- 1 Amazing Facts About Venice, Italy
- 1.1 The History of the Most Serene Republic of Venice
- 1.2 Venice has 178 canals
- 1.3 Venice has 438 bridges
- 1.4 Venice has 124 islands
- 1.5 There’s a petrified forest underneath your feet
- 1.6 Venice’s iconic Carnevale celebrations were almost lost to history
- 1.7 Masks make for more than a pretty face
- 1.8 The Ballo del Doge is the city’s famous masquerade ball during Carnevale
- 1.9 Gondolas were the chosen method of transportation in the Republic of Venice
- 1.10 The Basilica di San Marco is adorned with stolen decorations
- 1.11 See the stolen Basilica di San Marco horses
- 1.12 The Campanile di San Marco is one of the newest landmarks in Venice
- 1.13 Doge’s Palace was the center of the Republic’s political life
- 1.14 San Marco is Venice’s second patron saint
- 1.15 Venice floods every year, and the city is slowly sinking
- 1.16 The local Venetian population is dwindling
- 1.17 Only “campo” and “calle” here
- 1.18 The street system is Austrian
- 1.19 Harry’s Bar is home to the Bellini
- 1.20 Venice has its own beach coastline
- 1.21 The city has a whole island for its cemetery
- 1.22 The word “quarantine” comes from Venice
- 1.23 Venice has been immortalized in masterful works of art
- 1.24 Marco Polo was a real Venetian
- 1.25 You can find the world’s first casino here
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On the off-chance you didn’t know–Venice, Italy is amazing!
Filled with bridges, churches, museums, and water, one of the most unique cities in the world has an fascinating past to go along with it.
And you’ve probably already learned some fun facts about Venice, like how there are no cars and no bikes throughout the city, or that it’s home to the oldest film festival in the world, the Venice Film Festival.
But whether you’re looking for things to know before visiting Venice or you’re a seasoned pro wandering around its winding streets, I’m sure you’ll discover some interesting facts about Venice, Italy on this list!
Amazing Facts About Venice, Italy
The History of the Most Serene Republic of Venice
Translating to the Most Serene Republic of Venice, La Serenissima began around 402 when the Veneti people would come to these islands for sanctuary during invasions. The independent Republic was officially established in 421 and lasted until Napoleon invaded in 1797.
During this reign, the Republic of Venice controlled most of the Adriatic coast, including the Istrian peninsula. It also held control over parts of Croatia, Montenegro, Albania, and Greece.
Considered the wealthiest city in Europe, Venice thrived as an economic powerhouse due to its location and abundance of a valuable natural resource–salt.
The ruler of Venice, called the Doge, was not a hereditary position. He was elected by a committee controlled by wealthy Venetians and ruled for life by the people’s will.
Venice has 178 canals
As you know, the city is famous for its canals–178 of them.
During the height of the Venetian Republic, the main “streets” people used to move throughout the city every day were the canals. When we’re wandering around Venice today, the streets we walk along used to be for regular people and the staff of wealthy families to move around.
That’s why you’ll see that most of the beautiful palazzo facades don’t overlook the streets we walk today. Instead, they face out over the canals where residents in boats would see when going around town.
Venice has 438 bridges
There are over 400 bridges crossing over the canals throughout the city.
And, 72 of these bridges are privately owned, meaning they go straight into someone’s front door, so whoever owns that home owns the bridge too.
Due to this, there’s still one bridge in Venice without guardrails. It’s called Ponte Chiodo, located in the Cannareggio neighborhood. At one time, all bridges looked like this, without any barriers on either side to prevent someone from falling in.
There are only four bridges that crosses the s-shaped Grand Canal–of course, the most famous bridge in Venice the Ponte di Rialto, but there’s also wooden Ponte dell’Accademia near Gallerie d’Accadmia, the Ponte degli Scalzi near Stazione di Venezia Santa Lucia (Venice’s Santa Lucia train station,) and the modern Ponte dello Costituzione designed by famed Spanish architect Sanatiago Calatrava that opened in 2008.
Venice has 124 islands
That’s right–every time you walk over a bridge in Venice, you’re actually crossing from one of the city’s 124 islands to another. That Venice fun fact is something I took for granted until it was actually pointed out to me, and it’s a pretty amazing fact about Venice to think about now.
