The most astonishing fact about Venice is that it exists at all. This ancient city is built on a series of low mud banks off the coast of mainland Italy that are subjected to frequent tidal flooding from the Adriatic sea. Using impermeable stone, timber piles and larch wood, early Venetian builders evolved a unique construction method to allow buildings to float upon rafts anchored to the mud banks in the Lagoon.
Venice is situated in the Veneto region of Italy – an area that stretches from the southern lowlands of the Venetian Lagoon to the spectacular Dolomite mountains in the north that border the Austrian Tyrol. The city takes its name from the Veneti tribe, who inhabited the area in pre-Roman times. In the 3rd Century the Veneti territory fell to the might of the Roman army as it swept north over the Alps to conquer most of what is now France and Germany. The Veneto prospered under the Roman Empire, despite suffering fierce attacks by barbarians in the 4th century , including Atilla the Hun. After the split between Rome and Constantinople, the Roman Empire began to crumble.
The Goths burned and looted their way south towards Rome, forcing the people of the Veneto to flee. Some of these were rich merchants who looked for a suitable hiding place for their wealth. They took refuge on the wild and uninhabited islands of the marshlands by the coast, which were easily defended against aggressors. Settlements were built on the mudbanks. Subsequently, these new Venetians formed important trade links with Byzantium allowing them to thrive and expand their villages.
In AD 639, the Bishop of Altino led a mass exodus of people fleeing from Lombardic invaders to the Island of Torcello, where he founded a cathedral. In 1095 the city used the Crusades to gain valuable trade in cities such as Tripoli and Antioch. During the Middle Ages Venice grew in influence and commercial power through the Eastern Mediterranean area, crowned in 1204 by the conquest of Byzantium. Over the generations the mudflats were transformed into a dazzlingly beautiful mercantile empire.
During the 16th century Venice held a monopoly on trade in the Mediterranean area, gaining control of north-eastern Italy from the Alps to the Adriatic but a constant state of war was required to maintain control. Pope Julius II and the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian formed an alliance and determined to destroy Venice. Their troops sacked the cities of the Veneto.
By the 18th century Venice, no longer a major power and centre for commercial dynamism, entered a period of decadence and decay. Aristocratic Venetians squandered their inheritances to enjoy a profligate lifestyle. In 1797 Napoleon besieged the city and granted Venice to the Austrians. The Austrians’ dictatorial rule drove the people to join the revolutionary Risorgimento movement, dedicated to creating a free and united Italy. Venice was finally freed from Austrian rule in 1870, following the Italian Wars of Independence..
In the 19th and 20th centuries Venice found a new role as a romantic tourist location frozen in time. In 1966 the worst floods in Venice’s history severely damaged the ancient buildings. An international appeal for aid also brought specialists and volunteers to clean and restore the historic buildings and irreplaceable artworks. Steps continue to be taken to mitigate the ongoing damage to the city’s delicate structure, caused by heavy tourist footfall and increased water traffic.
Many Venetians mourn the old days when they spoke their own dialect – Venexiàn – and the City of Water was untroubled by tourists. Today many Venetians cannot afford to live in the city of their forbears and have moved to Mestre on the mainland. Some return daily to work in the hotels, restaurants and museums but the old way of life has all but disappeared. Traditional shops have been largely replace with souvenir shops.
The locals have an uneasy alliance with the vast influx of day trippers who arrive on cruise ships and who spend little as they clog up the streets between Rialto Bridge and St Mark’s square. Some fear that the city is now little more than a vast open air museum and its unique character will be lost entirely if Venetians are squeezed out of the city by day trippers.
Perhaps it’s time to stop the cruise ships and return to a more leisurely tourist trade where visitors stay in the hotels for several days and take the time to explore the lesser known sights of the uniquely beautiful City of Water?
The Lost Daughter of Venice and is available now in ebook and audio. The paperback will be available on 13th July 2023.
Come to Venice. Please, Phoebe, do not fail me.
Seventeen years ago, the grand Venetian Palazzo degli Angeli was Phoebe Wyndham’s home; now, the neglected walls of the palazzo are just a haunting reminder of all she has lost.
Arriving back in Italy after a plea from her estranged relative, the Contessa di Sebastiano, the recently widowed Phoebe is shocked to discover her aunt is dead and the palazzo now belongs to her.
All she wants to do is sell the property and return home. However, when a dark family secret is exposed, the shocking deception rocks Phoebe to her very core, and she vows not to leave the City of Water without first unravelling the truth from the lies.
As Phoebe searches for answers, she finds herself growing closer to two very different men. But, when her camera catches something more sinister than the faded grandeur of Venice, Phoebe begins to question who she can really trust and whether her aunt’s death was truly an accident after all . . .