Outline of the History of Venice

421                  March 25, 421 is the legendary date for the founding of Venice.  During this period, the Roman Empire on the Italian peninsula was attacked by invaders from northern and eastern Europe and Asia.

451                  The founding of Venice according to traditional chronologies.

639                  The date of the oldest surviving document of Venetian history: the inscription on the altar commemorating the foundation of the church of Santa Maria Assunta in Torcello, the island where the first settlement in the Venetian lagoon flourished.  This Romanesque church was rebuilt in 1006, and sections of it were enlarged in the centuries that followed.  Inside the church are mosaics of the Last Judgment (12th and 13th centuries) and of the Virgin and Child (13th century).

691                  Pauluccio Anafesto, the first doge (from the Latin word “dux,” leader) of Venice, is nominated at Eraclea, on the mainland.

742                  Doge Diodato moves the seat of government from Eraclea to Malamocco, on the Lido (the barrier island that separates the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic sea).

751                  The exarchate of Ravenna, in Emilia Romagna, falls to the Longobards, originally from Hungary.  This enables the Venetian islands to free themselves from Byzantine rule (Ravenna had been an important Byzantine stronghold on the Italian peninsula).

800                  After Charlemagne, king of the Franks, liberates the Italian peninsula from the Longobards, the Pope makes him the first Holy Roman Emperor.

810                  The seat of government moves to Rialto (“high river”), the banks by deepest waters in the Venetian lagoon.  It will eventually become the city's commercial and business center.

812                  Agreements between Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) and the Franks recognize and confirm the authority of the Bishop of Castello (Venice’s leading religious authority) and the Doge of Venice.  This recognition will ensure the future prosperity of the city as future bishops and Doges of Venice work together to levy custom duties on merchandise going through the city.  Venice soon becomes an important harbor for goods traveling between the Middle East and western Europe.

828                  The remains of Saint Mark the Evangelist are stolen from Alexandria in Egypt and brought to Venice.  He will become the patron saint of Venice.

982                  The Benedictine monastery of San Giorgio Maggiore (St. George the Greater) is founded on the island facing Saint Mark’s Square.

976                  A fire destroys the Chapel of the Doges, and the remains of Saint Mark disappear.

978                  Construction of the Basilica of San Marco (Saint Mark) begins.

992                  Doge Pietro Orseolo II obtains favorable conditions for Venice’s river and sea trade from empires in both the East and the West.

998-1001         Venice conquers the Dalmatian coast (Yugoslavian coast).

999                  The Holy Roman Emperor, Otto III of Saxony, visits Venice and grants the city important trading privileges.  Venice will become an important crossroad for German merchants doing business with the Middle East.

1063                The remains of Saint Mark are found in the Basilica.

1085                The Normans (originally from northern France) conquer southern Italy and attempt to blockade the Adriatic Sea.  The blockade fails when the Venetian navy intervenes.

1094                The Basilica of San Marco is completed and consecrated in the presence of the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV.

1096                The First Crusade.  Venice competes with two other important maritime republics, Genoa and Pisa, to feed and transport Crusaders to the Middle East.  This and subsequent Crusades increase trade and commerce between East and West.

1104                The traditional date for the founding of the Arsenal, the shipyard that would produce the galleys that would make Venice the most powerful maritime republic in Europe.

1171                Venetian mercantile success in the East creates a backlash in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul).  Venetian merchants in that city are briefly imprisoned, and their possessions confiscated.

1172                The creation of the Great Council, and a shakedown of the oligarchy.

1202-1204       Venice participates in the Fourth Crusade and in the sacking of Constantinople.  Among the many Byzantine treasures looted by Venice are the four bronze horses, attributed to the ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles (4th century B.C.).  They will be placed on the Basilica of Saint Mark in 1250.  With the conquest of Constantinople, Venice acquires three-eighths of the Byzantine Empire, and establishes a network of islands and harbors in the East that will protect their shipping route.

1207-1209       Venice acquires the islands of Corfù (1207) and Crete (1209).

1234-1430       Construction of the Dominican Church of San Giovanni e Paolo, one of the most important churches in Venice.

