As story goes today, 25th March 2021, Venice turns 1600 years old.
But Venice, was it really founded on March 25th 421 AD at noon?
Venice has a history spanning almost 16 centuries that involves numerous intrigues, 120 doges, several oppressors such as Napoleon and the Austrians, as well as many battles amongst others with the Turks, even though it’s not always possible to differentiate the historical facts from the legends.
In short, the foundation of the Serenissima’s city is traced back to the legendary laying of the first stone of the San Giacomo of Rialto church, San Giacometo, as the Venetians still call it today.
It was built by a carpenter, who in the midst of a major fire made a vow to San Giacomo. He escaped unharmed and honoured the vow by erecting this church in the saint’s name. We are, according to tradition, in 421, on 25th March. According to the Chronicon Altinate (11th century) the first settlement in Venice on the Rivus Altus (Rialto) dates back on this day with the consecration of the church on the banks of today’s Grand Canal.
As for the day, March 25th is basically a date referable to the Catholic religion: the day coincides in fact with the Annunciation of the Lord, the announcement of the virginal conception and virgin birth of Jesus which is made to his mother Mary and his father Joseph by the archangel Gabriel.
A circumstance that seems (indeed, is) made on purpose to justify the fact that in Venice March was the first month of the year. Until the fall of the Republic, that is until 1797, Venice had been celebrating the New Year at the end of winter and the arrival of spring.
This symbolic date has been considered the birthday of the lagoon city since time immemorial.
In any case, the history is in reality much more complex than the legend.
The Venetian lagoon was formed in the 8th century B.C. from a previous river-palustrine environment and it is assumed that there were human settlements here since prehistoric times due to the wealth of resources that favoured hunting and fishing.
In pre-Roman times, or the Paleo-Venetian period, civilization was well rooted in the area with populations dedicated to fishing, salt production, maritime transport and other related mercantile activities. A hub of intense commercial traffic that connected the Adriatic with central and northern Europe, in this period some settlements developed, among which the centre of Altino stands out, now with a proto-urban physiognomy.
According to Titus Livy, Antenor and the other fugitives from the Trojan war came, finding safe refuge, near the Venetian coast. Aquilo went to found Aquileia, Antenore founded Padua, Diomede founded Adria and Spina, Clodio founded Clodia (the current Chioggia) and Enea founded Venice in 1.107 B.C.
Apparently the Trojans had landed in the area of Olivolo (Castello) and would place their first settlement here.
The coming of the Romans took place peacefully without submission, and the system of ports was strengthened (also the nearby Chioggia dates back to this period), while the hinterland was reclaimed and centuriated, which is still visible in the current layout of roads and ditches.
As a result, the lagoon perhaps became a holiday resort for the nobility, as some findings testify.
In the years that followed the Roman Empire broke down and Italy was invaded by barbarians, in particular the Huns (452) and the Longobards (568) and many inhabitants of the city of Padova moved to Rivus Altus in the lagoon to escape the unrest and pillaging following the invasions, giving rise to the first city nucleus of Venice.
At the same time, the major religious institutions such as the Patriarch of Aquileia in Grado and the Bishop of Altino in Torcello moved to the lagoon.
With time the name Rivus Altus bacame the shorter “Rialto” which has been the commercial centre of Venice ever since.
The continuation is history and glory, and over the centuries, the city of St. Mark has become the jewel we can all admire.
Even today, you cannot miss out the chance of getting lost in Venice, discovering its hidden treasures, visiting palaces, gardens, churches and museums less known and far from the most popular routes, exploring the historic City, the lagoon and the mainland. And take a trip also for one of major events, such as its historical carnival, a tradition lasting over 900 years, or to see the magnificent historical regatta.
And, sadly, to see a Venice completely without tourists, a global pandemic was needed ….