Brief history of Venice, city on the lagoon

The history of the city of Venice dates back to the fifth century AD. The city only became really important from the ninth century onwards – the robbery of the bones of the evangelist Mark from Alexandria illustrates this growing power. In the early thirteenth century, the city of the Doges even managed to conquer Constantinople, capital of the immense Byzantine Empire, during the Fourth Crusade. Huge amounts of art treasures are transferred to the lagoon. In the seventeenth century, Venice’s power waned; In 1797, Napoleon finally overthrew the Venetian Republic. Since then, the feared naval force has mainly been a tourist attraction.

Table of contents

  • 421 AD: legendary foundation of Venice
  • 828: Saint Mark (San Marco) is robbed
  • 1204: the Fourth Crusade and the conquest of Constantinople
  • 1571: the Battle of Lepanto
  • 1797: Napoleon ends Venice’s independence
  • Political structure of the Republic of Venice: the Doge and his counselors
  • From the construction of the railway bridge to the twenty-first century: a tourist attraction that is in danger of drowning


421 AD: legendary foundation of Venice

Every culture lover knows when the legendary founding of the city of Rome took place: on April 21, 753 BC, Romulus and Remus are said to have fought for this honor. Just like the Romans, the city of Venice should of course have a legendary moment. Ultimately, in the Middle Ages, the foundation was placed in the year 421 AD. Even then, the exact date was subject to discussion. Both March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, and April 25, the Feast of Saint Mark, are mentioned. What is certain is that, just like the founding of Rome, Venice also had a long history. People came to settle in the lagoon as early as the fourth and even third centuries AD. Especially in the painful aftermath of the Fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, the population grew exponentially. The attraction of the area is clear: strategically located on islands, it is very easy to defend against all kinds of invaders.
After the Fall of Rome (476), Venice remained in the hands of the Roman emperors. Naturally, they no longer resided in Rome, but in ‘the Second Rome’: Constantinople. In the beginning, the bond between Venice and the Byzantine Empire was very strong. The city was governed from the Exarchate of Ravenna, which also included other areas in Italy. Venice often provided ships, rowers and soldiers for the Byzantine fight against the advancing Muslims. The city became so important that the emperors called it ‘the first daughter of the Empire’. Because the emperors were so far away, the Venetian population asked for their own leader, a kind of duke or dux – in Venetian: doge. The first doge was elected in 697, in theory still as an ’employee’ of the Byzantine emperor. Many consider this date to be the unofficial start of the Republic of Venice, which would have existed for exactly 1,100 years. From the ninth and certainly the tenth century, Venice was only part of the Byzantine Empire on paper. With the Fourth Crusade, the Republic will make it very clear how relations had evolved.
Source: Vittore Carpaccio, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

828: Saint Mark (San Marco) is robbed

The original patron saint of Venice was Saint Theodore (San Teodoro), a Christian soldier and martyr from Classical Antiquity. Hardly anyone remembers this, because Saint Mark is so overwhelmingly present as the patron saint of the city. He appears everywhere: in engravings, statues, reliefs, paintings… However, he has only been in Venice since 828, and in a very special way: his bones were stolen!
According to legend, the evangelist Mark , writer of the oldest Gospel around 70 AD, was passing through the area that is now Venice. There he was visited by an angel who made it clear to him that he would be buried and honored here. The words with which the angel is said to have addressed Mark are frequently seen in art: Pax tibi Marce evangelista meus” – “Peace be with you

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