1236-1420       Construction of the Franciscan church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, one of the most important churches in Venice along with San Marco and San Giovanni e Paolo.

1263-1430       Construction of the gothic church of Santo Stefano.  All of the abovementioned churches, as well as many others churches in Venice, become important charitable institutions.  They will also be endowed with some of Venice’s most beautiful works of art.

1261                Venice loses Constantinople to the Greeks who attempt to dominate trade in the East by making an alliance with Genoa, Venice’s archrival.

1291                Moslems conquer Acre, the last Christian stronghold in Palestine, heightening tension between Venice and Genoa.

1295                Marco Polo, one of the very first Europeans to visit China, comes back to Venice after twenty-five years in China, Mongolia, Tibet, and Southeast Asia.

1297                The Venetian government is consolidated and placed in the hands of the aristocracy.  Only certain families can become members of the Maggior Consiglio (chief council); and the city government becomes the sole political power.  The Statutes and Magistracies regulate all activities in Venice, including the production of wool, hides, and glass (Venetian glass is highly prized even today), the ownership of property in the Venetian lagoon, and the construction and rigging of ships in the Arsenal.
1298                Archrival Genoa defeats Venice near Curzola.  Marco Polo is captured by the Genovese, and during his imprisonment dictates to Rustichello his adventures in the Orient.  This book will capture the imagination of many writers and travelers, including Christopher Columbus who will look for an easier way to reach China by sailing west.  When Columbus discovered America he thought he had arrived in China.

1309                Construction of a bigger Doge’s Palace begins adjacent to the Basilica of San Marco.

1310                After a failed coup by Bajamonte Tiepolo, Venice creates the Council of Ten and gives it exceptional powers.

1319                The Book of Gold is created.  In it are recorded the birth, marriage, and death of every patrician in Venice.  Only the men whose names appeared in the Book of Gold could participate in the Venetian government.

1325                The Arsenal is expanded, allowing Venice’s war fleet to provide regular support to its shipping fleet which is now trading in the Atlantic (with England and Holland) as well as in the Mediterranean.  Large working-class neighborhoods develop around the Arsenal and the northern section of Venice as more craftsmen and laborers are hired to work in the Arsenal.  Venice becomes the most populous city in northern Italy, Florence the second most populace city.

1348                The Black Death (Bubonic Plague) strikes Venice killing half of its inhabitants.

1355                The Doge Marin Faliero is decapitated for wanting to subvert the structure of the Venetian republic.

1381                Genoa and Venice sign a peace treaty, bringing an end to a conflict which saw the Genovese navy occupy the island of Chioggia in the Venetian lagoon.

1404-1454       Venice annexes most of northeastern Italy bring Padova, Vicenza, Verona, Belluno, Feltre, Cividale, Udine, Salò, Brescia, and Bergamo under its control, laying the foundation of the Land State (Stato di Terra), the third state after the one on sea (Stato di Mare), and the one in the lagoon (Stato Lagunare).

1420-1434       The Ca’ D’oro (House of Gold) is built for the Contarini family.  This beautiful palace on the Grand Canal was once gilded with gold.

1423-1457       The reign of Doge Francesco Foscari.  He succeeded in keeping the powerful Visconti and Sforza families of Milan in check, while keeping the Venetian government solvent.

1424                The façade of the Doge’s Palace is completed.

1430-1516       Life of Giovanni Bellini.  His religious paintings, including several Madonna and Child with Saints, are among the best examples of early Renaissance art in Venice.

1438-1442       The Buon brothers carve the Porta della Carità (Gates of Charity), the main entrance to the Doge’s Palace.

1452                The Ca’ Foscari (the House of the Foscari) is built for the Doge Francesco Foscari.  This palace is now the headquarters of the University of Venice.

1453                Constantinople falls to the Ottoman Turks threatening Venice’s commercial and territorial interests in the East.

1460-1526       Life of Vittore Carpaccio.  He paints Saint George and the Dragon.

1464-1479       Venice loses the Sporades, Lemnos, and Argos (Greek islands in the Aegean Sea) as well as Croia and Scutari in Albania to the Turks.

