The History of Venice

452  – Attile the Hun levels city of Aquileia: refugees flee to islands of Venetian lagoon

568 – refugees fleeing Lombards double lagoon’s population

697 – the parlamentari council proclaims Venice a Republic and elects the first Doge 

829 – remains of St. Mark brought from Alexandria to Venice  

999 – Holy Roman Emperor Otto III journeys to Venice and grants major commercial concessions

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Venice and Belle Époque, the foreigner Simmel and Monet

The old and the new clashed frequently, and were never to be reconciled in the twentieth century. Nor was Venice able to escape the vilification and ambivalence that appeared in the interpretations in the early century . But the old Serenissima was not yet dead: indeed there was renewed fascination with the eighteenth century.

For the German sociologist Georg Simmel Venice was dangerous and unnerving as a result of its cult of appareances, its masquerade culture. In 1907 Simmel wrote comparative essays about Florence and Venice in wich he cast Florence as the male city, strong and manly, with robust palaces, and Venice as female, of course, severed from relationships, a shallow place of mere apparences. Venice is the artificial city where the people walk, again, as if on stage that lacks extension to right or left. Nature is foreign to it , since greenery is absent and therefore the seasons make little impact.
Simmel admitted that Venice was a unique order of the form of world consciousness. But it was a negative attribute> in fact it constituted the tragedy of Venice.
He felt the proximity of the subconscious, and the irrational, and feared it, for it was compounded by the city’s very appareance, its geography, material life, its lack of nature, and transport either by foot or by gondola. The tempo of the city of gondolas and pedestrians was akin to the monotony of walking, wich made the experience close to dream and therefore unreal, without the the jolts necessary to vitalise everyday life. A fateful ambiguity is born of the physical reality of Canals and Calli> it is neither land nor water. This is a life state, one of floating restlessness wich dislodges the soul and makes it homeless. While this disabling state creates the classic city of adventure, it is a condition of weakness, psychologically invalid, for it lacks of forceful tension, and male willpower. Simmel ignored the energetic financial life that Venice represented as much as did Florence.
Claude Monet, famous French artist accepted the challenge of Venice in the first decade of the XX century. Claude Monet’s series of paintings devoted to the city were the fruit of a two/month stay in 1908. He was sixty eight years old when he came with his wife in Venice in hotel Britannia (now Europa Hotel), Madame Monet found its plumbing and electricity were magic. From Palazzo Barbaro, Monet painted across the canal to the Palazzo Dario, and the Palazzo Contarini. In the area of the Bacino he painted Doge’s Palace and the island of San Giorgio. These paintings are a late point in a plain-air tradition, the summention of the habit of looking now so intensively personalized they becomes expressionistic, reaching beyond ordinary specifics of colors a and lights.

Gondola’s Features

In order to navigate in a straight line the Gondola must be unbalanced: 33 feet long, almost 5 feet wide at the center, and weighing 4 quintals. It is piloted by a single gondolier thanks indeed to its asymmetrical line. The oarsman, besides steering it forward, must also control the lateral movement. With the left side more than 9 inches longer than the right side, the craft floats leaning to one side and becomes maneuverable only when the pilot is on board, balancing the thrust of the single oar that would tend to make it move toward the left.
The only metallic elements are the “ferro” (the word means iron) at the bow and the “risso” a curled ornament at the stern. It is shaped like a comb , with six teeth recalling the city’s six districts, while a solitary one, turned in the opposite direction, refers to Giudecca.


Gondola’s History

Though opinions vary regarding the etymology of the word, it is certain that the name appeared for the first time in some 1094 documents.

Several paintings show how the Gondola evolved from an ordinary boat to gradually become how is today. The current form was achieved in the 17th century. Initially Gondolas were steered by two men, each with an oar, successive variations attempted to make it easier to operate by a single oarsman.  Noblemen and the upper middle class made it a symbol of their wealth, embellishing it with designs and marquetry, lining it with silk and satin.  Even the tail coats of the gondoliers were refined in gold.  A wooden cabin, the FELZE, provided shelter for the passengers, protecting them from the cold and maintaining their privacy. Equipped with side Windows and drapes, mirrors and a warming pan, the band adorned with inlay booth was covered with black cloth.

The ostentatiousness reached such an extreme that the Senate called for fines to be imposed on crafts too richly outfitted, an ordinance that proved to be useless. The color black was imposed on gondolas and gondoliers by an act.


Venice Foundations

The history of Venice begins with the twilight of the Roman Empire, when barbaric invasions drove the inhabitants of the Venetian coast towards the islands of the lagoon. It wasn’t easy to establish a settlement in this region, scoured by continual tides and flooding. Even less so to erect stable, sound buildings: water, salinity, sand and mud had to be reckoned with.

Venice at its dawning was a city built mainly on wood, with walls made of planks and roofs of thin cane instead of tiles. Later did recurring, devastating fires impose a prohibition against employing this material in construction.
Slowly from the islands of Rialto, the number of buildings increased, the shoals were reclaimed as to outline the present day canals and the span of water between one island and another was diminished to allow for the widening of pedestrian walkways.

In addition to burdensome transport, houses in brick and stone also required a foundation with piling that could support the heavier structures.
Foundations began to be fortified by burying hundreds of pails of alder or larch, set close together in the muddy seabed, driven deep with a rammer that operated by letting a weight drop. On one end, the lower extremities of the logs were implanted in the more solid clay and sand layer called “caranto”, on the upper end, the tops were squared off and every fissure filled in with shards and pieces of brick mixed with lime.

A solid wooden floor was constructed on the leveled tops, and the foundations of the masonry construction were laid on this planking. It was a long, laborious process, but it held up well: many houses are still standing today on logs planted centuries ago.