenter in the neighboring region of Friuli would cause hundreds of casualties and destroyed houses. It coincided with an outbreak of the plague that wiped out about a third of the overall population. The two tragic events sparked apocalyptic fears to many god-fearing Venetians. Despite the calamity Venice had to recover and protect its interests abroad. In 1345 after numerous insurrections the Dalmatian port-city of Zadar which had been under Venetian rule since the early 1200’s, formed an alliance with King Louis I of Croatia-Hungary. As if that wasn’t enough Genoa joined in, with its fleet devastating Venetian territories and threatening the city itself , which was saved only after winning a decisive naval battle off the coast of Sardinia together with the help of the Catalan fleet in 1353.

The terms of another fragile peace between the naval superpowers of the time would be imposed by the superior at that point in time Genoese Republic. The heavy economic burden that was laid at the shoulders of the Venetian treasury as compensation by the Genoese caused a huge public discomfort that was funneled towards the ruling aristocracy. The newly appointed Doge Marino Faliero (September of 1354) tried to take advantage of the momentum, set aside the oligarchic government and establish a dynastic rule. The reflexes of the aristocratic elite proved to be sharp enough and after just few months in power the new doge was found guilty of treason. He was beheaded and his body was mutilated. His portrait that had been displayed at the Hall of the Great Council since his election was removed and the space was painted over with a black shroud with the inscription Hic est locus Marini Faletro decapitati pro criminibus (“This is the space reserved for Marino Faliero, beheaded for his crimes”). The rest of the conspirators were hanged from the balconies of the recently revamped in Gothic style Palazzo Ducale for everyone to see. One of them was the architect himself.

In 1356 Giovanni Delfino, a general of proven value and member of one of the most prominent noble families in Venice would take over the helm and the momentous task of reversing the descending spiral of the Republic but things would become worse before they got better. In 1358 the army of King Louis I crushed the Venetians on land and seized the control of the the whole Dalmatian coast. In the same year Padova managed to halt the city’s trade with Egypt, triggering a serious economic crisis. The new doge would die of plague three years later, closing his ill-fated spell with his burial in the new resting place for doges, the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo.,_Venice

The constant warfare and the continuous need for a combat-ready fleet increased the demands laid upon the colonies by the Venetian state. A new tax imposed on August of 1363 on Candia (Heraklio), the capital of the colony of Crete, despite the fact that it was set out due to the need for maintenance of the city’s port, roused the locals and the Venetian feudators who had been living in Crete for two or three generations by then. Both groups viewed the tax as a burden that fell on the shoulders of the ones who would benefit less from the improvement. The merchants of Venice where the ones who had to pay.

The Revolt of St. Titus spread like fire the whole island, with the Greeks fighting side by side with the Venetian insurgents, taking over the control of the main cities on the island, proclaiming their independence and establishing the Commune of Crete with the figure of St. Titus (instead of that of St Mark), serving as the new state’s emblem.,_Crete,_Greece_001.jpg

Too much was at stake for Serenissima which saw Crete as the crown-jewel of its Empire. A request for a boycott against Crete was sent out even to long-time enemies like the Doge of Genoa and Louis I of Hungary while an appeal for military aid would succeed in the formation of a multinational mercenary army, led by a Veronese general. The army would reconquer the main cities in just a few days and scatter the rebels who fled to the Cretan mountains in May of 1364.

The Venetians had just managed to fully subdue Crete when the third and final round of the bras de fer with Genoa started to unfurl. In the War of Chioggia that started in 1377, what sparked the collision was the control of the small island of Tenedos that could hinder the access to the Black Sea, through the strait of the Dardanelles.

Grown Up

Venice formed an alliance with the Kingdom of Cyprus and Milan while Genoa sided with Hungary, Austria & Padova. Very close to being a complete disaster, the war was saved when the invading Genoese fleet was trapped in the harbor of Chioggia in December of 1379. The Peace of Turin in 1381 closed a series of disastrous wars with considerable losses of territories (islands of Chios, Lesbos, Tenedos, surrender of Treviso and recognition of Genoese supremacy in Cyprus) and an even more significant detriment in the field of economy.

Despite the severe damage in the Republic’s affairs the Venetian ingenuity found a way to make its public finances bounce back mostly after the re-establishment of the trade with Egypt. By 1400 a new wing at the Doge’s Palace, most of the work in the Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo and the last touches in the imposing  Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari were all complete. The two churches followed the new Venetian-Gothic style that prevailed in the city’s palazzos in the 15th and 16th century.,_Venezia_-_panoramio_(3).jpg

The good condition of the state’s treasury in contrast with the situation in Genoa which entered a deepening financial crisis because of the war, allowed a new round of military claims for Venice, this time in the Italian mainland. The neighboring rival cities of Padova and Verona were forced into submission by 1405. By 1410 the eastern coast of the Adriatic was under Venetian rule again. By 1420 most of the territories under the Patriarchal State of Aquileia (Udine, Friuli & others) were forced to accept the rule of Venice. The empire was growing again.

The period that followed until the year 1450 was marked by the confrontation of Venice with the ambitious Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan and the increasing influence of various distinguished Condottieri, professional mercenaries who were employed by powerful Italian city states, changed sides without hesitating and won battles based on the detailed information they had previously mustered. Up

The most famous case of condottiero in the service of Venice was that of Francesco Bussone da Carmagnola. Born near Turin, in a humble peasant family, he started his military career in the service of the Viscontis of Milan early on and by his 30’s he had already clawed his way up to the highest rank of the Milanese army. In a very short period of time he managed to win over several cities for the Milanese with Genoa being one of them. His rapid success & abilities scared the Milanese duke who tried to secure his own place against the rising star. Instead of trusting the condottiero with the general command of the Milanese army he appointed him governor of Genoa. Carmagnola however rejected the honorary position and offered his services to the new Venetian Doge Francesco Foscari.

The information which Bussone carried with him about the functions of the Milanese army in a time when Milan pursued the expansion of its realm outside the limits of northern Italy and the raging war of Milan with Florence left no room for doubts about who would be next in the Milanese list. That threat prompted the doge to entrust Carmagnola with the position of Captain-General of the Venetian army in 1426. Soon after, war was declared and Venice joined Florence in her fight against Milan.

Bussone quickly took Brescia for Venice but then he started to follow a tactic very popular in the soldiers of fortune, he began to stall. The more the time the bigger the revenues for mercenaries. The bigger the expenses for Venice of course which started to catch on to his tactics and demanded a new victory in order for him to keep the command. An important victory was delivered at the Battle of Maclodio in 1427 but the stalling tactic continued right after it. By 1432 the patience of the Venetian rulers had been evaporated. Bussone was summoned to Venice by the Council of Ten with the pretext of a discussion on future operations. He was imprisoned and brought to trial for treason against the republic in March of 1432. He was condemned and beheaded in May 1432.

Until the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, Venice was the undisputed maritime superpower of the eastern Mediterranean. In the new reality the Venetian galleys would have to compete with the armadas of the constantly expanding Ottoman Turks who threatened to turn the lucrative naval routes of the Aegean, Black Sea and the Levante into their own private lagoon.

