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Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Venice came to life on mudflats at the edge of the habitable world. Protected in a tidal estuary from invaders and Byzantine overlords, the fishermen and traders who settled there crafted a way of life unlike anything the Roman Empire had ever known. In an astonishing feat of narrative history, James H. S. McGregor recreates this world, with its waterways rather than roads and its livelihood harvested from the sea. The narrative follows both a chronological and geographical organization, so that readers can trace the city's evolution by chapter and visitors can explore it by district on foot and by boat.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-04084-7
    Subjects: History, Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
    (pp. 1-6)

    In the sixth century, waves of barbarians devastated Italy and eventually gained control of the Western Roman Empire. Just beyond their grasp on the edge of the habitable world—some would say beyond the edge—Venice came to life in the shelter of its Lagoon. Divided from the sea and its Byzantine masters by a long barrier island, and separated from the mainland of Italy by a tract of shallow water, Venice found security in its tidal estuary. Safely out of reach of potential overlords on both sides, the Venetians crafted a way of life perfectly suited to their strange...

  4. Chapter One THE LAGOON
    (pp. 7-32)

    Venice is a gingerly handclasp of two mitten-shaped land masses commonly described as fish. The larger fish swims in from the ocean, the smaller one comes offshore. When they meet, the ocean fish opens her mouth to seize the upper jaw of the freshwater fish, who clamps down on the lower jaw of her antagonist. (1) The narrow belt of water that separates the two fish, outlining their heads and open mouths, is the Grand Canal. This configuration, so familiar to us today, was not filled in completely until the late nineteenth century, and the notion that Venice is more...

  5. Chapter Two ST. MARK’S BASILICA
    (pp. 33-78)

    Together with the Doge’s Palace to which it was physically and symbolically attached, St. Mark’s Basilica was the force that drew the island fragments of primitive Venice into a unified city. During the three centuries required for its completion, the city evolved from a sheltered refuge in an alien environment to a center of commerce and power.

    Ninth-century Venice had stood just beyond the menacing grasp of both the Frankish rulers in Italy—the last in a long chain of northern invaders to control the Western Roman Empire—and the Byzantine fleet patrolling the Adriatic. Fourteenth-century Venice dominated the land...

  6. Chapter Three COMPANY TOWN
    (pp. 79-130)

    The autonomy that Venice claimed in San Marco shaped every aspect of the city’s life. Most medieval European cities maintained some measure of independence, even if it was grudgingly conceded to them by overlords greedy for the products and revenues they produced. Feudal barons calculated their strength by comparing manpower and weapons. The notion that their power could be enlarged or limited by economic rather than military might did not occur to them. In northern Europe, feudal alliances of these lords formed networks of military power that bundled regions and nations into a loose defensive web which served as a...

  7. Chapter Four STATE OF GRACE
    (pp. 131-172)

    Many of the earliest communities in the Lagoon formed around Benedictine abbeys. While the monks sought little more than seclusion, the monastery’s neighbors drew substantial benefits from their presence. The abbeys were rich, and over time they grew richer as the endowment contributed by every entering monk was supplemented by legacies and gifts. In the feudal world, a Benedictine abbey played the part of a large landowner. Its extensive fields, flocks, and other holdings, which might include fisheries, quarries, or mines, sustained entire communities. Despite the monk’s official pacifism, abbeys often served as strongholds in the event of enemy attack,...

    (pp. 173-206)

    Located far to the north in the sestiere of Cannaregio, the large Gothic church of Madonna dell’Orto is very similar in style to the Frari. (Map 5) But unlike the Frari’s stark brick exterior, the façade of Madonna dell’Orto is the most richly decorated among all of Venice’s Gothic churches. Construction, which began sometime in the fourteenth century, was sponsored by a mendicant order called the Humiliati. Through mismanagement and scandal, the order fell into such general disrepute that they were replaced by a community of priests called canons in the fifteenth century.

    Madonna dell’Orto overlooks one of the rare...

  9. Chapter Six STATE OF SIEGE
    (pp. 207-250)

    Through most of its long life, the Republic was ringed by hostile powers, but skilled diplomacy and a formidable navy kept its military perimeters far from home. Venice always traded with the enemy, and so the Turks, the Dalmatians, the Eastern Orthodox, the Jews, eventually the Protestants—all political or religious antagonists—could not be kept beyond the frontiers but lived and worked inside the city. Venice was not only unfortified but lay open to deep-water ships from the Adriatic and shallow-draft vessels from the mainland. The openness trade required brought not only the danger of heresy and sedition but...

    (pp. 251-288)

    The island of San Giorgio Maggiore stands opposite San Marco and frames the entrance to the Basin and the Giudecca Canal. Sansovino’s Mint and the end of his Library bring the Piazza of San Marco to bear not just on the Bacino but on the Grand Canal. The water gate to the city itself opens between Piazza San Marco and the slim fingertip of Dorsoduro where the Dogana da Mar, or customs house, and the salt warehouses form an opposite pole. (Map 7)

    The present Dogana da Mar was built in the late seventeenth century by Giuseppe Benoni. Its apex...

  11. Chapter Eight THE STREETS OF VENICE
    (pp. 289-334)

    From the end of the sixteenth century until the spring of 1797, Venice lived in a golden twilight. Venetian commerce suffered ups and downs from which the luckier members of the nobility were increasingly insulated, as they invested more and more of their wealth in mainland properties and state securities. Many of the old merchant nobility sank into a desperate poverty that was relieved only by charity and government jobs. Having reached the peak of their ambition, the Turks stopped attacking and settled into a morbid decline that left Turkey the “sick man of Europe.” Venice, known for its power,...

    (pp. 335-338)

    Each chapter in this book presents a slice of Venetian history focused on a discrete section of the city, as shown in Maps 1 through 8. Buildings, monuments, bridges, campi, and other geographical locations are described in an order that is easy for visitors to follow on the ground. Street markings in Venice are ubiquitous, but they generally point to only the most obvious locations—the train station, the car park at Piazzale Roma, the Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco, and the Municipal Hospital at Santi Giovanni e Paolo. Sadly, the bulk of tourist traffic is almost entirely absorbed by...

    (pp. 339-340)
    (pp. 341-341)
    (pp. 342-343)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 344-361)
  17. Maps
    (pp. 362-371)