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  • It's every couple's and Instagram influencer's dream destination: Venice, Italy.

  • The stunning architecture, incredible food, the picturesque gondolas on the canals.

  • TheFloating Cityon the water captivates the world's imagination.

  • But of the millions of tourists that crowd Venice every year, how many stop and think,

  • wait...why build a city on the water to begin with?”

  • Wouldn't something like…[pause]...I don't know, land [emphasis] be a better option?

  • That's an excellent question, and one our team of experts and researchers immediately

  • set out to answer.

  • Picture this: It's the 5th century AD, and the Western Roman Empire has just epically

  • fallen, all while the Byzantine Empire firmly keeps its Airpods in, refusing to hear Rome's

  • cries for help.

  • To be fair to the Byzantines, centuries of lead consumption via the drinking water was

  • never gonna end well for Rome.

  • With the empire's defenses and army destroyed and disbanded, the path is open for invading

  • forces to work their way across Italy.

  • Numerous barbarian armies, including the famed forces of Attila the Hun, attack the major

  • Italian cities.

  • Even though the Veneti people still technically belong to the Eastern Roman Empire, they're

  • right on the border, and their distance from the capital makes it hard for Constantinople

  • to defend them.

  • In the midst of this chaos, the future of a little chain of nearby marshy islands is

  • about to change forever..

  • The group of 118 or 124 islands - sources differ on the exact number - that existed

  • where present-day Venice now sits were thought of as little more than small plots of useless

  • soil in marshland.

  • A few poor fishermen lived there, and almost no one else.

  • On the mainland however, along the coast across from these islands, lived a Celtic group known

  • as the Veneti.

  • The first foreign attack comes from the Visigoths, in the early 5th century.

  • As the Visigoths approach the city on foot and horseback, terrifying the population,

  • the residents have a lightbulb moment: an army of horses and men can't cross the water.

  • Thus, the Veneti pack up their things into boats and move across the Canal del Giudecca,

  • which separates the island chain from the mainland, to the marsh they had so looked

  • down on before.

  • Specifically, they settle on the sandy stretches of Torcello, Iesolo, and Malamocco.

  • In 421 AD, the Veneti officially establish a city on the island, which they call, unimaginatively,

  • Venice, or Venezia [pronounced Ve-ne-tsi-a] in Italian, or Venessia in Venetian, because

  • each town, street, and house in Italy has its own dialect.

  • Some mainland residents hold out, preferring to face the onslaught of repeated military

  • campaigns against them instead of abandoning their homes and relocating to a marsh.

  • Like the usual Florida residents on the news who refuse to leave their living room while

  • a hurricane is barreling towards them, their stubbornness is somewhat admirable, but also

  • turns out to be a very bad idea.

  • Then, after an attack by one of the most famous and feared generals of all time, Attila the

  • Hun, followed by repeated threats from Franks and Turks, most residents end up deciding

  • that maybe fleeing across the water isn't such a bad idea.

  • However, this sudden influx of people to a place that had previously housed just a handful

  • of fishermen overwhelmed and overcrowded the small Venetian islands, much like most photo-snapping

  • tourists do today.

  • That's when the Veneti came up with a solution.

  • In order to expand and solidify the city, they would dig up and construct canals, and

  • build Veniceon the water itself.

  • This would create more space, but it also meant that they would have to build incredibly

  • strong foundations in order to support the weight of an entire city.

  • And, in a move that would make Venice the iconic city it is today, they would have to

  • create canals rather than roads.

  • The first step was to dig the canals and make sure they held their shape.

  • Without modern machinery, the digging was a long, painstaking process.

  • In order to make sure their work wasn't immediately destroyed, as soon as builders

  • carved out the canals, they hammered in closely stacked stakes on the sides of the waterways.

  • This stopped water from seeping back into the dirt walls and stopped the dirt walls

  • from falling down.

  • Here, the Veneti also got a little lucky.

  • The wood they used for the stakes was alder wood, which is mostly water-resistant.

  • In addition, the bottom of the canals had a layer of solid clay, which helped the waterways

  • naturally keep their shape, and helped hold the stakes in place.