The first Ottoman–Venetian War started soon after the capture of Constantinople and included several Venetian and ex-Byzantine territories that were all lost to the Turks by the end of the war in 1479. The Republic managed to recoup its losses with the acquisition of the last Crusader state-island of Cyprus in 1489.

The migration of Byzantine Greeks to the west had already started after the first fall of Constantinople in 1204 as a reaction to the evident decline of their empire. After the fall of their capital to the Muslim Turks a massive wave of Greek scholars, writers, poets, printers, lecturers, musicians, astronomers, architects, academics, artists, scribes, philosophers, scientists, politicians and theologians  began to settle in territories of the Republic of Venice, including Venice itself which by 1479 had a population of about 5000 Greek residents, in their majority highly educated.

The Greek scholars and their extensive knowledge of the ancient Greek and Roman texts would play a crucial role in the revival of Greek and Roman studies and the subsequent development of Renaissance humanism. Spurred by the Peace of Lodi in 1454, that became an agent of relative calm to the region of Northern Italy for the first time in centuries, the spirit of Renaissance spread in Venice and the rest of the Italian cities mainly through the novel creations of their talented artists.

Colossal talents that would be admired by laymen and fellow artists for hundreds of years to come, worked in Venice during the second half of the 15th century and the first half of the 16th. Especially Venetian painters would change the face of their craft by creating a new distinctive school, the Venetian school, a school more sensuous and coloristic, harbinger of a more optimistic era. Jacopo Bellini (1400 – 1470) Lazzaro Bastiani (1429-1512), Gentile Bellini (1429–1507), Giovanni Bellini (1430–1516), Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506), Giorgione (1477-1510), Bernardino Licinio ( 1489 – 1565), Titian (1490 – 1576) and Tintoretto (1518– 1594) all lived and created their masterpieces in Venice in the latter half of the 15th and first half of the 16th century.

The unfavorable for the Venetians Treaty of Constantinople in 1479 ended, at least temporarily, the fifteen-year old conflict with the Turks and allowed the Republic to turn its full attention towards its terra firma (main land) and its Italian neighbors. At that time, Venice felt and acted as a superpower which basically meant that no violation of its sovereign rights could be left unanswered. In 1480, Ercole I d’Este, a man who had become Duke of Ferrara in 1471 with the support of the Republic would step into its most important and long established trade monopoly by taking control of the salt-ponds of Commachio just south of the Venetian border-line.,_Duke_of_Ferrara#/media/File:Ercole_I_d'Este.jpg

In the War of Ferrara that started in 1482 Venice had the support of the papal troops and contingents from the Republic of Genoa and the Marquisate of Montferrat that stood against those of Ferrara, Naples, Milan, Mantova and Bologna. The Venetian troops quickly overrun Ferrara’s forces and in November of 1482 laid siege to the city of Ferrara itself. However the Pope would change sides and Venice had to suffice with minor territorial gains with the Treaty of Bagnolo in 1484, marking the historical zenith of the Venetian Empire. Never again would Venice control so much land and possess so much power as in the late 15th century.

Sensualism was not just something that permeated Venetian paintings of that era. 15th century Venice was a very erotic city. In fact prostitution was a practice that was encouraged from the Venetian state as a way to combat homosexuality that especially after the plague of the 14th century and the plummeting of the general population became a matter of governmental concern. About 11.000 licensed city prostitutes were working towards the end of the 15th century in a population of about 150.000 people, with many more unofficial streetwalkers who couldn’t be counted because they weren’t in a brothel, and women who worked at the job part time when money was tight. The analogy was by far the biggest in Europe.

The fame of the Venetian prostitutes, the puttana (the ones working out in the streets or in the taverns), meretrice pubblica (the ones working in the licensed brothels) or cortigiana (sophisticated, beautiful and highly paid) and Venetian brothels spread across Europe with the city’s bustling port acting as the best marketeer. Εasy access to carnal pleasures wasn’t the only thing igniting the world’s imagination about the alluring city that was built on water. The first record of the Venetian Carnival dates back to a document of 1094 by Doge Vitale Falierο , which speaks of public entertainment and mentions the word Carnival for the first time. By 1296 the Senate had declared the day before Lent a public holiday while by 1436 the so-called mascareri (mask makers) had been officially recognized as a profession with a statute, according to the State Archives.

Supported by the Venetian oligarchy who saw the carnival as a harmless and useful de-pressurizing valve of the bridled by religious conservatism masses, the carnival was quickly braced by the people of Venice. By the year 1500 the period of the festivities had been stretched to 40 days in total. Excessive drinking, partying, fun and festivities, all covered in a cloak of anonymity guaranteed by the masks and costumes, managed to soften almost all social divisions. Bull races and ceremonial sacrifices, wrestling and gymnastic displays, parades leading to Piazza San Marco, official ceremonies led by the doge, competitions between the siestres (districts) of the city, jugglers, acrobats, musicians, dancers, animal shows and various other performances, entertained a varied audience of all ages and social classes. Vendors sold all kinds of merchandise, from seasonal fruits to rich fabrics, from spices to food from distant countries, exotic lands of the East, combined with crowds wearing or buying elaborate masks and fancy costumes created a mesmerising atmosphere that celebrated life and pushed all serious affairs of the state to the sidelines. By the mid 16th century the Venetian Carnival was famous enough to attract visitors from all the corners of the European continent.

Painting by Pietro Longhi

Of course not everything was rosy for the Venetian Republic even at that time of heyday. In 1499 a new, more vicious round of warfare with the Ottoman Turks would recommence over the control of the Aegean and Ionian Seas. By 1503 the Venetian galleys had been defeated in several naval battles by the war ships of the Turkish admiral Kemal Reis who managed to overwhelm several Venetian positions in Greece. In 1503, Turkish cavalry raids reached Venetian territory in Northern Italy, and Venice was forced to recognize the Ottoman gains, ending the war.

In the same year (1503 was the year the infamous & controversial Pope Alexander Borgia died) the plea for help by the dispossessed by the Borgias lords of the Romagna, one of the richest regions in Central Italy, in exchange for their submission to the Republic of Venice, would implicate Serenissima into the uneven war against the League of Cambrai, a huge anti-Venetian coalition under the new Pope Julius II that broke out in 1508.

The joint forces of the Papacy, France, the Holy Roman Empire and Ferdinand I of Spain, each and everyone eager to take some part of Venetian territory for their own, were too much to handle even for the mighty Venetian Empire. On May 14th 1509 the Venetian army was crashed in the Battle of Agnadello, where more than four thousand of its soldiers died and as Machiavelli puts it in his most famous work “The Prince”, it took one day for the Venetians to lose what it had taken them eight hundred years to conquer.