1470-1547       Life of Pietro Bembo, one of the foremost humanists of Venice’s Renaissance.

1473                Third major expansion of the Arsenal in order to make bigger ships (galleasses).

1477-1576       Life of Titian (Tiziano) the most famous Venetian painter of the Renaissance.

1478-1510       Life of Giorgione, a Venetian painter whose best know painting is the Tempest.

1480-1517       Construction of the Procuratie Vecchie (the office building on the northern side of Saint Mark’s Square).

1489                Catherine Cornaro, widow of the last king of Cyprus, arrives in Venice and gives her island to Venice.

1494                King Charles VIII of France conquers most of northern and central Italy, except Venice and its Land State.

1496-1499       Construction of the Torre dell’Orologio (the Clock Tower) next to the Basilica of San Marco.

1508                Pope Julius II, France, Austria, and Spain form the League of Cambrai to repel Venice’s attack on the Papal State of Romagna.  The League defeats Venice, stripping it of many of its territories in the Land State (1509); but Venice will regain them in 1517.

1508-1580       Life of Andrea Palladio, the most famous Venetian architect of the Renaissance.  Besides designing the famous villas near Vicenza for the Venetian patricians (e.g. Villa Barbero at Maser), he also designs several important churches in Venice, including the Benedictine church of San Giorgio Maggiore on the island of San Giorgio.  His classical architecture will influence architecture throughout Europe and the United States.  Thomas Jefferson’s home at Monticello and his designs for the University of Virginia borrow a lot from Palladio.

1510-1586       Life of Andrea Gabrieli.  Venetian composer of both secular and religious music, including Masses, madrigals, vocals for the Old Testament Psalms and for Oedipus Rex, Sophocles' tragedy.  His grandson, Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) will continue the musical traditions of his grandfather.

1516                The “German” (northern European) Jews, living on the mainland in Mestre, are allowed to move to Venice, but are confined in the Ghetto Nuovo (the new foundries).  Levantine Jews (from the Middle East) gave their name to the island of the Giudecca, where they had been living for some time; and Ponentine Jews (from western Europe, especially Spain and Portugal) lived in the Ghetto Vecchio (old foundries).  All three Jewish communities will play a significant role in Venetian society.

1518                Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin Mary, one of the most famous paintings in Venice, is placed in the Franciscan church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari.

1518-1594       Life of Tintoretto.  His remarkable paintings include Saint Mark Freeing a Christian Slave (1548).

1527                The Hapsburg Emperor Charles V conquers Rome bringing an end to the Renaissance in central Italy.  The Renaissance will continue to flourish, however, in Venice and its territories.

1528-1588       Life of Paolo Veronese.  He paints fresco’s for the Villa Barbaro at Maser, and paints the Marriage at Cana for the Benedictine Monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in 1563.

1537-1554       The architect Jacopo Sansovino builds the Libreria Vecchia (the Old Library) across from the Doge’s Palace.  It currently houses the Marciana Library, the most important library in Venice.

1557-1609       Life of Giovanni Croce, composer of the Venetian school.  He is best known for his church music, madrigals, and humorous songs.

1567-1643       Life of Claudio Monteverdi.  He is regarded as the inventor of the melodrama, and the first composer to create a "modern" music.  He composes the first Italian operas, most notably Orfeo (1607), Arianna (1608), and The Coronation of Poppea (1642).

1571                The Turks conquer Cyrus, but are defeated at the Battle of Lepanto on October 7 by a fleet of European galleys, most of which are Venetian.  This naval victory puts the Turkish navy out of commission for the next thirty years, and enables Venice to have access to markets in the Moslem world.

1574                King Henry III of France visits Venice and watches the shipwrights of the Arsenal build a galley in just one day.

1575                Bubonic Plague strikes Venice killing 50,000 of its 175,000 inhabitants.

1584                The Procuratie Nuove (office buildings on the south side of Saint Mark’s Square) are completed.

1592                The Rialto bridge is complete.

1630                Bubonic Plague strikes Venice yet again, killing 30% of the population.

1643                Venice inaugurates Europe’s first opera house, due in large part to the success of Monteverdi's music.  Opera and theater will play an important role in Venetian culture over the next two hundred years.