  • All the builders had to do is drive the stakes through the top layers of mud and sand to

  • get to the solid clay bottom.

  • The locals then needed some kind of platform on which to place the city's buildings.

  • Surprisingly, the settlers decided the best material to use for the platforms was wood.

  • They built wooden platforms on top of which they would place stone to serve as the new

  • buildings' foundations.

  • This is where they ran into problem number two.

  • Being a marshland, Venice didn't have much in the way of forests and trees.

  • So, the Venetians started importing wood from Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, and other nearby

  • destinations accessible by ship.

  • One would think that a city built on wood, moreover, wood submerged in water, would quickly

  • devolve into an Atlantis-like situation.

  • However, this is where, once again, for every seeming setback they had, the Venetians also

  • managed to get lucky.

  • Wood usually rots because of a combination of oxygen, moisture, and fungi.

  • However, the water in Venice is saltwater.

  • This means, not only is it almost completely deprived of oxygen; it also doesn't allow

  • the microorganisms which would induce rottingmost of which are found in freshwater

  • to form.

  • Because the wood in Venice is constantly submerged and never really comes into contact with oxygen,

  • it also prevents rotting.

  • After 1500 years, we can confidently say the wood has held out pretty well so far and managed

  • to avoid collapsing.

  • In fact, the silt and salt in the canal waters have had a bit of an opposite effect.

  • Thanks to these small particles interacting with Venice's foundations over centuries,

  • the wood has ossified into the density and consistency of stone over time.

  • During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, as the rest of Europe lived through endless

  • wars and invasions, Venice was allowed to prosper in a way few could have imagined when

  • they first settled on the small islands.

  • The city's location, isolated from mainland Italy, protected it from many potentially

  • destructive attacks, and furthermore, encouraged the region's independence as well as the

  • development of a massive naval force, mostly used for commerce.

  • While Venice was initially overseen by the Exarch of Ravenna, appointed by the Byzantine

  • Empire, the city was connected to Ravenna only by a shipping route, and increasingly

  • sought autonomy.

  • Venice elected its firstdoge” – the Doge's Palace remains one of the city's

  • main attractions todayin 697, Paolo Lucio Anafesto.

  • Dogemeantleaderin the Venetian dialect.

  • After a Lombard King conquered Ravenna in 751, but left Venice untouched, the city became

  • almost fully autonomous; at this point, it was a Byzantine territory in name only.

  • Constantinople had almost no real control over the Venetian region; thus, by the 9th

  • century, Venice would become its own city-state.

  • At its peak, Venice had acquired multiple territories on the eastern Adriatic coast,

  • many Greek islands, including Crete, and the entire territory of Cyprus.

  • However, this was more for commercial rather than military reasons.

  • Venetians were merchants, first and foremost.

  • Their primary goal was to establish and maintain peaceful trade routes throughout the Adriatic

  • and Mediterranean region.

  • Wherever they encountered pirates, such as in the aforementioned territories, they would

  • take over in order to secure those particular trade routes and drive the pirates out.

  • It was at this point of Venice's power that none other than Charlemagne himself decided

  • to invade the jewel of the Adriatic.

  • His son, Pepin of Italy, laid siege to the city of Venice.

  • This would turn out to be a horrendously expensive and embarrassing mistake.

  • For six months, while Venetians curiously looked on Pepin's adorable attempts at a

  • siege while going about their daily lives, Pepin's forces were completely subdued by

  • the diseases found in the local marshes.

  • Presumably, the local Venetians had learned to prevent, treat them, or had adapted to

  • them, and were relatively unaffected.

  • In 810 AD, with his army devastated by swampland and no sign of anything approximating surrender

  • from Venice, Pepin tucked his tail between his legs and headed home.

  • After countless effortless victories against outside invaders, plus multiple trade routes

  • and territorial acquisitions, Venice became one of the most prosperous city-states in

  • Europe.

  • However, starting in 1453, when the Ottoman Empire defeated the Byzantine Empire and seized

  • most of Venice's lands, the city started to decline from its former heights, though

  • it continued to maintain some level of influence and importance, as even in the mid-1500s,

  • the city's population numbered 170,000.

