The Grand Canal is about 3 kilometers (about 2 mi) long, and winds through Venice from northwest to southeast, dividing the city into two nearly equal portions. Much of Venice is off limits to motor cars while the famous Gondolas ply the waterways propelled by a single oar, and are employed mainly by tourists; it is the motor launches that carry most of the freight and passenger traffic. In fact it is very easy to get around Venice through the use of these motor launches though at least once you should bite the bullet and splurge on a Gondola. The basis of the Venetian economy is tourism and of all of the places that I have been to in Europe, here you'll find the biggest crowds. Venice also plays host to numerous art and film festivals and other special events throughout the year.
According to tradition Venice was founded in AD 452. Legend has it that the inhabitants of Northern Italian cities took refuge on the lagoon's islands to escape the Teutonic tribes invading Italy during the 5th century. In 697 the Venetians organized a republic under an elected leader known as the doge. The Crusades and the resulting development of trade with Asia led to the establishment of Venice as the greatest commercial center for trade with the East. Venice became a rigid oligarchy by late 1200s. Wars of conquest enabled Venice to acquire neighboring territories, and by the late 1400s, the city-state was the leading maritime power in the Christian world. In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks and with it did the Byzantine Empire cease to exist. While Venice still had its land possessions to the North and West it is from the East that it had derived the bulk of its wealth and this door was now closed. In the early part of the 19th century Venice came under the control of Austria after its defeat by the armies of Napoleon. It finally broke free from its Hapsburg masters as part of Garibaldi's united Italy.
Today Venice faces many challenges, including loss of population to other areas in Northern Italy and the physical damage from flooding, sinkage, air, water pollution, and the ravages of time. After severe flooding in 1966, an international effort to preserve historic Venice was coordinated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and many structures were renovated and preserved. Flooding has occurred throughout the history of the city and continues to be a concern but experiments using mechanical barriers may help minimize the damage. The sinkage of buildings and other structures, caused by the drainage of underground aquifers, has been addressed by limits on groundwater usage and the construction of an aqueduct from the nearby Alps. Venice continues to draw people from all over and many consider Venice to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, as you can see by these photographs taken by my now ancient but trusty 1.5MB Kodak digital camera, I would have to agree.
The city buildings and decorations range in style from Byzantine to the Renaissance. The city's center and most frequented attraction is Saint Mark's Square, which contains Saint Mark's Cathedral and the Doges' Palace. It is also home to thousands of pigeons which are kept fed by offerings from countless tourists.
After navigating Venice's narrow streets and entering the Square you find yourself surrounded by all of this beautiful architecture that is altogether an overwhelming experience. My favorite time to visit is very early on Sunday morning when many of the streets are almost deserted and you can be alone in your thoughts. Soon your mind travels back to the time when Venice was a very powerful city state with it's large fleet of ships traveled the trade routes supplying silk, grain, and spice to the rest of Europe. The Venetian Republic's decline in the 17th-18th centuries came about with the creation of competing ports that robbed Venice of much of it's prior trade and numerous small wars that it found itself involved in.
Venice's Marco Polo Airport is located several miles north of the city in Tessera. Travelers from Europe or the United States may be able to find flights with discount business class tickets available. Flying business class to a destination like Venice makes the trip all the more memorable.