Like most cities in Italy, the birth of Venice has a history of myths and tales. The inhabitants of Aquileia laid the foundations for this unique city in the 5th century A.D.. Its storied origins and unique location makes Venice an intriguing city to visit. Here are 7 interesting facts you need to know before you visit Venice.
1. Venice is the shape of a fish
Many travelers visiting Venice for the first time wonder how momentous structures like the Campanile di San Marco or the Basilica di San Marco have withstood the test of time. Construction in Venice must endure water, salty air, mud and sand. Through a system of building stilts and preventing leaks with mud, bricks and waste material, Venetians engineered a cemented foundation that’s held for centuries. Who would have guessed that from the air, Venice takes the shape of a fish?! Oh, the irony!
2. Sirens in Venice alert people of “Acqua Alta”
The sirens once signal air strikes during WWII are still fixed atop the bell towers in Venice. Today, those same sirens alert people Acqua Alta is about to hit. Acqua Alta in english means “high water” and occurs when the canals’ water level suddenly rises above the pavement and floods into the streets. This phenomenon is relatively recent in Venice’s history. When the sirens sound, you’ll notice Venetians quickly securing iron plates in doorways to prevent the high waters from entering their homes.
3. Venice is home to one of the narrowest streets in the world
Calletta (as in “small street”) Varisco is located near Campo San Canciano in Venice and happens to be one of the narrowest streets in the world measuring 53 cm in width. Venitian streets are characteristically narrow, given the main form of transportation takes place in canals. Naturally, streets were built to move between houses, but were not originally conceived for heavy traffic hence why the main gates of most old buildings in Venice are still facing the canals.
4. Becoming a gondolier is not easy
The Gondola is one of the most recognizable symbols of Venice and a very popular tourist attraction. Not many people know that becoming a licensed gondola rider, or “gondolièr” is not an easy feet. These centuries old narrow boats easily navigate across the canals because of their elongated shape. It’s because of this shape that they must be helmed by skilled oarsmen. Hundreds of eager men apply each year while only 3 to 4 manage to get the license.
5. The pink columns of Palazzo Ducale revealed
While admiring the columns in Palazzo Ducale you can easily spot two that differ from the rest. What’s the reason behind their pink hue? These columns mark where criminal sentences were traditionally read and their fateful executions took place. Scaffolding was placed directly at the height of the columns facing the clock tower so the condemned would see their time of death. The pink color symbolizes the blood of the convicted.
6. The Wars of the Punches
In ancient times, Venice was split into two factions including the Castellani, from the east side of the city, and the Nicolotti, from the west. The relentless feud began in 1300, and was dubbed “Guerre dei Pugni”, or “Wars of the Punches”. The fights were particularly bloody taking place on several famous bridges in Venice; the most famous being Ponte dei Carmini, Ponte di Santa Fosca, Ponte della Guerra, and Ponte dei Pugni. The wars’ endgame was to conquer the bridge and make it private resulting in many injuries and deaths given most participants fell off the bridge. The fighting became so intense that the Doge banned these scuffles for good in 1705.
7. Venitian cats, not the musical
Cats first arrived in Venice from the Middle East and instantly became beloved pets to Venetian people. They served to combat a pressing issue at the time: an overpopulation of mice. In Venice, not many cats are stray. Most reside in designated “cat sanctuaries”, with Venetian families, or the traditional “gattare“ or cat ladies. Rumor has it that Francesco Morosini,a popular Doge of Venice, was so fond of his cat that he brought her with him to war.
Sean Finelli is CEO at The Tour Guy. The Tour Guy and its suite of brands, The Roman Guy and Finelli & Shaw, offer globetrotters uniquely curated experiences across Europe.