Venetial building with ornate columns, porticos and balcony

Discover 12 fun and interesting facts about Venice

For me, Venice is an extraordinarily beautiful city that has no equal. With charming canals weaving through the city, stunning palazzos, bridges and piazzas, it feels frozen in time. After all, not that much has changed here in the last 1500 years. It’s a place that can be intriguing, tantalizing, enchanting and bewildering all at once.

Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Venice is a unique city that has inspired many over the centuries. This island city has struggled with overtourism and climate change, both contributing to the structural damage of the foundations of Venice. But it still stands, as it has for centuries, sharing its secrets with those willing to look for them.

Fun and interesting facts about Venice

Everyone is likely familiar with the canals, bridges and beautiful buildings. The image of pigeons in the Piazza San Marco scavaging for scraps, gondoliers in their striped shirts and hats navigating the canals and the numerous bridges above them are all quintessentially Venetian.

There’s so much more to “La Serenissima” (Venice was the capital of the Sarentissima Republic of Venice, hence the name), its age-old reputation for romance and intrigue. It’s a city that should definitely be on your Italian itinerary and a place everyone should visit at least once. From quirky traditions to architectural wonders, here are 12 fascinating facts about Venice

Venice is a post-Roman city

While it might seem like every place in Italy is as old as the Romans or predates it, that’s not the case here. One of the interesting facts about Venice is that it was created out of necessity by people fleeing barbarian invasions that weakened the Roman Empire. These refugees, likely from Roman settlements on the mainland, sought safety in the isolated lagoon where Venice now sits.

venice guide

There are some interesting connections between Venice and the Roman world. Some of the city’s founding families may have traced their lineage back to the Romans. Venice absorbed influences from Byzantine culture, which had Roman roots.

Venice is a floating city of canals

Venice is an architectural masterpiece and a marvel of engineering. While you might think of it as one big city, Venice is actually made up of 118 small islands, 177 canals and 417 bridges. The Grand Canal, the city’s main waterway, acts as its grand thoroughfare, and here you’ll find the iconic facades of hundreds of palazzos, some now repurposed as glamorous hotels or art galleries.

canal in Venice with gondolas

Venice’s unique foundation is a marvel of engineering. It sits on millions of wooden stakes driven deep into the lagoon’s marshy ground centuries ago. This ingenious engineering feat has kept the city afloat for centuries. Unlike typical wooden structures exposed to air and sun, Venice’s wooden beams are constantly submerged in saltwater. This creates an oxygen-poor environment that hinders the growth of rot-causing organisms like fungi and bacteria.  

bridge over a canal in venice

Also, the Venetian lagoon’s water isn’t pure salt water from the ocean. It’s brackish, a mix of freshwater from rivers and saltwater from the Adriatic Sea. This mix can be less hospitable to some wood-destroying marine creatures than full-on seawater. Throughout history, there have been ongoing efforts to maintain the wooden foundations. This might involve replacing beams that have become too weak or damaged.

Venetian gondolas

The gondola, a symbol of Venice, is more than a means of tourist transportation—it is a centuries-old cultural icon. Each boat is handcrafted and uniquely designed, traditionally painted black. The colour was mandated by law to maintain fair competition between the gondoliers. While gondoliers tend to be men, Giorgia Boscolo made history in 2010 by becoming the first female gondolier, a profession she shares with her father.

fun facts about venice

There are about 350 gondolas and 400 gondoliers in Venice. Only a fixed number of gondolier licenses are available in Venice, around 425, and only a handful of new ones are granted. These licenses are highly coveted and fiercely protected. Traditionally, you had to be born in Venice to even be eligible to apply for a gondolier license. This practice has loosened slightly recently, but Venetian residency for an extended period is still highly favoured.

gondolas docked by a canal in venice

Even if you meet the heritage requirement, becoming a gondolier takes dedication. To interact with tourists, prospective gondoliers undergo hundreds of hours of training, including rowing techniques, Venetian history and culture, and even foreign languages. Gondoliering knowledge is often passed down through families. New gondoliers typically apprentice under an experienced gondolier for an extended period.

Venice is a sinking city  

One of the most well-known facts about Venice is that it’s slowly sinking at a rate of a few millimetres a year. The city is constantly innovating solutions to combat the rising sea levels, ensuring its magic endures. One of those projects is MOSE, which stands for Modulo Sperimentale Elettromeccanico (Experimental Electromechanical Module). It consists of 78 giant inflatable gates installed at the three inlets connecting the Venetian Lagoon to the Adriatic Sea. When high tides or storm surges threaten, these gates can be raised, forming a temporary barrier that blocks floodwaters from entering the lagoon.

canal in venice

Since some of the sinking is due to natural land subsidence, Venice has explored replenishing the lagoon floor with sediment. This can help raise the level of the lagoon floor and potentially slow the city’s relative sinking. Efforts are also underway to reinforce existing buildings and infrastructure. In some cases, raising vulnerable structures on platforms is considered a long-term adaptation strategy.

Venice was once a gambling capital 

One of the lesser-known facts about Venice is that it was once a gambling haven. While gambling existed in Venice throughout its history, it wasn’t necessarily state-sanctioned or open. People gambled in taverns, cafes, and even under the arcades of St. Mark’s Square. Things changed in the 17th century. Facing economic pressures, the Venetian Republic surprisingly decided to embrace gambling and opened the world’s first public gambling house, Ridotto, in 1638. This opulent public casino became a major tourist draw.

 Venice thrived as a gambling destination for most of the 17th and 18th centuries. Famous figures like Giacomo Casanova frequented these establishments. Card games, dice, and lotteries were all popular. By the 19th century, public opinion towards gambling shifted, and the casinos were eventually closed. Venice’s focus moved away from gambling and towards tourism and cultural preservation.

