The place smells of history. (Some of the canals just smell.) A city-state no more than three miles long and scarcely two miles wide, a world power for several hundred years no small accomplishment. At one point, forty-five ships were built each day in its famous Arsenal. Venetian “cristallo,” the prized clear-thin glass, could not be duplicated elsewhere. The monopoly was secured by sending assassins to find and kill any glassblower foolish enough to leave Venice.
Venice is a maze of 118 islets ringed by canals, some three thousand bridges, squares, and alleyways. And you find Venice’s trademark, the gondola. There were eleven thousand of them in Venice in the sixteenth century.
The city is literally built on tree trunks. Over a million stilts were hammered into the mud to support the Church of the Salute. Venice floats but is gradually sinking into the mud.
Generated by wind, the Adriatic is frequently driven up the Venetian Lagoon to flood the streets and squares of Venice. In 1979 merchants along St. Mark’s Square, a low part of the city, were forced to close their shops two hundred times. A siren warning is given and ground-floor apartment dwellers roll up their rugs and block up their furniture. Tourists teeter along on raised planks across St. Mark’s Square, unable to give much attention to the famed Doges Palace. Of course, the Italians would like Americans to send money to save the city from sinking further.