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A Brief Overview of Venice

Friday, August 24, 2012

This blog is for my teammates on the Spirited Underdogs as we get ready for our next challenge and also for anyone else who's interested in the city where I live.

I live in Venice, Italy. The city stretches across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. The saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po (south) and the Piave (north) Rivers. This former marshland was originally largely uninhabited, apart from the odd fisherman, and began to become populated (probably in the early 5th Century AD) when refugees from the surrounding mainland fled to avoid the barbarian invasions of the Huns and Germanic people. The city historically was the capital of the Venetian Republic. Venice has been known as the "La Dominante", "Serenissima", "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Masks", "City of Bridges", "The Floating City", and "City of Canals". Luigi Barzini described it in The New York Times as "undoubtedly the most beautiful city built by man". Venice has also been described by the Times Online as being one of Europe's most romantic cities.

The Republic of Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and a staging area for the Crusades and the Battle of Lepanto, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain, and spice) and art in the 13th century up to the end of the 17th century. This made Venice a wealthy city throughout most of its history, with various noble families dominating the political and social scene (the effects of which are still present today with Venice's 'important families' of noble descent continuing to play an important role in the city). It is also known for its several important artistic movements, especially the Renaissance period. Venice has played an important role in the history of symphonic and operatic music, and it is the birthplace of Antonio Vivaldi. Other notable Venetians have included the explorer Marco Polo, artists Titian and Tintoretto, and the infamous writer, adventurer and womanizer Casanova.

World-famous for its canals and gondolas, Venice is also known for its annual Carnival celebrations (featuring the deadly, diet-killing, but oh so tasty 'frittelle'), the Venice Film Festival and the art and architecture Biennale. Venice is also famous for its ornate glass-work, much of which is produced on the island of Murano today. Its distinctive language, Venetian (don't call it a dialect!), is responsible for words that we use in English today such as 'ghetto', 'arsenal,' 'ciao,' 'regatta,' 'casino,' 'gnocchi,' 'lotto,' 'scampi,' 'artichoke' and 'gondola.'

Because Venice was ravaged by the plague several times, a few of the city's churches were constructed to celebrate the end of each bout of the plague. Venetian continue to celebrate annual festivals such as Redentore (a Venetian favorite that is celebrated in July with boat parties and fireworks) and Salute (November) to give thanks to the spiritual forces that put an end to each plague. Venetians also have a love/hate relationship with rats which continue to be problematic even today in spite of the city's best efforts to get rid of them over the years, including with the importation of cats from Syria years ago and a large-scale anti-vermin project in recent years.

Surrounded by the Venetian lagoon, seafood plays a prominent role in the city's cuisine and varies from the finest sea bass, shellfish, seafood risottos and lasagnes to Venetian 'soul food' specialties such as 'sarde in saor' (sardines in sour sauce), 'bigoi in salsa' and pasta and risotto dishes made with 'seppie in nero' (cuttlefish in ink sauce). Other notable cuisine includes more soul-food specialties such as 'fegato alla veneziana' (liver and onions), 'musetto' (a kind of loose sausage that is boiled and served with mustard or horseradish), 'trippa' (tripe) and 'nerveti' (tendons). Polenta figures strongly as an accompaniment to both meat and seafood dishes and lasagne dishes tend to have white bechamel sauce as opposed to the tomato-based sauces you find more commonly in southern Italy. Food originally from other regions, such as pizza and pasta bolognese, has become common all over the country and is widely consumed in Venice as well.

Venice also has a strong pre-lunch 'cicheti' (similar to Spanish tapas) culture, which includes the consumption of small savory seafood, meat or cheese snacks along with an 'ombra' (small glass of locally-produced wine), and pre-dinner 'spritz' (prosecco mixed with Campari, Select or Aperol) hour. Locally produced prosecco is also widely consumed as is other types of wine with most meals. Different food is traditional during festivals and holiday periods. For example, for 'Salute' a dish called 'castradina,' a kind of aged, smoked mutton that is boiled with cabbage, is traditional. Fish and lasagne are traditional at Christmas and lentils are supposed to bring good luck for the new year if eaten on the last day of the year. Sweet treats include 'essi' (s-shaped butter cookies), tiramisu and the previously-mentioned Carnival time 'frittelle,' which are a bit similar to zeppoles but denser, fattier and often dotted with raisins and pine nuts and sometimes filled with zabaione, custard or, my favorite, whipped cream. Like all over Italy, coffee is taken very seriously and there are hard and fast rules about what type of coffee can be consumed at different times of day (no caffelatte or cappuccino past noon!). Nearly all coffee drinks are made with espresso. American-style coffee is extremely hard to find and widely looked down upon.

The population of the city center has fallen dramatically in recent years (largely because of the skyrocketing cost of real estate and the unwillingness of families to sell their property--there are lots of vacant apartments as a result) to a figure that currently stands at about 60,000. More than half of Venice's residents are over 65, a fact that, coupled with the city's costliness, makes its future uncertain. Many young people relocate to the cheaper suburbs or to larger cities with more opportunities like Milan. At any given time, there are more tourists in the city than residents. Fortunately, those who remain, including small numbers of expatriates like myself, are very proud of the city's culture and traditions and are staunchly committed to its preservation and to making Venice more liveable for its current inhabitants and, in particular, for its younger people like me and my husband!

For more photos of Venice, check out the following link:
icepictur es/tp/venice-photos.htm

For information about Venice tourism, click here:
n/visit-v enice.html

Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ve
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