But beyond the canals and the gondolas, how much do you really know about Venice? The more you know about a city, the more ready you are to explore it!
So check out our top eleven Venice facts to prepare you for your trip. And be warned – some of them might surprise you!
1. The City of Venice Is Actually Lots of Small Islands
Most of us know that people built the city of Venice into the Venetian lagoon way back around 400 AD. But did you know it actually isn’t a city but a series of small islands?
118 mini islands to be precise! Each man-made island connects to another by a series of bridges. So the city reflects the design of its famous Venetian lace!
Some islands or islets are older than others because the city has grown over the years. For example, Sacca Fisola only dates back to the 1960s. It sits near the older island of Giudecca.
2. These Are Actually Balkan Facts Not Venice Facts!
Well, sort of. If we ask ‘how was Venice built?’ most of you would know the answer. Unless of course, you think it’s floating!
Millions of logs dug into the ground make up the foundation of Venice. And these logs aren’t actually Italian.
They came by boat from the Karst region of Slovenia, as well as Croatia and Montenegro. Most of them are Alder trees, which have strong water resistant properties. This made them perfect for the job.
They’ve stood the test of time, supporting the city for hundreds of years. Even if it is now starting to sink back into the compressed sand and clay at the bottom of the lagoon.
And the foundations aren’t the only non-Italian elements of the city. Venice was originally a refugee city. During the Roman era, people fled there to escape Germanic tribes.
3. It Was Once Its Own Country
Most of you know where Venice is: in Italy of course! But once upon a time (not so long ago!), it used to be its one city-state.
The Republic of Venice or Repubblica di Venezia lasted from the end of the 7th century up until 1797. It was a financial powerhouse and huge player in European trading. This is remarkable given its size!
It was only defeated on May 12, 1797, with the rise of Napoleon. To find out more about the Republic of Venice, check out this blog.
4. It Is Home to One of the Narrowest Streets in the World
Calletta Varisco measures only 53 cm wide, so you might have to breathe in to squeeze down it!
But narrow streets aren’t that rare in Venice. Originally the canals were the main way of getting from place to place. A lot of older houses still have gates opening onto the canals for visitors.
The streets were for moving from house to house. Because of this they aren’t really designed for lots of traffic. In tourist season it can take a long time to around in busy spots!
If you’re looking for Calletta Varisco, you’ll find it near Campo San Canciano.
5. Don’t Even Think About Cycling!
These narrow streets also mean that there’s a limit on the modes of transport allowed in Venice. This is even enforced by law!
Bicycles, skateboards and roller skates are all forbidden. If you get caught on one the penalty is a huge fine.
This might sound like quite an extreme rule. But once you actually see Venice’s tiny streets and bridges you’ll soon realize why. Getting around on a bike wouldn’t actually be easier or quicker than going on foot.
6. Becoming a Gondolier Is Tough
Of all the things associated with Italy and Venice, the Gondola is one of the most iconic. But becoming a licensed gondolier isn’t actually that easy!
A Gondola is a narrow boat which privately taxis passengers across the canals. They’ve been around for over 10 centuries. Now they’re also popular with tourists for trips around the city.
Navigating the canals requires skill though. Gondolier licenses used to pass down in families along with the tricks of the trade.
Now the oarsmen require extensive training and exams. Out of hundreds of applicants, only 3 or 4 qualify each year! And until 2010 all gondoliers were men.
It’s worth the rigorous training though. Gondoliers earn up to $100,000 a year!
7. There are Strict Rules About Gondola Decoration
If you visit Venice you’ll notice that all the gondolas are black. This is because of an old city law.
Gondoliers used to decorate their gondolas as a way of attracting customers. But there was no way to regulate this decoration.
And some gondoliers had more money to spend on decoration than others. This gave them an unfair advantage.
So the city passed a law that meant all gondolas have to be uniform black. But gondoliers are still allowed to decorate the inside of their gondolas! Each one is personalized to reflect the gondolier’s personality.
8. The City Has a Bizarre and Violent History
For nearly 200 years Venice was home to a strange war called the ‘War of the Punches’.
This was a fight between two factions: the Castellani and the Nicolotti. One faction was from eastern Venice and the other was from the west. A divided Italian city sounds like something Shakespeare, doesn’t it?
Well, these factions were very real. And they began fighting in 1300 over the control of Venice’s bridges. Each faction wanted private control.
This war escalated into a series of bloody battles that resulted in injuries and even deaths! Plenty of fighters found themselves off the bridge and in the canals below.
Eventually the Doge, or chief of the city, banned the fights in 1705. You can still visit some of the sites of them today.
9. The Mysterious Spritz
Spritz Veneziano or Venetian Spritz is a famous (and delicious) alcoholic drink. But the source of its name remains a mystery to this day.
Some people believe that it gets its name from the Austrian word ‘spritzen’. This means ‘to spray’. This would make sense as the drink mixes Venetian wine with sparkling water.
Austrian soldiers were reportedly the first to start this tradition. This is because they found the wine too strong for their liking so needed to weaken it!
But another story links it to Austria in a different way. This claims that it was the favorite drink of Franz Joseph, an emperor. In fact, he enjoyed it some much he’d drink several glasses at a time.
And the name of his butler was Spritz! So the drink got its name that way.
Whatever story you believe, make sure you sample a Venetian Spritz while you’re there!
10. The City is Full of Furry Friends!
Cats are a welcome feature of Venetian life.
Hundreds of years ago they came to the city from the Middle East and found a purpose almost immediately. At the time, Venice was struggling with a serious mouse infestation. So they welcomed the cats with open arms.
This population continues growing even today. But don’t worry, this doesn’t mean the streets are full of stray cats. In fact, the city has specially designed facilities to house those without homes.
This love of cats dates back all the way to Francesco Morosini, one of the city’s most famous Doge’s. He apparently loved his cat so much that he even took her with him when he went away to war.
11. Keep an Ear Out for Acqua Alta
It’s not surprising that Venice is prone to flooding. It is, after all, a city built on water. In the winter months, its streets can often fill with water.
However, this isn’t just because the city is slowly sinking. Other factors play a part in these sudden floods. The Sirocco and Bora winds help to funnel waves towards Venice.
For those who don’t live there, a low flood can be quite picturesque. But high tides can have serious consequences for the locals. The worst flood happened in 1966 and was 194cm deep.
Now there are sirens throughout the city that give specific warnings if they’re expecting acqua alta.
So There You Have It
Hopefully, these Venice facts have got you intrigued and ready for your visit! You can use these amazing Venice, Italy facts as a starting point for your adventure.
And for more brilliant ideas for overseas holidays, check out our top ten vacation spots.