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Venice in the Middle Ages

Venice in the Middle Ages

Medieval Venice owed its wealth to its flourishing maritime trade.

History

Keywords

Venice, medieval, Italy, merchant, trade, lagoon, port, Queen of the Adriatic, City of Water, Republic of Venice, city-state, doge, Middle Ages, wealth, history, center

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Questions

  • Which expression characterizes medieval Venice best?
  • What was the main form of transportation in medieval Venice?
  • Is it true that the favorable geographical location made settlement around Venice easy?

Scenes

Narration

The Italian city of Venice is located in the Venetian Lagoon, on the northern tip of the Adriatic Sea. Most of the city was built on the sea, making it unique. It is often called the ‘Queen of the Adriatic’ and the ‘City of Water’ and it is a popular tourist destination for its historic monuments. The special location, however, poses many problems. The city is often threatened by tides, and another major problem is siltation, or the accumulation of sludge, or soupy mud.
The area of marshy lagoons was already populated in the early Middle Ages, due to the Barbarian Invasions and the ensuing migrations. The city expanded continuously and its importance grew dramatically during the Crusades. It became a flourishing center for trade and a wealthy republic. The marshy location, however, made the construction of buildings extremely difficult; solid foundations were needed.

Thus, water resistant wooden piles were placed in the underlying layer of clay, at a depth of 5-8 m (16.40-26.25 ft).
Alder trunks were used, as they do not decay in water. The foundations, made from Istrian limestone, were laid over the piles. Public buildings, churches, guild houses and townhouses were built on this foundation.

Rich merchants built luxurious multi-story mansions in the city. Storage rooms and service rooms were located on the ground floors, while bedrooms, living rooms and the very important reception rooms were situated on the upper floors.

Venice is criss-crossed by a network of canals, with bridges spanning them. But it is not the canals that have become the symbol of the city; it is the gondola, the special type of vessel used on them. The gondola has inspired a great many artists; they appear as protagonists in many literary works and paintings, including works by Goethe, Lord Byron, Thomas Mann, and Ernest Hemingway.

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