French and Imperial troops occupied Veneto, all land accumulated in northern Italy during the previous centuries was lost to the French, the Apulian ports in the south were ceded in order to come to terms with Spain. The papal army invaded Romagna and seized Ravenna with the help of the Duke of Ferrara. In the same time Pope Julius II  issued an interdict against Venice excommunicating every citizen of the Republic. It was a complete meltdown. Jacopo de' Barbari

Still the Venetian stamina and notorious diplomatic prowess managed to come through once more. Taking advantage of the papal concerns over the increasing French presence in Italian territory, the Republic formed a new alliance with the Pope who switched sides when in the same time, it supported the revolts of the conquered cities against the foreign invaders. The Veneto-Papal alliance became official and went on the offensive, managing to win over several cities by the beginning of 1511. Despite the remarkable rebound however, the year 1509 marked the historical end of Venetian expansionism.

The Pope continued to look for ways to oust the French from Romagna once and for all and since the League of Cambrai was in essence void, he called for a formation of a new Holy League against the French in 1511. The Venetians played a crucial role in the reconquest of Milan in 1512. When Emperor Maximilian I -who was now on the same side- refused to surrender the territories of Veneto and after the endorsement of his decision by the Pope, Venice turned to France signing a treaty in March of 1513 that stipulated the division of Northern Italy among the two allies in a bold move of Realpolitik. The move by Doge Leonardo Loredan proved to be insightful. France won the war against the Holy League and Venice was able to take back the territories it had lost after 1508. In addition the Papacy was forced to repay its debts to the Loredan family, approximately 500,000 Ducats, which was an enormous sum of money.

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens,_Holy_Roman_Emperor

In another corner of the earth things wouldn’t play out as well. Until 1509 the Venetians were the ones in complete control of the extremely lucrative European spice trade by monopolizing the flow of spices from India to Europe, through their alliance and trade agreements with the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt that extended across the largest part of the Red Sea coastline. Despite its reinforcement by Ottoman vessels which had been disassembled in Alexandria by Venetian ship-builders and reassembled on the Red Sea coast, the Egyptian navy would be crippled by the Portuguese fleet in 1509  in the Battle of Diu off the coast of India. Venice would no longer have its monopoly.

Some things in Venice did not depend on the political or military struggles. Venetian glass-making fell into the category of things that by the end of the 16th century was standing on pretty solid foundations. By then the island of Murano was almost completely inhabited by skilled glass-makers who were inventing new methods and techniques that offered prestige to their guild and wealth to their city. The Venetian glass production had acquired such a fame that the status of the producers was considered equal to that of a Venetian nobleman. In its effort to keep their techniques a secret, the Republic didn’t allow them to leave the country. The exportation of professional secrets was punishable by death. In vain however since Venetian-style glassware would soon be produced in other Italian cities and several European countries that managed to take hold of the patents.

The Third Ottoman–Venetian War (1537–40) and Fourth Ottoman–Venetian War (1570–73) would weaken the Venetian position in the East even more and cost the loss of most of the Cyclades in the Aegean, the strongholds of the Peloponnese in mainland Greece and the island of Cyprus. Despite the crushing defeat of the gigantic Ottoman fleet of 300 ships in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 by the new Holy League, the vast Ottoman reserves would prove enough to re-confirm the solid Ottoman control of the Eastern Mediterranean with the sole exception of Crete that still remained under Venetian rule.

The new ocean trade that was born after the discovery of America and the new route to India, made ocean-going vessels more important than the Mediterranean galleys. The Portuguese caravels would make Portugal Europe’s primary intermediary in the trade with the East and dethrone Venice from its position as the most important center for international trade. The irony of things was that at that time the Venetian Arsenal’s ability to mass-produce galleys had reached its apogee and was incomparable to any shipbuilding enterprise in the world. With almost 16.000 workers and the capacity to produce  fully equipped merchant or naval vessels at the rate of one per day, the Arsenale Nuovo  was the single largest industrial complex in Europe prior to the Industrial Revolution. In 1593 the mythical figure of Galileo Galilei himself became a consultant to the Arsenal, advising military engineers and instrument makers and helping to solve shipbuilders’ problems, many of them relating to matters of ballistics. by Giuseppe Bertini

The problems of the Republic mirrored in the course of the general population which reached its peak in the mid 16th century topping at about 180.000 inhabitants (when London had a little more than 70.000 and Milan 75.000) and then dropped to a little more than 150.000 by the beginning of the 17th century, a trend that would continue in the following years.

Until the end of the 16th century the great need for financial instruments produced in a bustling trading center like Venice was covered by private banks, local bankers who kept their customers’ deposits and transferred money by simply writing the sum from one account to another. The reality was perfectly portrayed in Shakespeare’s play The Merchant of Venice written between 1596 and 1598.

The bankruptcy of five of those bancos di scritta in 1568 created the need for the first public bank, the Banco della Piazza di Rialto which assumed the role played by the private banks before their failure. It was the second state institution of its sort to open in Europe, a few years after the establishment of the London Royal Exchange. After 1637 the first public bank in Venice which was ruined by bad loans was replaced by the Banco del Giro which was controlled by the Senate and was an essence a new institution of the Republic  the first public bank in Venice was replaced by the Banco del Giro that took over the same role and became a permanent institution of the State and a progenitor of modern central banks.

By the year 1600 several architectural landmarks like the Doge’s Palace that had been destroyed by a series of consecutive fires during the 16th century, the Biblioteca Marciana, the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs had all been completed, giving the city, the key elements of its appearance, identified and admired in every corner of the civilized world up to this day.

The weakening Venetian economy fell into a new vicious circle with the outbreak of the Thirty Years’ War and the loss of the German market in 1618. In the same time the Republic had to pay a substantial amount of money that went on incessantly since the 1590’s, to fend off against the attacks of the Uskok pirates (Croats, Serbs and Bosnians who had fled their conquered by the Ottomans lands and had settled the coastal lowlands around Split). The fact that the Austrian Emperor Ferdinand I had made those same pirates his vassals in his effort to use them as cushioning against the Ottomans, complicated things even more. The matter was resolved with another costly war known as the Uskok War that was fought against Austrians this time ending with peace treaty that put an end to the pirate problem in 1618.

A new war in 1628 against the Habsburgs on the occasion of the designation of the new Duke of Mantua would implicate Venice in Italian politics for the first time in more than a century. The consequences would be disastrous not so much because of the defeat of the Venetian army but mainly because of the plague it brought back to Venice in 1630. The disease ravaged the city wiping out more than 45.000 people (the number reached 94.000 if one included the victims of the wider region) in a general population of 140.000 in 16 months. Some historians believe that the tremendous loss of life, and its impact on commerce, ultimately resulted in the downfall of Venice as a major commercial and political power.

Like the calamity of a pandemic was not enough the Republic was swirling around the whirlpool of civil war since the end of 1628, between the supporters of the reigning Doge Giovanni I Cornaro a faction that was pro-papal and was backed by the Venetian oligarchs and the supporters of Renier Zen, a leader (capi) of the Council of Ten and a great criticizer of the Doge, a faction that was anti-papal and backed by the poorer nobility.

