Venice is the result of a thousand years of labour. For a thousand years wise men have worked not for their own profit but for the common good. Every stone, every small carving has an interesting story. I am sorry to have to say that the majority of the tourists who visit Venice have no idea of the difficulties and all the work that has been done for generations in the past. They do not seem to realise the attention paid to every small change in the lagoon in order to safeguard the natural defence and source of life of this system of small islands that became Venice.
In Roman times, before Christ, there was a large basin where many rivers flowed into, it was described as a green area rich of game. Then a flooding or a tsunami enlarged the basin that became the lagoon. Where the land is more solid small islands emerge, while the river beds become canals. This new habitat made of fresh and salty water is the ideal place for fish and birds, but above all for men who find a natural refuge to shelter from the barbaric invasions and to have enough food. The islands close to the mainland and to the old town of Altino are the most populated, but a few centuries after they disappeared due to the rise of water level, (except for Torcello and Mazzorbo, Burano will be formed later) and the malaria due to the presence of fresh water from the rivers contributed to the depopulation.
So the people started to move to other areas, an area called Rivo Alto, high banks, where the river Brenta makes a tight curb. Not too far away there are two small islands in Castello area, in Santa Marta and in Dosso Duro (Dorsoduro). Digging the canals in the river delta and moving the soil to the marshes, small islands started to form which were then consolidated by a forest of poles inserted in the mud until they found the solid layer of caranto. On this new consolidated soil it was possible to build. At first they built wood and straw huts, then they used bricks and wood and the palaces that we can still admire. Throughout this period the government was always a republic run by noblemen who made sure nobody would prevail and all decisions were made for their successors. *
Venice had an important role in Mediaeval Europe. It was a liberal state ready to welcome people of different religions, any book could be printed here and many a great mind found a refuge here. It has been a bridge between the East and Europe for the spreading of science and it has become the major market for raw materials from Asia. It had the largest boat yard in Europe where in 1400 it was possible to build and launch a totally equipped ship in one working day. The famous merchants traded precious goods all over Europe and embellished their homes with works from the best artists of their time. The city gave work to thousands of artisans and fortunately somethings have survived to today.
* A small example: Inspectors of the republic used to look for the best wood in the forest to make the ships' keels. The tree top would be pulled to the ground by a rope that would keep the tree in that position so that it would grow already bent to fit the purpose. Using an already bent piece of wood the structure was much more resistant. The inspectors who were so zealously searching the forest, knew that they would never see the final product, but the trunks would be used by their grandchildren.