  • Most of Venice's meteoric rise and development would have been almost impossible without

  • the benefit of the city's unique construction and location, which enabled it to avoid too

  • much unwanted interference from the outside world.

  • However, in an ironic turn of eventsfeel free to argue in the comments about whether

  • this is the correct use ofironicor notthe source of Venice's rise and

  • prosperity may prove to be the source of its downfall.

  • Today, Venice does quite well for itself as one of the most sought-after tourist destinations

  • in the world.

  • However, there is a very real danger that theFloating Cityis quickly becoming

  • theSinking City”.

  • In the last century, scientists estimate that Venice has sunk by nine inches.

  • This may not seem like a lot - talking about the sea level, gentlemen - but for a city

  • built on the water, it's concerning.

  • The problem has partly existed from the start.

  • The weight of the city always has, and now continues to push the foundations downwards

  • into the ground, submerging the city little by little.

  • However, other factors have compounded the city's submersion.

  • One was the genius idea in the 1960s to drill artisanal wells in order to gain better access

  • to drinking water, which has historically been a problem for this saltwater-surrounded

  • area.

  • Engineers drilled way past the wooden piles the city rested on into the hard clay bottom

  • of the canals.

  • This weakened the structural integrity and stability of the wood, which had the effect

  • of making the city sink even faster.

  • Once they realized the problems the wells were causing, they stopped drilling immediately.

  • Wells are now banned in Venice.

  • However, the damage was already done.

  • In addition, the buildings lining the canals themselves are being affected by the startling

  • increase in water traffic.

  • The amount of motorized traffic in the Venetian canals has almost doubled in the last ten

  • years alone.

  • The massive increase in tourism has been a big driver of that traffic.

  • Though the greater Venice area is home to around 262,000 people, the historic city of

  • Venice which sits on the water is home to only around 60,000.

  • And yet in 2019, the famous city recorded 4.78 million inbound tourists.

  • That's almost 80 times [emphasis] the Venetian population!

  • Lastly, the big problem putting Venice on high alert is something most of the world

  • is also worried about: climate change.

  • Though Venice has slowly been sinking for centuries, the accelerating rise in sea levels

  • threatens to make the city unlivable much sooner than previously thought.

  • In addition, anyone who has spent a number of days in Venice can attest to the city's

  • propensity to unexpectedly become a wading pool at times.

  • Especially in the winter, strong winds and storm surges cause flooding throughout the

  • city, a phenomenon known as aqua altaor, high water.

  • However, climate change has affected weather patterns and increased the sea level, which

  • has led to much more frequent flooding throughout the year, damaging and eroding the city at

  • a much faster rate.

  • Some scientists and engineers have proposed possible solutions to prevent Venice from

  • being lost to the sea.

  • One of these is called the Mo.S.E. – the acronym for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico

  • an ambitious project that involves the construction of 79 mobile floodgates.

  • When the tide rises more than one meter - approximately 3.3 feet - above the high-water mark, these

  • floodgates will kick into operation and keep the Venetian lagoon separated from the Adriatic

  • sea.

  • Some have suggested even more extreme plans, such as stopping and reversing climate change

  • so hopefully there are still humans on Earth to worry about Venice sinking from the weight

  • of its structures.

  • However, this has been deemed anunrealisticgoal by a whole lot of important people who

  • have, at best, 15 years left on this Earth.

  • Though we may not know Venice's eventual fate, we know that this unique city was built

  • in the most ingenious of ways, and that it's construction and location led it to thrive

  • and prosper for over a millennium.

  • Famous Russian writer Alexander Herzen had this to say about Venice: “To build a city

  • where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one

  • of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.”

  • Now that you've learned all about why humans in the 400s wanted to build a city on the

  • water, do you want to go see Venice - presumably before it sinks?

  • While you're deciding on whether to book your ticket, you can keep watching more fun

  • videos by clicking here, or perhaps here instead!

It's every couple's and Instagram influencer's dream destination: Venice, Italy.

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Why Was Venice ACTUALLY Built on Water

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    Summer posted on 2021/05/23
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