As a true harbinger of modern societies Venetian life of the early 17th century presented many of the bad habits that modern man is accustomed to. Illegal gambling had become a serious problem in the city despite the efforts of the Venetian authorities who had put a ban on games of chance popping up at an alarming rate in various corners of the city’s streets. As a result of the clamp down, many private houses were converted into illegal casinos known as Ridotti (Ridotto comes from the Italian word riddure, meaning to close off or make private).   In an effort to control the situation, the city leaders would open the first government-owned casino at the Palazzo Dandolo in 1638. It would be the first legal casino in the history of the Western world.

After the loss of Cyprus in 1570, the Republic was very careful not to provoke the Ottomans who appeared to have far more military might and resources than the panting city-state of Italy. After more than sixty years of peaceful relations and uninterrupted trade transactions however, the Venetians were the first to provoke a reaction with the bombardment of Avlona, in today’s Albania, part of the Ottoman Empire at the time, where a fleet of Barbary pirates had fled seeking protection in 1638.

In 1644 an attack on an Ottoman convoy bound for Mecca by the Knights of Malta who slayed all the men on board (sailors and pilgrims) and then docked at a small harbor on the southern coast of Venetian Crete became the final straw for the hawkish Ottoman court. The Venetians vehemently denied their involvement in the incident but the dice had already been cast. The fertile lands and plethora of natural ports of the Greek island had for long been in the Ottoman target as the only non-ottoman territory in the eastern Mediterranean since the end of the 16th century. Fifty thousand troops and more than 400 ships sailed from Constantinople in April 1645 heading towards the last major overseas possession of Venice.

Although the first city (Canea in Venetian, today’s Chania) on the western side of the island  fell relatively quickly (56 days), the capital of the island, Candia (today’s Heraklion) would manage to withstand from 1648 when the siege began, until September of 1669 when Captain-General of the Venetian forces on the island and future Doge Francesco Morosini negotiated its surrender. It would be the second longest siege in history after that of Ceuta (1694-1727) by the Moors.

The Venetians wouldn’t lay down their arms so easily. Encouraged by the defeat of the Ottoman army in the Battle of Vienna in 1683 the Venetians declared a new war against the Ottomans on April of 1684. Enhanced by men and ships from the Knights of Malta, the Papal States, the Duchy of Savoy and mercenaries from several German states, especially Saxony, they started winning back several outposts in the Ionian Sea. The maestro of the avenging expedition was none other than Morosini who had been accused of cowardice and treason upon his return to Venice, after the surrender of Crete in 1669 but was acquitted after a brief trial. In the so-called Morean War that followed,  Morosini and his troops managed to win over the whole of Peloponnese in only two years. The success caused great joy in Venice, and honors were awarded on Morosini and his officers. Morosini received the victory title Peloponnesiacus, and a bronze bust of his was placed in the Great Hall, something never done before for a living citizen of the Republic.

Success increased Morosini’s appetite who decided to head north towards Athens which after so many years of Ottoman rule was nothing more than a provincial Ottoman town. The garrison of the city retreated in the famous Athenian Acropolis that had been used as a gunpowder warehouse by the Turks after 1640. On September of 1687 a shot hit the building causing the destruction of the temple’s roof and most of its walls. Despite the capitulation the Venetians would only keep Athens for a few months before retreating to the Peloponnese. Before his retreat Morosini completed the destruction of the temple by looting many of the sculptures. Although he was honored with the election as a doge upon his return in Venice in 1688 he is mostly remembered historically for his unfortunate contribution in the destruction of one of mankind’s most important monuments.

The Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 confirmed the Venetian possession of the Peloponnese and the islands of Aegina, Lefkada, and Zakynthos. Still the gains were not enough to compensate for the huge loss of life and monstrous expenses of the wars with the Ottoman Empire. In the same time the new Venetian Kingdom of Morea required evenn more expenses in order for some military readiness & elementary defense to be secured.

After the end of Morosini‘s dogeship the Venetians decided to elect someone less ambitious with the hope he would lead them into a more peaceful era. Silvestro Valiero was just that. With no special talents aside from his good looks and fluent speech the new doge was more interested in hosting lavish celebrations and banquets. After his death in 1700 a huge tomb was erected in  Basilica di San Giovanni e Paolo for him, his wife and his father by Andrea Tirali, architect of Ponte dei Tre ArchiSan Nicola da Tolentino, San Vidal and Palace Manfrin.

In the new European conflict, triggered by the death of the last Habsburg King of Spain, Charles II of Spain in 1700, Venice chose to stay neutral despite the efforts by both France and the Habsburg empire to win its support. On the Eastern front the Ottomans were not willing to let the Kingdom of Morea remind everyone of their defeat by an inferior power. Encouraged by their victory in the Russo-Ottoman War of 1710–1711 and the favorable Treaty of Adrianople in 1713, the Turks declared war on the Republic in December 1714. A huge army of 70.000 men left Constantinople for Morea which was defended by 5.000 strong, scattered among the various fortresses.

In a few months the Kingdom of Morea had been lost along with several other Venetian outposts, including the last remaining in Crete that followed next. It would be the end of Venice as an important, competitive military force. Some last naval expeditions in 1717 & 1718 were unsuccessful. The last Ottoman-Venetian War (1714-1718) sealed the Republic’s political future and the closed last chapter of its seaborne empire. The Republic would now focus in its cultural life and continental domains which extended west almost to the city of Milan and east across the most part of the Dalmatian coast.

Culture was always among the strongest suites of the Republic. One great example was its relationship with music. In 1637, after a long period of private theaters owned by the wealthiest aristocratic families and attended exclusively by nobles, the first public theater Teatro San Cassiano dedicated to opera, opened its gates in the parish of San Cassiano near the Rialto. It was the first public opera house in the world. In 1639 Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo premieres with an opera and quickly attracts famous sopranos and composers of the era. Teatro San Moisè opens its gates with Claudio Monteverdi‘s (now lost) Opera L’Arianna in 1640. It was followed by Teatro San Samuele in 1655 (used primarily for plays but more closely associated with opera and ballet in the 18th century), Teatro San Salvatore in 1661, Teatro San Giovanni Crisostomo in 1667 and Teatro San Angelo in 1677. The opera craze of the 17th century had been spurred by the wealthy patrician families like the Grimani who saw the decline in the traditional overseas trading and decided to invest in opera at a time when the art form was still put on trial for exhibitionistic display in the rest of the European countries. It had followed the birth of the very distinct Venetian polychoral style, a type of music that marked the passage from late Renaissance to the early Baroque era and was created as an adjustment to the the architectural peculiarities of the Basilica San Marco in the late 16th century. The opera was later transformed by the famous Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi who in 1613 started working in San Marco as conductor. He wrote most of his opera masterpieces in Venice where he was buried in Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in 1643.

