Venice and its Lagoon - History and Facts | History Hit

Venice and its Lagoon

Known as 'The City of Water', Venice truly is one of the most spectacular places in all of Italy. The UNESCO World Heritage site boasts with an impressive history, spanning over a millenia at the heart of European culture.  

Teet Ottin

05 Jan 2023
Image Credit: cineuno /

About Venice and its Lagoon

The historic centre of Venice is one of Italy‘s greatest treasures, with its canals, beautiful churches and grand palazzos. Founded over 1,500 years ago by refugees fleeing from invading forces, the former seat of the Venetian Republic was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

The history of Venice and its Lagoon

Traditionally, Venice is said to have been founded at noon on 25 March 421, by authorities of Padua in northern Italy. Established as a trading post, its first inhabitants were refugees from cities across northern Italy, fleeing the ongoing Hun and Germanic invasions there. 

In 568 AD, the Lombard hordes invaded, causing the Eastern Roman Empire to lose much of its recently acquired western territories. Many more mainlanders fled to the islands in the nearby lagoon, which provided them with natural defences.

The city would receive full independence from the Byzantine Empire in the 9th century. Venice’s location at the crossroads between the Frankish and Eastern Roman Empire contributed to its position as a trade powerhouse.

Venice would quickly grow to become one of the richest and most powerful cities in Europe. It played a crucial role in the Fourth Crusade, capitalising on the demise of Constantinople when many Eastern Roman treasures were shipped to the lagoon city.

The Renaissance would see Venice indulge in unrivalled splendour, with seemingly almost every building having been worked on by some of the greatest artists of the era. The days of the independent Republic would last until the late 18th century, when the last doge was deposed and the city fell under Austrian influence. During the Napoleonic wars the city would be incorporated to the short lived Kingdom of Italy, which was under French control, before being returned back to the Habsburg realms.

Venice would finally become part of a fully independent unified Italian state in 1866.

Venice and its Lagoon today

The lagoon city has undeniably become one of the greatest tourist attractions in the region and for good reason. The beautiful architecture, rich history and outstanding art make Venice a truly unique place to explore.

The whole city feels like an open air museum, with fascinating historic sites awaiting you at every corner.  One of the most visited parts of Venice is St Mark’s Square, which is surrounded by some of the cities best known landmarks. The most prominent building facing the square is the gorgeous Byzantine Saint Mark’s Basilica, originally founded in 828 AD. Near the Basilica is the late-15th century elaborately decorated St Mark’s Clocktower. The most towering feature of the square is St Mark’s Campanile, a watchtower originally built in the 12th century, extended in the 16th, and rebuilt following its collapse in the early 20th century.

A popular way to travel around the many canals is to take a gondola – a traditional, flat-bottomed Venetian rowing boat. For centuries they were the main way in which Venetian citizens traveled inside the city.

Venice is regularly prone to flooding, which is something travellers should bear in mind, especially when visiting between autumn and early spring.

Getting to Venice and its Lagoon

Venice Marco Polo Airport is located close to the city, making it possible to fly there fairly directly. One of the easiest and cheapest ways to reach the old town is by taking the train from the Mestre station in modern Venice to Venezia Santa Lucia. The journey takes approximately 10 minutes.