Canals, Bridges, and tourists are some of the things people instantly associate with Venice, Italy. Let’s explore these and other things Venice, Italy, is known for.
Located in northeastern Italy, Venice is the capital of Veneto. Together with Padua and Treviso, it forms a metropolitan area known as PATREVE, home to more than 2.5 million people. However, the historical center of Venice is very small, and a population of only 55 000 people (in 2020).
Venice is one of the most popular destinations in Italy and the world. In fact, saying that it is popular is an understatement. Few cities in the world are as unique, famous, and attractive as Venice. Let’s explore why!
12 things Venice is famous for
What is Venice, Italy, known for? The Venice Lagoon is one of the most iconic characteristics of Venice – one that was crucial for the city’s development, defense, and historical significance. It is also the reason why Venice is so distinctive from any other European city.
With about 550 km2, the lagoon is the largest wetland in the Mediterranean. The water is mostly shallow, allowing the city to develop on the lagoon’s islands. This unique setting served as a protective barrier, making it difficult for invaders to approach the city directly.
The lagoon was also an essential means of transportation and trade for centuries. Its shallow water allows the construction of a complex system of canals, bridges, and docks. For centuries Venice was a vast maritime empire and dominated many trade routes. The lagoon was an exceptional hub for merchant ships and naval fleets.
Today, the lagoon is still vital for the city, as it is one of Venice’s most famous attractions. It is the base for many other things Venice is famous for, like the canals, bridges, Gondolas, etc.
The Venician Lagoon has been part of the UNESCO Heritage Site since 1987, which includes the city itself. However, it is always under close scrutiny from UNESCO because of its fragile ecosystem. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, the lagoon suffers high variations in water level (known as the aqua alta), regularly flooding much of Venice.
For all this, it is unsurprising that two of the most popular nicknames of Venice are “the Floating City” and the “City of Water.”
Another of the most popular nicknames of Venice is the “City of Canals.” They are one of the city’s most striking and iconic features and the arteries that connect everything in it.
One may think that Venice was built on an island and canals were built later, but it is not quite so. Venice was developed on a group of 118 small islands inside the lagoon. Canals and open water separate these islands (of very different sizes). The canals both unite and separate the city.
The canal network was a practical solution to its challenging location. The marshy islands and the absence of solid ground made having a typical road network impossible. So the canals became the primary means of transportation within the city.
The intricate network of canals we see today is a testimony of Venice’s history, unique urban planning, and ingenuity. In the past, they provided vital transport routes for goods and people, facilitating trade and commerce. Today, the canals are a major tourist attraction and one of the key elements to Venice’s fame.
The Canals are an integral part of the Venetian experience and continue to captivate visitors, but the bridges connecting the islands are equally vital to promote the city’s aesthetic and accessibility.
Venice has over 400 bridges of very different sizes, importance, and fame. Some are iconic and beautiful, such as the Bridge of Sighs, the Rialto Bridge, and the Accademia Bridge. Besides their functional character, they became landmarks of the city.
Rialto Bridge is the most famous of the bridges in the Grand Canal, dating back to the 16th century. It is an architectural marvel and a symbol of Venice. It is also a bustling hub lined with shops and market stalls, attracting thousands of visitors daily.
The Bridge of Sighs is very different. Located near the Doge’s Palace, it was built in the 17th century, connecting the interrogation rooms in the palace to the prisons across the canal. The name originates from the belief that prisoners would sigh as they last saw the beautiful city before incarceration.
Another Venice icon is the gondolas that populate the city’s canals, capturing tourists’ imagination and adding elegance to the already beautiful setting.
Gondolas are sleek, black, flat-bottomed boats propelled by a gondolier using a rowing oar. Their graceful shape, asymmetrical hull, and distinctive iron prow make them unique boats adapted to the reality of Venice.
In the past, the Gondolas were the primary public transport in the city, serving as water taxis and the most common watercraft in the canals. However, their primary role today is carrying tourists at fixed rates for canal tours.