The unique cultural hive that was Venice in the 17th century and 18th century would shape the brilliance of two colossal figures in the history of art. In 1678 Antonio Vivaldi is born in Venice. His father a barber before becoming a professional violinist, taught Antonio to play his favorite instrument and then toured Veneto playing the violin with his young son. At the age of 25 Antonio Vivaldi became maestro di violino (master of violin) at an orphanage-convent-music school in Venice, called the Ospedale della Pietà (Devout Hospital of Mercy). Most of his compositions, written in the 30 years he worked there would change music forever. In 1707 Carlo Goldoni is born in Venice. His witty unconventional plays would place him in the same category as Moliere and would be played without interruption in every theater of the world to this day.,_Bosphore.jpg

The Republic’s prestige quickly bounced back after a successful naval battle in the spring of 1095 and although the First Crusade departed a year later from the coasts of Italy without any knights and ships from Venice, it wasn’t long before Doge Vital I Michele (1095-1102) realized the economic gravity of the crusades. In July of 1099, 207 ships sailed from Venice to support the First Crusade. The Venetian fleet wintered on the Greek island of Rhodes where it intercepted and sank a fleet of enemy ships until it sailed for Myra in Asia Minor, where it obtained the remains of Saint Nicholas and Theodore the Martyr. It then turned towards Syria & Palestine where  it managed to break the blockade that had been imposed on the troops of Godfrey of Bouillon in Jerusalem (conqueror and first ruler of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem) securing new rights and tax exemptions for the people and merchants of Venice.

The establishment of the Catholic Crusader States on the eastern coasts of the Mediterranean opened a wide spectrum of opportunities for the naval city state of Venice which had already the advantage of good relations with the dwindling Byzantine Empire on the east, in essence filling the gap on its behalf.,_12th_Century._ca._1200.jpg

The plea for help by Baldwin de Burg, King of Jerusalem to Pope Callixtus II, after a crushing defeat by the Turks in 1119, would be forwarded to the Venetians which were more than eager to answer. The rewards were agreed in advance and on August of 1122, 120 ships with 15.000 men left the Venetian lagoon for the Palestinian  coast under the leadership of the doge himself. Early Adulthood

The naval expertise and ingenuity of Doge Domenico Michele who led the Venetians, played out in masterful way in May of 1123, when he managed to trick the Saracen fleet of about 100 ships sailing off the coast of Ascalon (modern day Ashqelon, Israel) and make them believe that what was in front of them was an inferior pilgrimage convoy. Thus secured another resounding victory for Serenissima. The Venetians then landed their ships in Acre (part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem since 1104), with the doge following the route to Jerusalem, where he celebrated Christmas and established a treaty known as “Pactum Warmundi”. Signed with Patriarch Warmund (hence the name of the treaty) of Jerusalem (Baldwin de Burg had been held captive by the Turks after a battle earlier that year), the treaty granted the Venetians several rights, privileges and lands in exchange for their help in the siege of Tyre, one of the two cities on the coast still under Muslim control (the other was Ascalon).

The city of Tyre fell in June of 1124 and the Venetians were free to head home carrying with them agreements that would make Venice the predominant power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Despite the prospects of future gains however the spoils of the expedition had not matched the aspirations of the troops and so with their confidence at an all time high, the conquerors of Tyre, exercised their predatory urge on the way back, on the Byzantine islands of Rhodes, Samos and Lesbos , and the city of Methoni  in the Peloponnese. The inscription on Doge Michele’s tomb reveals the pride with which his fellow citizens perceived these misconducts.  “Terror Graecorum…et laus Venetorum”(“A horror to the Greeks…in praise of the Venetians”).

The next doge fell into a turbulence of successive attacks by a series of external enemies. First the Hungarians, captured important Venetian bases on the Dalmatian coast, then Padova tried to extend its influence in territories under Venetian control and finally Ancona infringed on its south borders. It was at that perilous time that the first Consilium Sapientis (Council of Wise Men) was established by representatives of the dominant aristocracy as well as bankers and merchants in order to advise the doge in the matters of the Commune Veneciarum (City of Venice), in a new oligarchic form of the state that would increasingly restrict the rights of the doge.

Venice would not participate in the Second Crusade, following one of the first decisions of the sapientes but it would win new influence in Eastern Mediterranean, especially in the Greek islands of Chios, Cyprus, Rhodes, and Crete by assisting once again the Byzantines against the Normans and Roger II of Sicily. The tension between Venice and Constantinople started to build up mostly on Domenico Morosini‘s term (1148-1156). The Venetian fleet systematically plundered the Greek islands while its merchants were expelled from the Byzantine capital by John II Komnenos. In the same time, relations with the Vatican took an opposite turn, creating positive effects on domestic matters and on the trade with the rest of the Catholic countries, which had up to that point considered Venice to be a schismatic (Byzantine) realm.

Coming in good terms with the rest of the Catholic world didn’t mean that the city was keen on ceding an inch of its autonomy to anyone besides its local rulers. In 1164 Venice established the Veronese League with Verona, Padova, Vicenza, and Treviso against the efforts of Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa for the direct Imperial control over Italy. Three years later more cities joined in the so-called Lombard League that had the same aim.

In 1171 the Genoese settlement in Constantinople is attacked and nearly destroyed. Despite the Genoese affirmations that Venetians had nothing to do with the attack,  Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143–1180) used the incident as a pretext to order the imprisonment of all Venetian citizens in the Byzantine territory and their property and ships to be confiscated.,_possibly_Genoa.jpg

The long established alliance between Venice and Constantinople was officially over. Preparations for a full frontal war started immediately and in September 1171, Doge Vitale Michiel II led an armada of 120 ships out of the Lagoon to attack Byzantium. Mostly preoccupied with the threats coming from the east the Byzantine Emperor chose a stalling tactic with the ambassadors of the two sides agreeing on a truce and the Venetian armada waiting at the island of Chios during the negotiations that dragged on through the winter.

An outbreak of the plague that spread like fire among the stacked crews would force the armada to retreat to Venice empty-handed and the Doge to face the General Assembly at the Ducal Palace in May 1172. He was accused of falling into the Byzantine trap and nearly decimating the Venetian fleet without even giving a fight. He was also accused of bringing the plague back into the city. With the General Assembly against him and an angry mob outside the palace, the doge attempted to flee to the Convent of S. Zaccaria but was stabbed to death outside the convent by one of the mob. He was the first doge to be murdered at home in more than 200 years.,_Venice,_Venice#/media/File:Pinacoteca_Querini_Stampalia_-_Visita_del_Doge_a_San_Zaccaria_nel_giorno_di_Pasqua_-_Gabriele_Bella.jpg

Later that year, the new doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172–1178) would drastically change the entire layout of St.Mark’s Square and commence the great reconstruction of the Ducal Palace based on the pre-existing fortresses on the site, with one facade to the Piazzetta of San Marco and the other overlooking the St. Mark’s Basin.

On 29 May 1176 the Imperial army of Frederick I Barbarossa suffered a major defeat by the Lombard League in the Battle of Legnano. On July 24th, the emperor himself would close the chapter of his Italian aspirations by signing the Treaty of Venice in the Lido, at the mouth of the Venetian Lagoon.

In 1181 the first pontoon bridge across the Grand Canal was set up in order to provide direct access to the Rialto district that had grown into the most important market area of the city. The name of the bridge would be Ponte della Moneta probably because of a mint that stood near its eastern entrance. It would be the first version of the famous Rialto Bridge which evolved into a wooden structure of two inclined ramps that met at a movable central section that could be raised to allow the passage of tall ships in 1255.

