This is an episode of an A&E television series, filmed in 2005 and hosted by Leonard Nimoy, aka Spock. I rented it from Netflix.
Fascinating show – I recommend this one to anyone who loves Venice. Some beautiful scenery, of course, but also an excellent explanation of how such a magnificent city was built on what is essentially a big mucky swampy lagoon.
The show emphasizes how very improbable it is that a city was created in such a hostile environment with no fresh water, no building materials, and no place to grow food. The early Venetians fled into the lagoon around 400 AD to escape barbarians invading the mainland, and the seed of Venice’s eventual wealth was salt, the first product that the Venetians traded. At that time, salt was “edible gold” and much in demand not only for cooking but also for its ability to preserve food. And in order to sell their salt, the Venetians had to become expert boatsmen (and boat builders) and it all evolved from there.
A few other interesting tidbits from the show:
Most of the great cities of the world have changed a great deal over the centuries but not Venice, which would still be recognizable to early citizens like Marco Polo.
The buildings of Venice rest on a forest of petrified wooden poles driven down into the muck with a layer of highly waterproof Istrian marble over the poles. During the Middle Ages, most cities of the world were building walls and fortresses - architecture that reflected their fear of their enemies. The Venetians were able to build those lacy open gothic buildings because of the natural protection the lagoon gave them.
The Venetian Republic was one of the world’s first democracies, and its system of checks and balances was a model for the Founding Fathers of the USA. At its height of power, the Venetian Republic provided state-run healthcare for its citizens, free legal representation for the poor, and an unusually generous support of the arts and artists.
My favorite parts were a couple of church scenes – there was some beautiful footage of the interior of the cathedral on Torcello which was built in 625 AD. There were also scenes of the Basilica di San Marco’s crypt, a place I’ve never been but would love to go. It’s eerily beautiful down there, but evidently it floods a lot. The show said that originally the San Marco crypt was three feet above sea level but today, it’s one foot below. It was completely filled with water during the 1966 flood and took a month to drain out, and they showed places in the bricks where salt crystals are leaching out.
The show was not very optimistic about Venice’s future. They ended by saying that many great cities will be lost as global warming causes the Earth’s seas to rise and that Venice will be the first to go.
So...Save Venice! Vote for Obama/Biden, the candidates who believe that global warming is real and that there are things we need to do about it!!!