Of the 118 islands in the Venetian Lagoon, three are outside of the central city and famous in their own right. One of them is Burano, a small fishing village. It’s known for its colorful and beautiful houses and needle-lacemaking.
Murano is another famous for its blown-glass art. Through the centuries, these artisan products have found their way across the world, including into royal hands (Henry VIII) and a few popes. Visitors come for its local products and the Museum of Glass.
Venice’s most quiet island, Torcello, was built by the Romans around 500 AD. It has an old Roman church, but many other interesting historical sites are also there.
There’s a petrified forest underneath your feet
All of the 118 islands were originally swampland, which was not suitable land for the foundation of a canal city. In order to make the land viable for building, early Venetians hammered thousands of tree trunks and wooden pilings that they had brought down from the nearby mountain ranges into the marshy ground.
Encased tightly together in the mud sealed it from oxygen and petrified the wood, creating a stable ground. Many of the buildings we see today are still built on the same piles of wooden beams that were used for construction over 1,000 years ago. This is one of the most amazing facts about Venice I’ve learned!
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Venice’s iconic Carnevale celebrations were almost lost to history
The Carnevale celebration in Venice takes place in the weeks before the start of the Roman Catholic season of Lent, ending on “Fat Tuesday.” It’s an incredible tradition dating back centuries in Venice that was almost lost; the Italian communist leader Benito Mussolini outlawed the celebrations during the 1940s, and it was reinstated until the 1970s.
Masks and costumes are all part of the modern-day festivities, but Carnevale masks have their own storied history.
Masks make for more than a pretty face
Throughout the history of Carnevale, Venetians wore masks to disguise their identities during the festivities so they could participate in whatever fun they wanted anonymously.
Today, masks are still worn by Venetians in costume during Carnevale celebrations. And, the mask-making tradition lives on. Some authentic Venetian masks are made from artisan shops in the city using expensive materials such as gold or silver. Cheaper, touristy masks are made from plastic and available to purchase at just about any souvenir shop.
The Ballo del Doge is the city’s famous masquerade ball during Carnevale
A masquerade ball in Venice is definitely a great opportunity to see some amazing art and enjoy the beauty of Italy. The Ballo del Doge takes place every year during the Carnevale season.
Each year, the ball has a different theme, and guests are expected to arrive dressed in historical costumes. Venetian art and culture are also showcased throughout the event–it’s an incredible night!
Gondolas were the chosen method of transportation in the Republic of Venice
Taking a ride in one of the iconic narrow black gondolas is an iconic Venice bucket list activity. Venetian gondola boats are made out of several different kinds of wood, and each piece of wood represents a specific part of the city and weighs an average of 600 kg.
At one point in history, the canals of Venice were filled with about 10,000 gondolas in Venice; now, there are only 400 left.
Wealthy Venetians used a gondola on the canals like we would use a modern-day car on paved roads; they were used to transport anything–people, goods, livestock, anything that the city needed to operate.
Today, taking a gondola ride is more of a novelty; it’s not really used for day-to-day transportation by locals. Venetians today take the public Vaporetto, own their own motorboat, or walk.
If you’re curious to try riding in a gondola when you visit the city after learning this interesting fact about Venice, take a look at this Grand Canal by Gondola with Commentary tour.
The Basilica di San Marco is adorned with stolen decorations
Basilica di San Marco was completed in 1094 and functioned as the Ducal chapel from 836–200 years before this version of the structure–through 1797. Before this masterpiece, there were two previous churches on this site.
The interior has works from some of Europe’s most famous artists, including pieces by Renaissance painters Tintoretto, Titian, and Veronese, and relics of Saint Mark the Evangelist, the church’s patron saint.
However, many of the church’s ornaments came from neighboring churches and palaces pillaged by the Venetians. For example, look closely at the four alabaster columns behind the main altar in the cathedral. They are likely to have been taken from the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta, a former cathedral in Pula, Croatia, which was looted by the Venetians in 1243.
Interested in visiting Pula, Croatia? You can check out my guides to things to do in Pula, the best beaches in Pula, and my 3-day itinerary to Pula if you want to learn more about this Croatian-Italian city.