Venice has about 400 gondoliers (always dressed in their traditional striped shirts and straw hats) and about the same number of boats. In the past, there were several thousand. Despite being a truly tourist experience, it is also a fun and unique one. The way the gondolas are expertly steered in the winding canals is memorable.
It is no secret that Venice is a remarkable destination. It has beautiful monuments, museums, a long and fascinating history, good food, and obviously a unique setting in the lagoon. Plus, everything comes together in a relatively small area, perfect for romantic escapades, solo travelers, and families and groups.
The problem? Well, everyone knows this… almost everyone has Venice high on their list of places to visit. Thus, it attracts millions yearly. In 2019, about 5.5 million people visited Venice – a city of 55 000 people without roads and cars.
You can imagine how crowded it can be in the high and holiday seasons. Though, we need to mention that Venice is popular all year long. So, even in the low season, Venice will have many travelers. In this regard, it is similar to Florence.
We are not complaining (well, maybe a bit), the city is impressive, so it’s only normal that so many people want to experience it, as do we and probably you. Just be prepared for it. You will still enjoy the city’s beauty and create lovely memories.
The carnival is possibly the most popular festivity in Venice. Dating back to the middle ages, it was originally a time of indulgence and celebration before Lent.
Over the centuries, it evolved into a grand celebration reaching its zenith in the Renaissance. It was, however, suppressed in 1797 and only revived in 1979. Since then, its popularity has grown exponentially, becoming once again one of the most anticipated events in the world. And together with the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, one of the two most famous in the world.
Deeply rooted in Venetian history and tradition, the carnival of Venice is famous for its elaborate masks, vibrant costumes, and a captivating atmosphere of mystery and revelry. The tradition of the masks is one of the most enchanting in the carnival, allowing participants to conceal their identities.
The Carnival of Venice is also famous for its visual splendor, with elaborate costumes evoking the opulence and grandeur of the Venetian past. The streets come alive with multiple performances, including musical concerts, theatrical shows, and masquerade balls held in historic palaces. The canals become a stage for gondola parades and regattas.
With a magical and surreal atmosphere, the Carnival of Venice transports people into a world of fantasy, artistry, and freedom of expression. At the same time, it is a celebration of the city’s rich cultural heritage and tradition.
As mentioned above, masks play a central role in the Carnival festivities. The intricately crafted masks, adorned with feathers, gems, and gilding, add an air of mystery, elegance, and intrigue to the carnival. They allow participants to conceal their identities and engage in a spirit of anonymity and freedom.
Masks allowed people of different classes to mingle and engage without fear of judgment or consequence. They provided a sense of liberation and the ability o explore their desires, indulging in a fantasy world.
However, masks have a broader meaning than this festival. Traditionally, they were used between the 26th and the end of the Carnival season. Plus, they were also allowed on Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas. They are also significant in events like theatrical performances and masquerade balls throughout the year.
There are many well-known types of masks, some with intricate designs, exquisite details, and styles. But the most iconic is the Baute, a simple, stark white mask designed to comfortably cover the entire face maintaining the identity of the wearer unknown at all times. Others include the Colombina, The Plague Doctor, Moretta, and the Volto.
With time, their use declined but resurged again with Carnival’s new popularity. Yet, in Venice, they hold cultural and historical significance and have evolved into one of the most regarded symbols of Venetian culture.
What is Venice famous for producing? Glass, Murano glass! Glassmaking in Venice can be traced back over 1000 years and has always played an important role in its economy and culture. In the 13th century, glassmakers were relocated from Venice to Murano, an island nearby the center of Venice.
The glassmaking tradition in Venice can be traced back over a thousand years and has played a significant role in the city’s cultural and economic development. Murano Glass gained international recognition, and the glassmakers soon became an elite Venitian society group.
