I have always been fascinated with Venice. I haven't been there yet but plan to go, it's on my bucket list. My main fascination with Venice is the canal system, a miraculous civil engineering feat. The city of Venice is located in North Eastern Italy in a lagoon on the Adriatic sea. It is not built on solid ground, but on a cluster of 117 mud islands connected by 177 canals. It dates far back into the Roman empire when it was broken up into small villages with houses built on stilts. During the 9th century Venice became an important fishing and commerce site. The villages became connected into one government which began building residences and businesses along the canals.
The city is built on wood pilings driven 15' into the clay below. Wood is used for the pilings. When wood is underwater with no oxygen it does not corrode or decay, but rather petrifies and turns into a stone substance. The city is connected by 25 miles of canals which are tributaries of the Grand Canal which empties into the Adriatic Sea. The canals function as roads and every form of transportation in the City of Venice is on water or on foot. The only land entrance into the city is in the north east portion where there is a railroad connection and car parks. Venice is Europe's largest urban car free area, remaining the only city in the 21st century entirely without automobiles or trucks.
The purpose of the canal system was to avoid flooding and create drainage. Despite this system Venice still floods. All through the city there are wooden poles which mark the water level. If the water level reaches a certain height then the flood alarm is sounded throughout the city. The greatest recorded flood was in 1966. Since then the population has been on a steady annual decrease. Venice is considered a dying city today only propped up by the tourist trade.
Although the natives may be leaving it is still one of the number one European cities visited by tourists every year. Mainly they come to see the fabulous palazas, art, venetian glass works and of course to take a ride down the Grand Canal in a gondola. Most locals use the city's Water Buses and Taxis or their own private boats for transportation. The tourists almost exclusively use the romantic gondolas. In the 18th century there were thousands of gondolas on the canals of Venice but now there only remains a few hundred. I always wondered about the long pole they use to navigate rather than oars. There is a reason, the poles are several feet high and the gondolier pushes his pole along the bottom of the canal to steer the gondola.
You don't want to go swimming in these canals. They may look the beautiful blue green of the Adriatic Sea but you can imagine how polluted they are after centuries of waste being transported through them out to the sea. This brings to mind one of my favorite "old" movies Summertime starring Katherine Hepburn and Renato Di Rossi filmed in Venice in 1955. Ms. Hepburn does a stunt in the movie where she falls backwards into a canal. As a result she contracted conjunctivitis in both eyes which plagued her the rest of her life.
I hope you enjoyed this mini history of the the grand canals of Venice. I know I surely enjoyed the research and I want to thank Ms. Morin for giving me the opportunity to read The Secret of the Glass. It was very motivating for me to study up some on this fascinating city.