The city was founded as a result of the influx of refugees into the marshes of
the Po estuary following the invasion of Northern Italy by the
Lombards in 568. At first an outpost of Byzantine civilization, as
the community developed an anti-Eastern character emerged, leading to the
growth of autonomy and eventual independence. Venice was a city state
(an Italian thalassocracy or Repubblica Marinara - the other three were Genoa, Pisa, and Amalfi). The chief executives were called Doge (duke), and, theoretically, held their elective office for life. In practice a number of Doges were forced to resign the office and retire into monastic seclusion by pressure from their oligarchical peers when they were felt to have been discredited by perceived political failure.
At the height of its power, Venice controlled much of the coastal territory along the Adriatic (notably most of the Dalmatian city-states), most of the islands in the Aegean, including Crete, and was a major power-broker in the Near East. The territory of the Republic on the Italian mainland extended across Lake Garda as far west as the River Adda. By the standards of the time, Venice's stewardship of its mainland territories was enlightened and the citizens of such towns as Bergamo, Brescia and Verona rallied to the defence of Venetian sovereignty when it was threatened by invaders.
Though the people of Venice generally remained orthodox Roman Catholics, the state of Venice was notable for its freedom from religious fanaticism and it enacted not a single execution for religious heresy during the counter-reformation. This apparent lack of zeal contributed to its frequently coming into conflict with the Papacy, and Venice was threatened with the interdict on a number of occasions and twice suffered its imposition. The second, more famous, occasion was on April 27, 1509 by order of Pope Julius II (see League of Cambrai).
Venetian ambassadors sent secret reports about the politics and rumours of European courts, these supply fascinating information to modern historians.
After 1070 years its independence was lost when Napoleon Bonaparte on May 12, 1797 conquered Venice during the First Coalition. The French conqueror brought to an end the most fascinating century of its history: it was during the "Settecento" that Venice became perhaps the most elegant and refined town in Europe, influencing art, architecture, and literature. Napoleon was seen as something of a liberator by the city's Jewish population. He removed the gates of the Ghetto and ended the restrictions on when and where Jews could live and travel in the city.
At the conclusion of the Napoleonic era, Venice became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia when on October 12 1797 Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798.
Venice is famous for its canals. It is built on an archipelago of more than 100 islands in a shallow lagoon. In the old center, the canals serve the function of roads, and every form of transport is on water or on foot. In the 19th century a causeway to the mainland brought a railroad station to Venice, and an automobile causeway and parking lot was added in the 20th century. Beyond these land entrances at the northern edge of the city, transportation within the city remains, as it was in centuries past, entirely on water or on foot. Venice is unique in remaining a sizable functioning city in the 21st century entirely without motorcars or trucks.
The classical Venetian boat is the gondola, although it is now mostly used for tourists, or for weddings, funerals, or other ceremonies, due to its cost. Most Venetians now travel by motorised waterbuses ("vaporetti") which ply regular routes along the major canals and between the city's islands. The city also has many private boats. The only unmotorized gondolas still in common use by Venetians are the traghetti, foot passenger ferries crossing the Grand Canal at certain points without bridges.
Venice is served by the newly rebuilt Marco Polo International Airport, or Aeroporto di Venezia Marco Polo, named in honor of its famous citizen. The airport is on the mainland and was rebuilt away from the coast so that visitors now need to get a bus to the pier, from which watertaxi or Aliliguna waterbus can be used.
Places of note