Painting by Vittore Carpaccio by Vittore Carpaccio

In 1192, Enrico Dandolo, son of a close advisor to Doge Vitale II Michiel who had been murdered a few years earlier and member of one of the most prestigious Venetian families  (it had already produced a patriarch), would reach the highest office of the Republic after serving for many years as an ambassador in Constantinople. When Dandolo became the forty-second Doge of Venice, he was already aged and blind (he was probably born around 1107), he showed however according to contemporary testimonies, tremendous mental strength. He had also accumulated an almost life-long hatred for the Byzantines after narrowly escaping the wrath of his fellow citizens in the disastrous expedition against Byzantium in 1172 and after seeing first hand the results of the so-called Massacre of the Latins that decimated a population of nearly 60.000 in Constantinople by the Byzantines in 1182. Dandolo‘s aptitude for the job became obvious very soon with the introduction of the silver grosso in the Venetian currency system in 1194. Until then the Venetian merchants had been using the Byzantine coinage in their foreign trade and the silver pennies called denari that were based on the coinage of Verona for its domestic transactions. The grosso was kept at 98.5% pure silver (the denari contained less than 25% of fine silver) worth 26 denarii. It would soon become the dominant currency for trade in the Mediterranean.

Painting by Domenico Tintoretto;_Istituto_Veneto_di_Scienze,_Lettere_ed_Arti.jpg

Saladin’s conquest of the greatest part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in 1187 had set in motion a new round of crusading fervor. The Third crusade of 1189 had failed to re-conquer Jerusalem and in 1198, immediately after his ascension to the throne, Pope Innocent III made clear that a new crusade would be the prime goal of his pontificate. Ιn March 1201 Venice agreed on the ambitious plan of the transportation of a massive army of 33.500 crusaders. The endeavor required a full year for the construction of numerous new ships, the training of a great number of new sailors that would man the ships in addition to the de facto curtailing of the city’s naval commercial activities. by Raphael

Although the Venetians kept their share of the bargain the assembled in Venice crusaders in May 1202 were about three times less than what was expected. This could only translate into an economic disaster for the city which had invested too much to the expedition. The payment of the crusaders hardly covered half of the agreed price and Dandolo had to come up with a solution. It didn’t take long for the ingenious Venetians to figure out a way out of the mess. The cities and the ports on the coast of the Adriatic had been under the immediate Venetian control since the beginning of the 1000’s and the end of the era of the Narentine pirates. The city of Zadar (Zara) in Dalmatia had rebelled and allied itself with the King of Croatia & Hungary since 1181. The indebted crusaders would help Venice re-establish its dominion in the Adriatic, subdue Zadar and pay the rest of the owed silver to Venice out of the spoils of the war. Dandolo gave a fervent speech in San Marco committing himself in crusading, in  essence taking the helms of the expedition and in October 1202 the fleet sailed from the lagoon.,_the_false_and_the_true,_embracing_the_people_of_all_races_and_nations,_their_peculiar_teachings,_rites,_ceremonies,_from_the_earliest_pagan_times_to_the_present,_to_which_is_(14765724582).jpg

Zadar fell after a brief siege in November 1202.  The fortifications of the city were demolished and the spoils were divided according to the agreement. Still the numbers didn’t add up for the Venetians. Things would take an unexpected turn. Alexius IV Angelus, son of the deposed by his brother, Byzantine Emperor Isaac II Angelos had fled to the court of the Hochenstauf King of Germany, Philip of Swabia (South-western Germany) and had spent some time in the German court trying to win the German King’s support for the deposition of his uncle. In a twist of fate , at that court, at that time, he would meet with the Italian count Boniface of Montferrat who had initially been chosen as the leader of the Fourth Crusade but had disagreed with the Venetian plans and had not participated in the expedition against Zadar. Instead he had decided to pay a visit to his cousin, the German King.

Abbey of Notre -Dame in 1201,_Marquess_of_Montferrat

It is uncertain whether the meeting of the two was pre-organised by the German King or whether the Italian Count traveled to the German Court to meet the Byzantine prince (whose sister Irene Angelina was the wife of the German King). What’s certain is that Boniface carried with him a very attractive proposal for the crusaders. They would help the Byzantine prince get the throne of Constantinople and he would give them γή και ύδωρ (everything in his power).  The Byzantine Prince would cover the crusaders’ debt, he would pay them a colossal amount of silver, he would provide 10.000 Byzantine troops for the causes of the crusade, 500 knights in the service of the Crusader State in the Holy Land, he would transfer troops with the Byzantine navy, he would even place the Eastern Orthodox Church under Papal authority. It was an offer made in heaven for Enrico Dandolo and the Venetians.

The overall unprepared and unable to even conceive an impeding invasion by a Christian army, capital of the Byzantine Empire, had fallen to the crusaders by April 13th 1204. In the new world that was dawning Venice would play the role of a super-power. The Eastern Roman Empire was no more and Venice, the city that had played the most important role in the fall of Constantinople after almost 1000 years of existence, would try to fill in the gap. Ancient Greco-Roman and medieval Byzantine works of art were either sent to Venice like the famous Bronze horses of the Hippodrome , or were disassembled for their material value, a tactic less popular among the Venetian soldiers who had a bigger appreciation for the art than the rest of the crusaders.

The son of Pietro II Orseolo, Otto Orseolo would take over the dogeship after the sudden death of his elder brother in 1006 and his father in 1008 at the young age of 16 years old. Otto Orseolo continued the pursuit of good relations with both the Holy Roman Empire & Constantinople until his excessive nepotism enraged his fellow citizens and gave the excuse to the enemies of the Orseoli in Venice to pull the strings for his deposition. In 1026 Otto was arrested, shaved (an act of humiliation according to the contemporary customs) and banished to Constantinople.

The Orseoli had however created many links between their family and the ruling dynasties of Europe who reacted to the deposition by taking several measures of retaliation against Venice. Several cities of Dalmatia were lost to Stephen I of Croatia and the future of the Republic seemed bleak for the first time in years. The new doge quickly lost the support of its people who deposed him and turned to the exiled in the Byzantine capital Otto Orseolo, who died however of natural causes before he could return to the ducal throne, in 1032. Domenico Flabanico, a popular and wealthy merchant of no noble ties was chosen to pull Venice from the brink of collapse but he was not able to reverse the descending spiral which would only stop thanks to his successor,  the 30th Doge of Venice, Domenico I Contarini.

During Contarini Ι’s reign Venice recaptured Zadar and other parts of Dalmatia that had been lost to the Kingdom of Croatia, the Venetian navy grew exponentially and the economy entered a virtuous cycle. Contarini was also a great builder with iconic landmarks such as San Nicolò al Lido, Sant’Angelo della Polvere and St. Mark’s Basilica entering a phase of further expansion.

