Venice (pop. 308,700) is the capital of Venetia and of Venice province in northeastern Italy , built on 118 alluvial islets within a lagoon in the Gulf of Venice (an arm of the Adriatic Sea ). The city is connected with the mainland, 4 km away, by a rail and highway bridge. Between the islands run about 150 canals, mostly very narrow, crossed by some 400 bridges. Gondolas, the traditional means of transport, have been superseded by small river boats (vaporetti), but there are numerous lanes (calles), public squares, and a few streets. Houses are built on piles. Venice is a tourist, commercial, and industrial center. Manufactures include lace, jewelry, flour, and Murano glass, and the city is a center for shipbuilding.
In the 6th century, refugees fleeing the Lombard invaders of northern Italy sought safety on the largely uninhabited islands. Favorably situated for handling seaborne trade between East and West, the communities grew, and by the 9 th century they had formed the city of Venice . The city secured most of the coast of Dalmatia, thus gaining control of the Adriatic, and began to build up its eastern empire, obtaining trade and other privileges in the ports of the eastern Mediterranean . The influence of the Middle East, particularly Byzantium, which characterizes much Venetian art and architecture, is most clearly expressed in Saint Mark's Church (rebuilt 1063-73), located on the city's principal square. The great traveler Marco Polo represented the enterprising spirit of Venice in the 13 th and 14 th centuries. Venice , known as the "queen of the seas," reached the height of its power in the 15 th century.
The decline of Venice can be dated from the fall (1453) of Constantinople to the Turks, which greatly reduced trade with the Levant, or from the discovery of America and of the Cape of Good Hope route to Asia, which transferred commercial power to Spain and other nations to the west of Italy .
The Renaissance marked the height of Venice 's artistic glory. Architects like the Lombardo family, Jacopo Sansovino, and Palladio, and the Venetian school of painting, gave Venice its present aspect of a city of churches and palaces, floating on water, blazing with color and light, and filled with art treasures. Freedom of expression was complete except to those who actively engaged in politics
The fall of Cyprus (1571), Crete (1669), and the Peloponnesus (1715) to the Turks ended Venetian dominance in the Mediterranean . When, in 1797, Napoleon I delivered Venice to Austria in the Treaty of Campo Formio, the republic fell without fighting. In 1866, Venice and Venetia were united with the kingdom of Italy . Since the 1950s, the city has been increasingly swamped by periodic floods, in part because it is sinking. Increased air pollution from cars and industrial smoke has contributed to the deterioration of the ancient buildings and works of art, and the high phosphorus and nitrogen content of the lagoon has stimulated algal growth, which has depleted marine life. Such environmental problems have led to a steady depopulation of Venice to the mainland over the past several decades. A major international aid program, begun in the mid-1960s by UNESCO, has searched for ways to preserve Venice
Venice Points of Interest
The center of animation in Venice is St. Mark's Square and the Piazzetta, which leads from the square to the sea. On the square are St. Mark's Church; the Gothic Doges' Palace (14th-15th centuries), from which the Bridge of Sighs (c.1600) leads to the former prisons; the Old and New Law Courts (16th-17th centuries); the campanile (325 ft/99 m high; built in the 10th century; rebuilt after it collapsed in 1902); the Moors' Clocktower (late 15th century); the elegant Old Library (1553); St. Moses' Church; and the twin columns supporting the statues of St. Theodore stepping on a crocodile and of a winged lion of St. Mark (the emblem of Venice). On an island facing the Piazzetta is the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore (1566-1610) and on a nearby tip of land is the Church of Santa Maria della Salute (17th century).