The Italian city of Venice was founded on this day in 421 A.D. by either refugees from nearby Roman cities, or an already existing fishing village. As the Roman Empire fell, more and more people fled the major Roman cities and escaped the Huns, retreating into the swampy marshes of the region. They constructed support beams in the swamp, creating a city located on the water, slowly sinking. The city, located in a strategic position and being so easily accessible to ships, grew quickly. It became a key stronghold of the Greek Byzantine Empire, until it was conquered by the French Charlemagne in the early ninth century. It then eventually earned prestige as a trade capital, until it was an independent Italian city state. Its purchases of the relics of St. Mark and eventual construction of St. Mark square and basilica further increased its prestige, until it became the center of an empire that ruled over parts of Greece, Italy, Germany, and Croatia. It is the birthplace of historical figures such as Marco Polo and Antonio Vivaldi. It became a cultural center as well, renowned for its annual Carnival. On the darker side of Venice’s history, its connections to the Far East made Venice one of the hardest hit cities by the Black Death. Constantinople’s fall was the direct fall of Venice, as Enrico Dandolo, doge of Venice, led the Fourth Crusade to the Byzantine capital, where they sacked the city, until it was too weak to resist the Venetian enemies the Ottomans, and it fell to the Turkish nomads. Despite its wealth and power, Venice eventually began a long decline, and its ruling doges eventually came under attack by conquerors such as Napoleon, and it remained a point of hot contention between Italy and France. Venice remains a city renowned for its cuisine and beauty, despite it slowly sinking. Venice is continually being propped up, but eventually it will return to the swamp from which it was built.
“Venice never quite seems real, but rather an ornate film set suspended on the water.”