After an almost 30 year-long term Domenico Contarini was buried at the church of San Nicolò al Lido  in 1071. After the funeral “an innumerable multitude of people, virtually all Venice” (according to an eyewitness parish priest named Domenico Tino) assembled outside the new monastery church in their gondolas and armed galleys to voice their opinion on the selection of a new Doge. The bishop of Venice asked “who would be worthy of his nation” and the crowds chanted the name of their preferred leader, “Domenicum Silvium volumus et laudamus” (We want Domenico Selvo and we praise him).

According to Venice’s tradition the Doge-elect (who had probably gained his popularity during Contarini‘s term) was lifted above the cheering crowd by a group of distinguished citizens and was carried barefoot into St. Mark’s Basilica, still under (re) construction then, where he prayed to God,  received his staff of office, heard the oaths of fidelity from his subjects, and was legally sworn in as the 31st Doge of Venice (Spring of 1071). During the first 10 years of his reign, Domenico Selvo proved to be as capable as the cheering crowds of Venice hoped he would be. On the western front he managed to balance perfectly between the two opposing camps, Pope Gregory VII and Emperor Henry IV . On the east (Byzantine Empire) he would cope even better, by marrying the sister of the reigning emperor, Michael VII Doukas in 1075.,_Holy_Roman_Emperor

In May 1081 Domenico Selvo would become a hero after crushing the Norman fleet of Robert Guiscard (conqueror of Southern Italy & Sicily) in Dyrrachium, a victory which not only fended the maritime Republic against the possibility of a Norman control of the Adriatic sea but also granted Venice and its merchants many privileges and tax exemptions from the grateful Byzantines who had asked for the Venetian help in the first place.

In the apogee of his popularity Selvo would make the common mistake to underestimate his opponent. Despite the fact that the Norman fleet had already been defeated not once but three times by Selvo‘s fleet, it managed to regroup and organize a counterattack that caught the Venetians off-guard and cost the lives of about 3.000 of them, with 2000 more being taken prisoners. Nine great galleys, the largest and most heavily armed ships in the Venetian war fleet, were lost as well. The sudden shock for the Venetian people and their firmly established self-confidence was simply too big for the head of their governing body to remain unaffected. Domenico Selvo was held accountable and was stripped of all officia. Despite his discredited exit, Selvo had managed to open the gate for Venice to become a Mediterranean trade power, based on the privileged commercial relations that continued long after his removal in 1084. His legacy would echo for centuries in Venice’s most important landmark, St. Mark’s Basilica, which acquired much of its current shape during his term.

The region became officially independent after the year 840 with the bull of Emperor Lothair I who recognized Venice’s authority over the lagoon. The region’s autonomy had already been accepted by the Byzantine Empire so the fledging city state started to claim its naval supremacy in the Adriatic sea with constant fighting against Slavic and Saracen pirates who had been a constant fear in Adriatic waters up to that point in time. The struggle for superiority was not easy with the biggest Venetian foe being the Narentines, a South Slavic tribe of pirates that had raided several Venetian ships and had slaughtered their crews during the 9th century. In 948 Doge Pietro III Candiano led a fleet of 33 Venetian galleys to punish the Dalmatian pirates for their repeated raids. His unsuccessful expedition led to a peace treaty that forced Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia (Most Serene Republic of Venice) to pay taxes to the Narentines for safe passage for the next 50 years.

Pietro III‘s efforts to establish a hereditary monarchy in Venice enraged its people who tried to assassinate him during a popular assembly. His son Pietro IV Candiano intervened and managed to save his father’s life who was thenceforth exiled. A few years later Pietro III returned leading an army given to him by the King of Italy. The son, who was at the head of a band of defenders would win the father and would be elected doge soon after. Pietro IV proved to be even more ambitious than his father especially after his marriage to the wealthy noblewoman Waldrada of Tuscany, relative to the Emperor Otto I, who in 967, renewed several commercial privileges, for the Venetians. Waldrada who had brought Pietro IV a large dowry including the possession of Treviso, Friuli, and Ferrara regions, quickly became unpopular in Venice because of her Queen-like behavior. Nevertheless her introduction of bull fighting in Venice, at which she herself presided, became very popular. In 976, three years after Emperor Otto I‘s death, who based on the events that followed, played the role of the protector for the family, the Venetians found their opportunity to depose Pietro IV. They went a step further by locking him in the ducal palace and setting it on fire. The doge and his son were killed but Waldrada with her daughter were spared. The fire however spread quickly burning down a greater part of the city, including the church of San Marco. The man leading the insurrection Pietro I Orseolo was elected as his successor. The new doge began the rebuilding of St. Mark’s Basilica and the ducal palace and arranged for an inheritance for Waldrada in order not to provoke the retaliation of the new emperor. He would unexpectedly resign after a term of only two years that stood out for his many charities, to become a monk in a Benedictine Abbey in Southern France. After some years he left the monastery to become a hermit and is venerated by the Roman Catholic Church as St. Pietro Orseolo since 1731.

A whole new chapter opened for Venice during the term of Pietro II Orseolo who managed to crush the Dalmatian pirates and free the city from the 50-year-old taxation to the Narentines on Ascension Day in 998. The Venetian fleet scorched the entire eastern half of the Adriatic coast, the Dalmatian city-states were subdued and the doge acquired the title of Dux Dalmatianorum (Duke of the Dalmatians). In honor of the decisive victory the Venetians instituted a ceremony which would evolve into the Sposalizio del mar (Marriage of the Sea), or the Festa della Sensa, the Ascension Festival, the oldest festival in Venice which was celebrated each year on Ascension Day.

In an event that would decide the city’s future destiny Doge Obelerio degli Antenori , tried to commit Venice to the sovereignty of Charlemagne‘s Frankish empire in fear of a possible coup by his political rivals, by inviting Charlemagne’s son Pepin, (crowned King of Italy a few years earlier), to send an army from Ravenna to occupy Venice, in 809. Brushing aside their political differences and outmanoeuvring the Doge’s real politik, the people of the lagoon managed to band together and take advantage of the maze-like form of their land and the shallowness of their waters to build an  impenetrable water defense at the height of Malamocco island which would never be broken by Pepin’s ships.  After six months of a fruitless siege, Pepin’s fleet sailed away defeated. Venice’s triumph would echo for hundreds of years to come. Pepin’s failed attempt to subdue Venice led to an agreement between Charlemagne & the Byzantine Emperor Leo V in 814 AD and a recognition of Venice as a Byzantine territory with trading rights across the Adriatic. The agreement paved the way for Venice’s success which was now destined to make its fortune from trade between the East and the West.

The capital city of the Venetian region, was first Oderzo (occupied by the Adriatic Veneti from 10th century BC), next Aquileia (both on the mainland), then Eraclea (on the edge of the lagoon) followed by Malamocco, before finally moving to the islands around Rialto where the land is a bit higher above water level (Rialto->Rivo alto->high bank) in 810-811. Agnello Participazio, member of a rich merchant family from Eraclea, among the leaders of the Venetians after Charlemagne’s people left office and defender of Venice during Pepin’s siege became the Doge shortly after Pepin’s withdrawal (811). Pepin had ravaged Chioggia and  Eraclea, so Agnello had it rebuilt renaming it Cittanova (New City) while he fortified the outlying islands of the lagoon (Lido and Pelletrina). He was the one who built the first doge’s palace where St. Marks Square is now, moving the ducal seat from Malamocco to Rivoalto.

