Have you ever wondered how was Venice Built?
I am sure millions of people would agree with me, Venice, aka the city of canals and bridges, is one of the world’s most enchanting cities.
It is known for its large number of waterways which separate its dense urban landscape. It looks like a maze made of streets and bridges crossings.
But you won’t be the first one asking yourself, how was it possible to build a city on the water? What are the foundations of Venetian buildings like?
How was Venice Built?
In case you didn’t already know, my name is Maddy. I am from the Veneto region and have been travelling back and forth to Venice since I was a child.
With this informational post, I’ll aim to clarify some of the questions that you might have related to the construction of Venice.
A brief history of Venice
In the V century a.D., Venetians living on the mainland got expelled by the Ostrogoths and Lombards (barbarian conquerors), and took refuge in the marshes of the Po river and founded Venice.
The privileged position, between marshes and stagnant waters, protected Venice from potential conquerors’ attacks at that time.
In the beginning Venice didn’t have the look of a city at all!
It was just a place where different communities were co-living, under the Byzantine sphere of influence. In 584 d. C. these communities formed a duchy, and became part of the exarchate of Ravenna.
The first “doge” to be elected by the Venetian community was Paoluccio Anafesto (in 697 AD) that was politically recognized from Byzantium.
Over the years, after many internal battles dividing Venetians politically, the city became independent of Byzantium and an autonomous political entity.
Since its early years, Venice has been commercially active and that brought a lot of money and wealth to the city.
This how many of the popular tourist attractions in Venice were funded.
Canals played a main role and contribute to the expansion of trade as well as to the expansion of the city that needed more palaces and space to trade.
A new leading class was born that made money from trading around the Mediterranean and the Far East.
This new leadership class supported the creation of what can be only be described as modern Venice which back then, was a small nation. Then eventually, Venice became a republic also called ‘la Serenissima’.
How was Venice built?
Venice was built on 118 small islands and with the arrival of more people in its early years, the need to find more space to live became a priority.
That’s the reason why building houses was extremely important. The city was built as if it was in a shallow swamp.
For this reason, the area destined for construction needed to get first solidified by planting pointed wooden poles (larch or oak), short and gnarled until reaching a particularly hard and compact layer of soil made of clay.
This special clay is called caranto, and it is located around ten meters below the soil’s surface layer of the lagoon.
This process involved removing water in the construction’s site area, after delimitating it, first adding mud between the poles and drying up the ground.
The poles are driven in according to a multiple alignment, along the strip of land above which the perimeter and spine walls will rise.
This then support mosts of the weight of the building. Over the heads of the wooden poles, two layers of thick larch wood planks get fixed.
The actual foundation is raised above these layers, consisting of a plinth wall with slightly inclined walls, in fairly regular layers of blocks of Istrian stone.
Above this first stone wall are placed the columns of the ground floor, or the perimeter walls of the building.
One secret of the longevity of the Venetian wooden foundations is the fact that they are submerged underwater.
The poles are submerged in water and not exposed to oxygen, one of the key elements for microorganisms such as fungi and bacteria to survive.
How Venice’s canals were built
The canals are important waterways for the city of Venice and its lagoon.
When they started building the foundation of the city and planting the wooden poles on the marshland, they also started digging canals.
The more Venice’s foundation area was seeing expansion, the clearer became a separation between waterways and islands.
This means that Venetian canals how we see them today exist as a consequence of building palaces, churches and houses on the small islands of the city.
There are even more than 150 canals and in the past like nowadays, they keep being used as waterways to move around people and products.
When in Venice, make sure to get on a gondola or even just a water bus and see the city from a completely different yet beautiful perspective!
How deep are Venice’s canals?
The Venetian canals’ depth is variable and depends on the canal. The Grand Canal, the most important waterway of the city, is 5 meters deep and it’s much deeper than the average canal.
Normally a canal is 1.5/2 meters deep, but these numbers can always vary based on the high or low tide. The Giudecca Canal, separating Venice from Giudecca island, has a depth that can change.
The maximum depth is around 14 meters and minimum 4 meters.
Venice’s canals are always navigable unless there’s almost no water left during a particularly dry season.
How are the canals maintained?
To ensure not only the navigability and health of the canals, but also to safeguard the entire water system of the lagoon, it’s imperative to clean the canals occasionally.
In fact, it’s known that the canals inevitably tend to be silted up due to the physiological movement of mud caused by the ebb and flow of the waters.
It is therefore necessary to remove the sludge. This process exists since the times of the Serenissima Republic when the canals were cyclically drained, on average once every ten years.
The systems might have changed and improved over time, but the purpose remains the same.
How was Venice built FAQs
Here are some popular questions people ask with regards to Venice:
How was Venice Built?
This is an overview about how Venice was built in the first place, and the reason why this ‘floating city’ exists.
Venice is a fascinating place with stunning palaces, churches and bridges to visit. But as you know after reading this article, when the city was founded it didn’t look like how we see it today.
Thanks to the years-long work of men and technology, the foundations of this city still survive, and we can consider ourselves lucky to be able to walk around its streets and piazzas and navigate the canals.
Are you travelling to Venice soon? I invite you to read my popular 3 days in Venice itinerary before you arrive to the city for practical tips on how to move around.
📌 Like this article? Click to Pin it…
If you found this Venice travel guide helpful, feel free to buy me a virtual coffee here.
“Dear traveller! Some links in this post contain affiliate links. Meaning, if you click through and make a tour booking or reserve a hotel, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. Your support means a lot to me and helps me to keep creating and maintaining the quality of this site for you.”