1669                Doge Francesco Morosini is forced to give up the island of Crete to the Turks.

1675?-1743     Life of Antonio Vivaldi.  The "Red Hair Priest" of Venice will become the city's most famous composer.  Today he is best known for his Four Seasons.

1686-1739       Life of Benedetto Marcello.  This important composer is known for his stage works, oratorios, cantatas, madrigals, canzone and sonatas.

1687                Baldassar Longhena’s Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute is consecrated as a votive offering for the end of the plague of 1630.  This church is one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Venice.  Longhena becomes the leading Baroque architect of Venice, designing palaces on the Grand Canal and a synagogue in the Ghetto.

1692-1770       Life of Giuseppe Tartini.  Famous Venetian violinist who composed many works for the violin.

1696-1770       Life of Gian Battista Tiepolo, one of the last great painters of Venice.

1698-1768       Life of Canaletto.  His landscape and cityscape paintings, especially of Venice, were unrivaled in Europe.  He and other Venetian landscape painter (e.g. Guardi) make use of the camera oscura ("dark room"), the ancestor of the pinhole camera, to create precision perspective in their paintings.

1718                With the Treaty of Passarowitz, Venice loses Morea and the Archipelago Islands.

1707-1793       Life of Carlo Goldoni, Venice’s greatest playwright.  Most of his plays describe life in Venice during the 18th century.

1725-1798       Life of Giacomo Casanova.  This libertine thinker, best known for his autobiographical memoir, invented the state lottery to help the King of France raise revenue.

1796                The most sumptuous and unbridled Carnival of the century is organized.  It is the swan song of the Venetian Republic, which will surrender to Napoleon the following year.

1797                The last Doge of Venice steps down on May 15th; and on October 17, Napoleon secretly gives Venice and its surrounding territories to Austria in the Treaty of Campoformio, bringing a definitive end to the 1000-year old Venetian Republic.

1805                After the Treaty of Presburg, Venice is once again part of Napoleon’s empire.

1810                The Napoleonic wing of Saint Mark’s Square is completed (on the western side of the Square).

1815                After Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, the Treaty of Vienna gives Venice back to Austria.

1845                A causeway is built connecting Venice to the mainland, and the first train arrives in the city.

1848                Venetians revolt against Austrian rule, but are crushed by the Hapsburg army the following year.

1855                Europe’s first bathing establishment opens on the beaches of Lido.  This barrier island separating the Venetian lagoon from the Adriatic Sea becomes a trendy seaside resort for Europe’s aristocracy.  Thomas Mann’s 1913 novella, Death in Venice, is set on this resort island.

1866                Towards the end of Italy’s war of independence, Venice is liberated from Austrian rule, and becomes part of the new Kingdom of Italy.

1895                The first Biennial of Contemporary Art (“La Biennale”) is inaugurated in Venice.  It takes place every two years and has served as a showcase for contemporary artists from around the world (each country has its own pavilion).

1902                After standing tall for almost 800 years, the 390-foot belfry of San Marco collapses.  It will be totally rebuilt and inaugurated ten years later.

1917                Construction on the controversial Port of Marghera begins.  The creation of this port on the mainland will eventually create most of the problems threatening Venice’s existence today.

1933                The first road connecting Venice to the mainland is inaugurated.

1945                On April 28, Allied forces arrive in Venice after the city has taken up arms against the Nazi-Fascist forces.  This marks the end of World War II in Italy.

1951                The Giorgio Cini Foundation is created, and becomes one of the city’s most important cultural centers.

1966                On November 4 the entire city is flooded: water floods the first floors of every building in Venice putting at risk the foundations of many palaces.

1967                UNESCO, the United Nations’ educational, scientific, and cultural organization, begins an international campaign to save Venice.  Funding and projects to save the city from pollution and flooding pour in from around the world.

1968-1991       More than twenty high tides flood the city, underscoring the interdependence between the city and its lagoon.  More proposals to save the city are drawn up and some are implemented, but not enough to bring about the major changes that are necessary to save this unique city.

1996                A fire destroys the Fenice, Venice’s best known and most beautiful theater.