According to the tradition Venice was first evangelised by Saint Mark the Evangelist and many Venetians made the pilgrimage to Mark’s grave in Alexandria. During the first year of Giustiniano Participazio (son of Agnello Participazio) as a doge, two Venetian merchants under the orders of the new doge managed to corrupt the Alexandrine monks who guarded the body of Saint Mark the Evangelist in Alexandria and steal it away secretly to Venice on 31 January 828. Hiding the body amongst some pieces of pork allowed the Venetian ship to slip through customs without a very thorough inspection, since Muslims were not permitted to touch the unclean meat (Alexandria was at the time part of the Abbasid Caliphate) and thus Venice got hold of the remains of its new patron Saint. In the beginning the relics were secretly kept by Doge Giustiniano Participazio in the castle built by his father on the site of today’s St. Mark’s square until he decided to build a new ducal chapel dedicated to Saint Mark between the castle and the chapel of Saint Theodore Stratelates (patron saint of Venice before St. Mark) to house the remains: the first Basilica of San Marco in Venice. Childhood


With the northern mainland in Lombard hands and with a considerable distance separating them from the center of Byzantine government at Ravenna, the islanders of Venice became increasingly independent. In 697 Paolo Lucio Anafesto a noble of Eraclea, the most important town of Venice’s region at the time, is elected Doge (the equivalent of Duke from the Latin Dux meaning leader). That would be the first documented ducal election in history for Venetians which had taken place in order to help put an end to the disputes between the nobles and in order to better organize the defense against the Lombards.'s_entrance_into_Pavia.jpg

In 751 the Lombard King Aistulf conquers most of the Exarchate of Ravenna except the lagoon of Venice which remains a solely and increasingly autonomous Byzantine outpost.

With the Franks gradually taking the place of the Lombards, the Venetians developed skills as middle men between the Byzantine Empire on the east and the new Carolingian Empire to the west.,_Pipino_III_dei_Franchi,_vincitore_di_re_Astolfo,_dona_Ravenna_e_la_Pentapoli_a_papa_stefano_II,_1565-68,_02.jpg

Despite the popular legend that Venice was first established by refugees of the fallen city of Troy  (a myth similar to the founding of Rome)  most historians agree today that the original population of Venice was consisted of people from several Roman cities in the wider area fleeing the successive Germanic and Hun invasions of Italy in the 5th century during the Great Migration Period. The wider region was however already occupied by the Adriatic Veneti, people closely related with the Illyrians and the Eneti, mentioned by Homer and linked with the story of the fall of Troy and the Trojan prince Antenor, by several Roman historians.

After the coming of the Lombards in Italy many inhabitants of today’s Veneto chose to move southwards, seeking safety on a shallow lagoon periodically occupied by a small fishing community depending to the ebb and flow of the water up to that point in time. The area of modern day Venice, one of the few that had remained untouched by the invaders, was still under the rule of the (Eastern) Roman Empire and would be incorporated into the Exarchate of Ravenna, a group of allied Italian duchies that tried to stand against the Lombards.

The Venetian Arsenal (in Italian, Arsenale di Venezia) was the heart of the Venetian naval industry from the thirteenth century. It is related to the most flourishing period of the life of the Serenissima: thanks to the massive ships built there, Venice through the centuries was able at the beginning to control the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea (to safeguard the economic interest of its merchants) and later to compete with the Turks for the control of the Aegean and the Adriatic. The Arsenale is the most important example of large production complex with a centralized structure of the pre-industrial economy. Its surface is stretched over an area of ??46 hectares, while the number of workers (the Arsenalotti) reached, during periods of full production activity, the share daily average of 1500 to 2000 units – with a peak of 4500-5000 recorded in Book of the Workforce (in Italian, Libro delle Maestranze). With high walls shielding the Arsenale from public view and guards protecting its perimeter, laborers and shipbuilders regularly worked within it, building ships that sailed from the city’s port. Different areas of the Arsenale each produced a particular prefabricated ship part or other maritime implement, such as munitions, rope and armaments. These parts could then be assembled into a ship in as little as one day. An exclusive forest owned by the Arsenal navy, in the Montello hills area of Veneto, provided the Arsenale’s wood supply along with the area of Cadore. The Arsenale produced the majority of Venice’s maritime trading vessels, which generated much of the city’s economic wealth and power, lasting until the fall of the Serenissima to Napoleon’s conquest of the area in 1797. The Arsenale had almost anticipated by centuries the modern concept of factory: in fact, if on the one hand skilled workers were trying to prepare standard components and performed in succession the individual assembly operations of an artifact, on the other never came to conceive the assembly line as it has been known since the beginning of ‘900. The buildings and production areas have retained their original function until the beginning of World War I and were subjected, by reason of the development of shipbuilding techniques, of constant physical and functional adaptations. During the first two decades of the ‘900, the inability to adapt to the needs of the great spaces of the nascent industry has made improper maintenance of productive activities in the lagoon area and resulted in its transfer to the mainland. The spacious rooms of the rope factory are currently used as one of the venues of the Venice Biennale, as well as some of the activities of small boat building and other minor activities. (Description by

 Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (St. Mary of the Friars), known locally as i Frari, is one of the greatest churches of Venice. It stands on the Campo dei Frari at the heart of the San Polo district of the city. The church is dedicated to the Assumption of Mary (Assunzione della Beata Virgine) and is notable for its many masterpieces of Venetian Renaissance art and monuments to Renaissance sculptors and artists. The Franciscans were granted land to build a church here in 1250, but the building was not completed until 1338. Work almost immediately began on its much larger replacement, the current church, which took over a century to build. The campanile, the second tallest in the city after that of San Marco, was completed in 1396.

The imposing Frari is built of brick in the Italian Gothic style. The exterior is deliberately plain in accordance with the Franciscan emphasis on poverty and austerity. The interior is light and spacious. It contains the only rood screen still in place in Venice and many excellent examples of Renaissance art. Look for Titian’s Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro in the left aisle. The Virgin was modeled after the artist’s wife, who died in childbirth soon after. Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, over the main altar, was unveiled in 1518. It was not initially accepted by the church because of the innovative style and bright colors, especially the trademark red, but these features would later make it famous. Titian himself, who died of the plague in 1576, is buried in a monumental tomb in the church. In the sacristy is Giovanni Bellini’s triptych Madonna and Child with Saints (1488), painted for precisely this spot. The Corner Chapel on the other side of the chancel features Bartolomeo Vivarini’s altarpiece St. Mark Enthroned and Saints John the Baptist, Jerome, Peter, and Nicholas (1474). Other notable works include the pyramid-shaped monument to sculptor Antonio Canova (1757-1822) on the left aisle and Donatello’s John the Baptist, his first documented work in Venice. More