Venice is a city in northeast Italy sited on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges. It is located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon which stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po and the Piave Rivers. Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks. The city in its entirety is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon.
Venice became an imperial power following the Venetian-financed Fourth Crusade, which in 1204 seized and sacked Constantinople and established the Latin Empire. As a result of this conquest considerable Byzantine plunder was brought back to Venice. This plunder included the gilt bronze horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople, which were originally placed above the entrance to St Mark's cathedral in Venice, although the originals have been replaced with replicas and the originals are now stored within the basilica.
By the late thirteenth century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. At the peak of its power and wealth, it had 36,000 sailors operating 3,300 ships, dominating Mediterranean commerce. During this time, Venice's leading families vied with each other to build the grandest palaces and support the work of the greatest and most talented artists.
Venice's long decline started in the 15th century, when it first made an unsuccessful attempt to hold Thessalonica against the Ottomans (1423–1430). It also sent ships to help defend Constantinople against the besieging Turks (1453). After Constantinople fell to Sultan Mehmet II he declared war on Venice. The war lasted thirty years and cost Venice much of its eastern Mediterranean possessions. Next, Christopher Columbus discovered the New World. Then Portugal found a sea route to India, destroying Venice's land route monopoly. France, England and Holland followed them. Venice's oared galleys were at a disadvantage when it came to traversing the great oceans, and therefore Venice was left behind in the race for colonies.
Venice became Austrian territory when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio on 12 October 1797. The Austrians took control of the city on 18 January 1798. It was taken from Austria by the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 and became part of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy, but was returned to Austria following Napoleon's defeat in 1814, when it became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. In 1848–1849 a revolt briefly reestablished the Venetian Republic under Daniele Manin. In 1866, following the Third Italian War of Independence, Venice, along with the rest of the Veneto, became part of the newly created Kingdom of Italy.
During the Second World War, the historic city was largely free from attack, the only aggressive effort of note being Operation Bowler, a precision strike on the German naval operations there in 1945. However the industrial areas in Mestre and Marghera and the railway lines to Padua, Trieste and Trento were repeatedly bombed. On 29 April 1945 New Zealand troops under Freyberg reached Venice and relieved the city and the mainland, which were already in partisan hands.
In addition, Venice is famous for bisàto (marinated eel), for the golden, oval-shaped cookies called baicoli, and for different types of sweets such as: pan del pescatore (bread of the fisherman); cookies with almonds and pistachio nuts; cookies with fried Venetian cream or the bussolai (butter biscuits and shortbread made in the shape of an "S" or ring) from the island of Burano; the crostoli also known as the chatter, lies, or galani; the fregolotta (a crumbly cake with almonds); milk pudding calledrosada; and cookies of yellow semolina called zaléti.
- The Patriarchal Cathedral Basilica of Saint Mark is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice. It is the most famous of the city's churches and one of the best known examples of Byzantine architecture. It lies at the eastern end of the Piazza San Marco, adjacent and connected to the Doge's Palace. Originally it was the chapel of the Doge, and has only been the city's cathedral since 1807, when it became the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice, formerly at San Pietro di Castello. For its opulent design, gilded Byzantine mosaics, and its status as a symbol of Venetian wealth and power, from the 11th century on the building has been known by the nickname Chiesa d'Oro (Church of gold).
- The Rialto Bridge is one of the four bridges spanning the Grand Canal. It is the oldest bridge across the canal, and was the dividing line for the districts of San Marco and San Polo. The present stone bridge, a single span designed by Antonio da Ponte, was finally completed in 1591. It is similar to the wooden bridge it succeeded. Two inclined ramps lead up to a central portico. On either side of the portico the covered ramps carry rows of shops. The engineering of the bridge was considered so audacious that architect Vincenzo Scamozzi predicted future ruin. The bridge has defied its critics to become one of the architectural icons of Venice.
- Piazza San Marco (often known in English as St Mark's Square), is the principal public square of Venice, where it is generally known just as "the Piazza". All other urban spaces in the city (except the Piazzetta and the Piazzale Roma) are called "campi" (fields). The Piazzetta (the 'little Piazza') is an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon in its south east corner. The two spaces together form the social, religious and political centre of Venice and are commonly considered together. A remark usually attributed to Napoleon calls the Piazza San Marco "the drawing room of Europe". (The attribution to Napoleon is unproven). It is one of the few great urban spaces in Europe where human voices prevail over the sounds of motorized traffic.
- Teatro La Fenice ("The Phoenix") is one of the most famous theatres in Europe, the site of many famous operatic premieres. Its name reflects its role in permitting an opera company to "rise from the ashes" despite losing the use of two theatres (to fire and legal problems respectively). Since opening and being named La Fenice, it has burned and been rebuilt twice more. La Fenice was rebuilt in 2001 in 19th-century style on the basis of a design by architect Aldo Rossi and using still photographs from the opening scenes of Luchino Visconti's 1954 film Senso, which was filmed in the house, in order to obtain details of its design. It reopened on 14 December 2003 with an inaugural concert of Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky. The first opera production was La traviata in November 2004.
- The Doge's Palace is a palace built in Venetian Gothic style, and one of the main landmarks of the city. The palace was the residence of the Doge of Venice, the supreme authority of the Republic of Venice, opening as a museum in 1923. Today it is one of the 11 museums run by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia. In 810, Doge Angelo Partecipazio moved the seat of government from the island of Malamocco to the area of the present-day Rialto, when it was decided a a ducal palace, should be built. However, no traces remains of that 9th century building as the palace was partially destroyed in the 10th century by a fire. The following reconstruction works were undertaken at the behest of Doge Sebastiano Ziani (1172–1178). A great reformer, he would drastically change the entire layout of the St. Mark's Square. The new palace was built out of fortresses, one façade to the Piazzeta, the other overlooking the St. Mark's Basin. Although only few traces remain of that palace, some Byzantine-Venetian architecture characteristics can still be seen at the ground floor, with the wall base in Istrian stone and some herring-bone pattern brick paving. Political changes in the mid-13th century led to the need to re-think the palace's structure due to the considerable increase in the number of the Great Council's members. The new Gothic palace's constructions started around 1340, focusing mostly on the side of the building facing the lagoon. Only in 1424, did Doge Francesco Foscari decide to extend the rebuilding works to the wing overlooking the Piazzetta, serving as law-courts, and with a ground floor arcade on the outside, open first floor loggias running along the façade, and the internal courtyard side of the wing, completed with the construction of the Porta della Carta (1442).