See the stolen Basilica di San Marco horses
Like the Croatian columns, the four horses that stand above the main entrance to the Basilica were taken by Venetian crusaders in 1254 from Constantinople after the Fourth Crusade. Called the Triumphal Quadriga, they’re thought to be from around the 2nd or 3rd century C.E.
Although you can still see the horses on top of the Basilica, these are copies of the original. In the 1980s, the horses were brought inside the church to protect them from bad weather and air pollution–you can see the originals when you take a tour inside the Basicila di San Marco.
The Campanile di San Marco is one of the newest landmarks in Venice
Every magnificent church needs a beautiful bell tower, and the San Marco Campanile is no exception. The tower’s construction began in the early 10th century, and it took around 500 years to complete, with numerous eras of construction.
So how is it one of the newest landmarks in Venice?
The original collapsed! The previous tower caved in on itself in 1902 while it was being worked on for restoration. Thankfully, it fell straight down–like how the Twin Towers fell on 9/11–so there was minimal damage to the surrounding historic buildings.
The new bell tower was built as an exact replica of the original and completed in 1912.
Doge’s Palace was the center of the Republic’s political life
Built in the Gothic style, the Palazzo Ducale was the seat of political power in the Republic of Venice. It was occupied by the Doge of Venice, who used it as a residence and administrative office along with the Great Council and the Council of Ten. In addition to the offices, the massive complex was also home to the city’s courthouses, ballrooms, and lower-level prisons.
Outside, on the second level of the Palace facing Piazzetta di San Marco, there are two pink columns among the white ones. This is the site where death sentences would be announced.
San Marco is Venice’s second patron saint
Of course, you know that Saint Mark the Evangelist is not only the patron saint of Venice, but his symbol–the winged lion–also represents the Republic of Venice.
But did you know that Venice originally had a different patron saint?
The martyr and warrior Saint Theodore of Heraclea was the original patron saint of Venice. Famous for the image of a part-crocodile-part-dragon beneath his feet, he was replaced by Saint Mark when his relics arrived in the city in 828 C.E.
In honor of both saints, you can see columns dedicated to each of them in Piazzetta di San Marco.
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Venice floods every year, and the city is slowly sinking
It’s a well-known joke that the historic city of Venice is sinking, but unfortunately, this is a real problem. When the water level in canals suddenly rises above ground level, the city floods.
Since the Italian city sits on a lagoon, high tide and low tide happen twice every day, but Venice is only prone to flooding when the tide rises in the Adriatic Sea during the winter months–so this really doesn’t happen in Venice when it rains, only in the winter when the tide rises. This phenomenon is called acqua alta.
Local Venetians have apps to alert them, usually a few days in advance when there’s a risk of flooding. And every church tower in Venice has a siren that once signaled air raids warnings throughout World War II, which are also used for flood alerts.
However, the city has recently built a tidal barrier to try and combat the flooding and slow sinking of the city due to rising tides and climate change. You can find the operations center for the MOSE Project is housed in the Venetian Arsenal.
The local Venetian population is dwindling
At its height, the local population of Venice reached about 175,000 people. But now, the city is a tourist hotspot–and more than 25 million people visit here every year.
Although tourists coming to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Venice is losing its local population because people are moving out due to this overcrowding.
There are only about 50,000 locals actually living within the city of Venice today, and a good portion of them live within the Canareggio and Castello districts. If you want to see what local living in Venice is like today, this is where you need to go. You’ll also find some excellent restaurants and lesser-known historical landmarks here.
In an effort to combat over-tourism, the city has banned large cruise ships from docking in their ports. Also, starting in 2023, tourists will need to reserve a €5 ticket per person per day they plan on visiting the city online in advance. Officials hope this tourist tax will reduce overcrowding and strain the city’s resources.
If you’re interested in experiencing the best non-touristy things to do in Italy, check out my post with tons of recommendations around the country you’ll want to add to your next trip!
Only “campo” and “calle” here
Aside from Piazza San Marco (and Piazzetta di San Marco), you won’t find any other piazza in Venice. Instead, you’ll find campo.
Piazza is the Italian word for square, while it’s campo in the Venetian dialect. Similarly, instead of the Italian word via, which means street, you’ll be walking along calle in Venice.
