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Venice History

Venice began life as a refuge encampment as Roman refugees fled invaders during the decline and fall of the Empire in the 5th century. More marshland than lagoon, it was hardly the most obvious of locations, but the settlers created small colonies dotted around the coastline, which soon thrived.

Over time, the colonies grew and began to intertwine, until they eventually formed one larger city that was historically connected to Byzantium via Ravenna. The city rebelled and elected the first doge in 726, whose successors would lead Venice for the next 1,000 years. It grew immensely as a trading centre and seafaring power, and was commissioned to build a fleet for the ill-fated Fourth Crusade, which ended in the looting and occupation of Christian Constantinople in 1204.

By the 15th century, Venice had become the most prosperous city in Europe, with more than 3,000 ships using its ports. At this time, the grandest palaces were built and great artists were nurtured. The cosmopolitan city boasted German, Jewish, Armenia, Turkish and Greek inhabitants living on the Grand Canal, some of whom had been persecuted elsewhere.

But the city that depended so much on the sea would soon fall victim to it. First, the rise of the Ottomans threatened the Adriatic trading routes, while the discovery of the New World in 1492, and Vasco de Gama’s trip around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope in 1498, undermined Venice’s hegemony over the seas.

Venice stayed on top with its art, style and legendary Carnevale. It was the place to be for Europe’s rich and famous in the 16th and 17th centuries. This changed by the time of the Napoleonic Wars and when Veneto passed into the hands of the Austrians through the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, many Venetians were poor. Revolt came in 1848, and unification with Italy in 1866.

A century later, after surviving both World Wars, including a notable resistance movement to Fascism in WWII, a disastrous flood wrecked many of Venice’s priceless buildings. Restoration has been ongoing ever since, while millions of tourists now visit the sinking city each year.

Did you know?
• Venice’s name is thought to come from the ancient Veneti people, who lived in the region in the 10th century BC.
• The city’s houses are built on long wooden stilts, or piles, driven into the lagoon bed, which have rotted very little.
• A new system of hollow, floatable barriers has been built as part of the MOSE project (Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico) to help Venice resist rising tides.

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Featured Hotels


JW Marriott Venice Resort and Spa

With the largest spa in Venice, this resort on a private island boasts a complimentary shuttle service to St Mark’s Square, 250 contemporary rooms and suites designed by architect Matteo Thun. This is an exclusive getaway set in acres of private garden with a rooftop pool overlooking the lagoon.

Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal

Modern design has been brought to this palatial old building with stunning results. On the banks of the Grand Canal, and within a stone's throw of St Mark's Square, its setting is convenient. There are only 100 rooms and most of them tend to be booked up well in advance.

Charming House DD724

This characterful hideaway by the Guggenheim Museum only has six rooms in the main buildings as well as three more nearby. The decor is design-led with muted browns and creams complementing the work of local artists that hangs in all rooms. The chic modern rooms and suites boast plasma TVs and free Wi-Fi.

Ca Maria Adele

Just minutes from the Salute Vaporetto stop, this lush boutique hotel has Old World Venetian charm. Its beamed ceilings meet lavish furnishings as part of its eastern theme. In the evening, it's possible to have drinks on the terrace while listening to opera music.

Hotel Santa Lucia

This cheap hotel might not win any awards, but it's trim and well run and enjoys a handy location a few minutes walk from Santa Lucia train station. The rooms all have TVs and are cleaned daily; some also have their own bathrooms. Breakfast is served on the small garden terrace outside.

Hotel ai Mori d'Oriente

The 55 rooms in this 15th-century palace are designed in unique oriental style, but the elegance and grandeur of Venice is still clear. The hotel caters for breakfast but doesn’t have a restaurant, however staff will make suggestions and there is a small, intimate bar for a late night drink.