Venezia – city built on water – the masters
I did mention this already several times – one of my major interests to learn and see in Venezia was how the city “works” as a city, which is built on water.
It all started ages ago: legends entitle March 25 of year 421 as the date when Venezia was founded. Those days, the peaceful life of the inhabitants of Venetia region was interrupted by overrunning Germanic tribes of Goths and Langobards as well as Huns, which were ransacking villages and made the locals flee from their homes on the mainland. They went to hide in the lagoon’s islands, among fishermen and salt farmers. Now the little settlements became quite crowded and there was need to make room for more people to live. The first islands that have been inhabited were Burano, Mazzorbo, Murano, Torcello and Malamocco (the southernmost tip of Lido island) and at that time of much significance for the lagoon; Torcello was maybe the most important one with the basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, built at the order of bishop Altina early 7th century. Malamocco was seat of the first doges from mid 8th century on.
With several more disputes and migrations, the little houses and the islands were soon not enough to host all the fugitives. Also, after another serious attack by Pippin, son of Carolus Magnus, in early 9th century, the doge Angelo Partecipiano decided to move to rivo alto (= high river bank), which was more or less impregnable, so that Pippin and his troops gave up their plans to merge the lagoon into their territory. This all gave room to start the first settlements around what is now Ponte de Rialto. All in all, Venezia is built on more than 100 islands, in a very much advanced “technology”, given the time of the constructions. As a lagoon is not deep but shallow and as a lot of tiny islands were already existing, the people did “fasten” these islands with tree trunks (usually oak) which were hit into the condensed clay ground. This clay ground (called caranto)is originated from the deposits, the river Brenta brought along, before it was redirected to the south, and it forms a quite solid base of the lagoon. The principles of building on the single islands was more or less the same: the tree trunks had to be below water level at low tide. They were covered then with a (horizontal) layer of larch planks, followed by a base “wall” of Istrian marble, which served as the fundament of the building. This wall was meant to be below and above the water level, at least during the days when most of Venezia’s houses were built. The tree trunks, or all the wood below the water level in general, became very much hard over the time, as organisms, causing putrefaction, could not destroy them due to the lack of oxygen. Well, this was the idea behind the constructions. But the building masters did not foresee the course of modern times and the ever increasing boat traffic in the lagoon and in Venezia’s canales, thus increasing the oxygen level and giving rise to slow rottening.
Maybe this explains now why I am ranting a bit in some of my other tips about the negative impact of motor taxis and huge cruise ships.