“This race did not seek refuge in these islands for fun, nor were those who joined later moved by chance; necessity taught them to find safety in the most unfavourable location. Later, however, this turned out to their greatest advantage and made them wise at a time when the whole northern world still lay in darkness; their increasing population and wealth were a logical consequence. Houses were crowded closer and closer together, sand and swamp transformed into solid pavement…The place of street and square and promenade was taken by water. In consequence, the Venetian was bound to develop into a new kind of creature, and that is why too, Venice can only be compared to itself.” Goethe, Italian Journey, 1786–1788
In approximately 40 CE, Mark stopped in the Venetian Lagoon while traveling through the Mediterranean. An angel appeared to Mark and declared, “Pax tibi, Marce, evangelista meus. Hic requiescet corpus tuum. (‘Peace be with you, Mark my evangelist. Here will be your resting place.’).” It is these words that appear repeatedly throughout Venezia, as it implies that the city was chosen by divine intervention to be the resting place of Mark. This is often shortened to “Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus, which means Peace unto you, Mark, my Evangelist.”
Mark died in Alexandria, which by the 800s had become a land ruled by Muslims. The Venetians decided to retrieve the body of Saint Mark and bring it to Venezia. In 828, two Venetians stole the body of Saint Mark and concealed it under porc. The muslim guards were repulsed by the porc and did not inspect the basket.
The body of Saint Mark was then buried in what was the Doge’s private chapel, now Basilica San Marco. When the Basilica was rebuilt, Saint Mark’s body was lost. It was miraculously rediscovered, an event greatly celebrated.
The Roman Empire collapsed in the 400’s. This exposed previously safe villages to raids from armies and brigands. In 421, a community seeking refuge decided to live on the water. They settled not on an island, but on the lagoon itself.
The early Venetian settlers submerged the trunks of pine trees under the shallow water of the lagoon. Pine wood does not rot when submerged, but rather hardens to a consistency of stone. On top of these, they placed the white Istrian stone, a limestone resistant to salt water. They then built structures out of wood and bricks. Because Venice is built on the water, the city is constantly shifting an sinking. There few if any straight lines or true vertical or horizontal components. Some visitors experience a type of vertigo in Venice.
Venezia was unique in Medieval and Renaissance Europe. The city was multicultural, capitalistic, and was ruled by an elected official-the Doge (Duke). The Doge was elected by Venetian nobles and had checks on his power by different branches of government.
The interest in other cultures and the exchange of ideas with those countries is best personified by Marco Polo’s account of his trip along the Silk Road to India and China in circa 1300. At that time most of Europe was closed in on itself and homogeneous. Venezia was culturally dynamic, as seen in the Islamic influence on the domes of Basilica San Marco.
“la vecia col morter,” “the old lady with the mortar.” June 15, 1310,
The Venetian Republic ultimately fell to Napoleon’s French forces in 1797.
Macadam, Alta. Blue Guide Venice, including Murano, Burano, Torcello and all the lagoon islands plus Chioggia . Blue Guides. Kindle Edition.
EDITOR AND LAST UPDATE
John William Bailly 25 April 2022
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