Venice’s foundations are nearly as interesting as the dazzling structures that sit on top of them, observes Engineering Venice. The city is built on an inverted forest of wooden pylons driven into the caranto (clay-like base of the lagoon) where they’ve petrified over the centuries. By the 9th century, the lagoon’s “vast waterways, punctuated with deep channels suitable for the passage of large sailing vessels, set the stage for Venice’s economic and military ascendancy as a maritime trading powerhouse,” explains Approach Guides. “Over its 1000-year history, the Venetian Republic would leverage this natural asset to become a powerhouse in maritime trade” and the vast cities of primary trading partners -- Byzantine Constantinople and Islamic Cairo -- “were the showplaces of the world and played a critical role in shaping the Venetian aesthetic.” The Venetian architectural style, as a result, is “a fusion of both Byzantine and Islamic forms overlaying a Latin Christian foundation … the Eastern influences on the architecture of Venice are often overlooked; you just have to look in the right places to find them.” Alberto Zugno’s fascinating video, Venice Backstage, illustrates this evolution.
Venice is an architectural melting pot, explains Ione Wang at The Culture Trip. “For many centuries, it was the centre of trade routes that ran between Western Europe and the Ottoman Empire and was home to a wide mix of merchants and traders from all over Europe and Northern Africa. Its earliest churches were built in the Byzantine style, such as the Basilica di San Marco. The domed church is full of glittering mosaics, colors and ornamentation, with elements that were literally stolen from Constantinople.”
Venice’s water setting made a lot of sense for a mercantile city, says Walks of Italy, but because the land was “extremely soft, as well as subject to the tides,” heavy or inflexible materials were very risky. As a result, “many palaces in Venice used a lot of wood in their architecture” as well as bricks. “Much lighter than stone, bricks also had the benefit of being smaller and placed side-by-side -- so if the earth moved beneath the structure, the building could (to some extent!) shift with it. Plus, bricks don’t retain moisture, always a help in a water-logged city. That brick would then usually be faced with stucco, protecting them even more from the weather.” Plus lots of glass -- “other Italian cities shied away from using too much glass in their palaces, given its expense and how vulnerable it was to those who might wish the wealthy residents harm,” but thanks to Venice’s setting on the lagoon “it was very safe from enemies.” As well, the nearby island of Murano had an extensive glass-making industry, “meaning that the material was much cheaper than elsewhere.” The result? “Lots of windows!”
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