Murano Glass is famous for its exceptional quality, craftsmanship, and innovative techniques. It became a symbol of luxury and elegance, and it is used to create chandeliers, mirrors, jewelry, vases, and other decorative objects.
Even today, Murano glass is a synonym for Venetian craftsmanship and artistry and one of the best souvenirs to buy in the city. It is also possible to take tours to the glass factories to witness the glassmaking process firsthand and explore the rich history and tradition behind this ancient craft.
Another thing Venice is famous for producing is Lace. Lace-making in Venice originated in the 15th century when leisured noblewomen used it as a pastime. Even today it continues to be appreciated for its artistic value and historical significance.
Later production of lace became a paid activity, accomplished by young girls working in the houses of noblewomen, creating lace for household use and in convents. The most skilled artisans developed intricate lace-making techniques and passed them through generations.
The exceptional quality and exquisite designs gained recognition with time, becoming highly procured during Renaissance. Often crafted using delicate threads, such as linen, silk, or gold and silver metallic threads, it was used to adorn the garments of nobility and clergy, adding a touch of elegance and luxury.
Venetian lace, also known as “merletto,” became one of the most important exports of the Republic, even when its economy slumped as its popularity grew behind the Italian peninsula and the borders of the republic.
For a long time, Venice was more than a city, it was a powerful and influential republic. Strategically located on the Adriatic Sea, it grew as a maritime and trading power. The Republic of Venice existed from the 7th until the 18th century when Napoleon conquered it.
The Republic of Venice had a unique political system as it was governed by an oligarchy, with power concentrated in a select group of wealthy merchant families. Although weird, the system worked and allowed great stability.
The main decisions in the Republic were made collectively through institutions like the Great Council and the Doge, the chief officer of Venice. For this, Venice is still known as “La Serenissima” because of the Republic’s emphasis on its stability, tranquility, and peaceful nature.
The main strength of Venice’s economy was its dominance of trading routes, becoming the hub that connected East and West, particularly trade with the Byzantine Empire and the rest of the Islamic World. It also had a powerful navy and a huge fleet of merchant ships.
Over the vast period of time when Venice was such a powerful city-state, it acquired its distinct iconic architecture, famous landmarks, and unique culture. It became renowned for its cultural and intellectual hub, playing a significant role in developing and disseminating knowledge across Europe.
Famous landmarks and architecture
The long and prolific history of Venice, together with its unique cultural and geographical characteristics, means that Venice is home to some of the most famous landmarks in Italy and distinctive architecture.
Some of the most famous landmarks include:
- St. Marks Square – the city’s main public square
- St. Marks Basilica – a masterpiece of Byzantine architecture
- St. Marks campanile – the bell tower next to the Basilica
- Doge’s Palace – A gothic-style palace that was the official residence of the Doge and the seat of Government
- Rialto Bridge – the most famous of the many Venice bridges
- Ca’ d’Oro and Ca’ Rezzonico Palaces – excellent examples of the Venitian architecture
However, the city’s charm exceeds these fabulous individual landmarks. It’s the collective harmony and urban design of the network of canals, bridges, and narrow alleys, combined with the elegant facades of buildings, that create the picturesque and romantic setting that captivates visitors.
One of the negative things Venice is famous for is the smell. Historically, the city has had issues with unpleasant odors that surprised visitors.
The stagnant water in the canals, together with the high populations and warm climate contributed to the occasional malodor that became infamous in Venice. Furthermore, the decomposition of organic matter in the water sometimes makes it even worse.
This problem is much worse in summer, with higher temperatures and lower water levels in the lagoon, exposing parts of the canals that are usually submerged. As it is also the peak season for tourism, it is also a memory that many people take with them.
However, we need to mention that this problem has been much improved by implementing measures to improve the water quality in the city canals, including wastewater treatment systems and regular cleaning and maintenance.
When we recently visited Venice, we didn’t experience any malodor, apart from the natural humidity of a city built on water.