Fun Fact: One of the narrowest streets in the world is found here in Venice. Calle Varisco is only 53cm wide, making it one of the most narrow streets in the world.
The street system is Austrian
Now that you know the name for streets, you should learn how the Venetian street system was officially organized.
After the fall of Napoleon, the Austrian Empire stepped in to control the region. When they arrived in Venice, they discovered exactly what you do when you start walking through the city’s winding, twisting streets.
The streets in Venice are winding and twisting, without any order or reason. Even Shakespeare got it right when the character Launcelot gave directions to Gobbo on how to walk to Shylock’s house:
“Turn up on your right hand at the next turning, but at the next turning of all on your left. Marry, at the very next turning turn of no hand, but turn down indirectly to the Jew’s house.”
– The Merchant of Venice (Act II, Scene II)
Although Launcelot was trying to confuse Gobbo, he wasn’t that far off anyway!
The Austrians used their organizational system to bring a sense of order to the streets. The center of each of the city’s six neighborhoods became the starting point–building number 1. Then, the numbers were assigned in a snake-like pattern spiraling out from the center.
So, an address will be written like 2367 Cannareggio. This eliminated the need to use street names for addressing mail–otherwise, an envelope address to Calle del Forno (street of the baker) might be delivered to one of the more than 40 streets in Venice named Calle del Forno!
Harry’s Bar is home to the Bellini
Harry’s Bar is known as one of the most popular bars in Venice–in fact, they invented the famous Bellini cocktail! Giuseppe Cipriani, the owner of Harry’s Bar, invented the traditional brunch drink with Prosecco and peach purée between the 1930s and 1940s.
The drink’s name was inspired by the color. Cipriani observed that the drink’s trademark pink tint matched that of a picture by Venetian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini, so the Bellini was born.
Insider Tip: If you’re interested in experiencing Prosecco from the source, you should consider taking one of these Prosecco vineyard tours from Venice while you’re in the Veneto region. You’ll have the opportunity to learn more about the process behind the wine’s signature Charmat method while sampling the light bubbly white wine surrounded by breathtaking views.
Venice has its own beach coastline
Who needs the Amalfi Coast when Venezia has una spiaggia (beach)? Lido is an island off the coast of the lagoon city center where you can enjoy the sun, beach, and sea.
You’ll find several beachfront businesses, restaurants, and hotels, and most of the shoreline is open to the public. If you’re lucky enough to visit during peak season, expect to find crowds of people having a good time.
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The city has a whole island for its cemetery
Found just off the northern edge of Venice and visible from the Cannareggio neighborhood’s coast, San Michele Island is where Venetians are buried. In 1807 during the French occupation, it was decided that the deceased could no longer be laid to rest within the central city.
You can find the graves of many famous Venetians and residents there, and it’s still an active cemetery today.
The word “quarantine” comes from Venice
From 1346 until 1353, Europe lost one-third of its total population due to the Black Plague. The term “quarantine” comes from quaranta giorni, which translates to forty days in English.
Ships that had come to port in Venice had to stay outside the city during this period in an effort to prevent infectious ship staff and passengers from entering the city.
Venice has been immortalized in masterful works of art
The city of canals has been the inspiration behind some famous artists in recent history. Despite (probably) never stepping foot in Italy, William Shakespeare used the city as his backdrop for his masterful comedy, The Merchant of Venice.
The famous Impressionist painter Claude Monet captured the city’s beauty in a series of paintings titled Saint-Georges majeur au crépuscule about Chiesa di San Giorgio Maggiore and several other paintings.
Marco Polo was a real Venetian
You might have played the game in the pool growing up, but Marco Polo was a real person. Born in 1254 to a wealthy merchant family in Venice, he spent part of his life living in other countries, including China, Japan, Korea, India, and Persia.
When he became imprisoned by a rival city-state, he wrote about his expeditions in The Travels of Marco Polo. You can still see his house in the Castello neighborhood.
You can find the world’s first casino here
In 1638, il Casinò di Venezia was opened for the Carnevale season. And as of today, the Casino of Venice is still in operation! You can find the historic venue with its elegant dining options and canal-side garden in the Cannaregio district.
Which of these interesting facts about Venice, Italy fascinated you?