Acqua alta phenomenon

Acqua alta, meaning “high water” in Italian, is a recurring phenomenon in Venice. It occurs when the water level in the Venetian Lagoon rises and floods parts of the city. The event usually occurs during fall and winter (November and December being the peak season) and is caused by a combination of astronomical and meteorological factors. When the tide peaks, water naturally pushes into the Venetian Lagoon.

flooded piazza san marco

Not all acqua alta events are equal. The severity depends on the height of the tide and the presence of the other contributing factors. Some acqua alta events only cause minor flooding in low-lying areas, while others can inundate much of the city, reaching several feet deep.

While acqua alta can be disruptive, Venetians have adapted to this cyclical event. Raised walkways are built along canals for pedestrian traffic during high water, and flood barriers are sometimes deployed to protect especially vulnerable areas. For locals, acqua alta is a part of life in Venice.

Famous Venetians

Venice has been home to many famous individuals, including artists, writers, and explorers. Learn about famous Venetians by visiting their former homes, such as the Ca’ d’Oro or Palazzo Barbaro. You can also attend events and exhibitions dedicated to their lives and legacies at various cultural institutions throughout the city.

  • Marco Polo (1254-1324):  A legendary explorer known for his travels to Asia, documented in his book The Travels of Marco Polo.
  • Titian (c. 1488 – 1576):  A master painter of the Venetian Renaissance, renowned for his rich colours and use of light and shadow.
  • Tintoretto (1518-1594): Another prominent Venetian Renaissance painter known for his dramatic compositions and dynamic figures.
  • Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1742):  The Red Priest, a prolific Baroque composer famous for his concertos, including the beloved Four Seasons.
  • Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798):  A notorious adventurer, writer, and self-proclaimed ladies’ man whose autobiography continues to fascinate readers.
  • Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793) was a playwright often referred to as the “Italian Molière.” He was known for his witty comedies, which reformed Venetian theatre.
  • Elena Cornaro Piscopia (1646 – 1684): A remarkable woman who defied societal norms by becoming the first woman to receive a doctorate from a university.
  • Enrico Dandolo (1107-1203):  A powerful Doge (ruler) of Venice during the Fourth Crusade, a pivotal figure in Venetian history.
  • Antonio Canova (1757 – 1822): A renowned Neoclassical sculptor whose works can be found in museums worldwide.
  • Canaletto (1687-1768):  A celebrated view painter known for his detailed and realistic portrayals of Venice’s canals and cityscapes.

Secrets of the Venetian masks

Venice’s Carnival is world-famous for its elaborate costumes and masks. This tradition dates back centuries, to the Middle Ages, when masks were used for anonymity in social interactions, including illicit activities. Some masks became symbols with specific meanings. 

masked people in venice during the carnaval

The tradition of Venetian mask-making is a closely guarded secret passed down through generations of skilled artisans. These “maschereri” use time-tested techniques and high-quality materials to create these beautiful and unique masks.

Venetian masks are as much works of art as they are functional disguises. They come in various styles, from the classic and elegant Bauta mask (think white domino mask) to the creepy and intriguing Medico della Peste (Plague Doctor mask with a long beak). Some masks are adorned with feathers, jewels, and intricate designs, making them truly stunning spectacles.

Venice: The Queen of the Adriatic

One of the most interesting facts about Venice was its history as a powerful maritime republic that dominated trade for centuries. Over time, Venetians meticulously built a formidable navy, becoming the undisputed rulers of the Adriatic Sea. Their ships patrolled trade routes, protected their interests, and projected their power throughout the Mediterranean.

church in venice

Venice strategically positioned itself as the bridge between East and West. It controlled vital trade routes for spices, silk, and other luxury goods from Asia, making the Venetians incredibly wealthy. They developed a sophisticated network of trade agreements, consulates, and tariffs. This helped them maintain their influence and navigate the complex political landscape of the Mediterranean.

Lottery system of government

Venice chose its rulers through a lottery system. This complex system involved nomination, voting, and sortition (lottery) to select the leaders. This system existed for centuries, from the 12th century to the late 18th century. It’s worth noting that only a specific group of wealthy male citizens, often property owners, guild members, or those who had previously held office, were eligible.

This unique system aimed to balance stability with some degree of democratic participation. While not a perfect democracy in the modern sense, it ensured that leadership wasn’t solely based on hereditary positions or absolute power concentrated in a single individual.

Venitian architecture

Venice’s position as a significant trading hub exposed it to various artistic styles. Byzantine influences from the East can be seen in domes, mosaics, and decorative details. At the same time, Gothic elements from Western Europe can be seen in pointed arches, elaborate window tracery, and a focus on verticality.

church of san marco in venice

Venetian buildings are often adorned with rich decorations. Elaborate stonework, coloured marble cladding, and sculptures bring life and visual interest to the exteriors. Buildings frequently incorporate features like loggias (open galleries) to provide shade and ventilation in the warm climate. Large windows allow natural light to enter interiors that could be quite dark due to the narrow streets and canals.

view of the doge's palace from the water

Here are some key examples of Venetian architecture that showcase these unique features:

  • Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale):  A symbol of Venetian power and opulence, the Doge’s Palace is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture with strong Byzantine influences. Look for the intricate stonework, the lace-like tracery on the windows, and the majestic columned facade overlooking the Grand Canal.
  • Ca’ d’Oro (House of Gold):  This stunning 15th-century palace lives up to its name. Its facade is a dazzling display of polychrome marble, intricate carvings, and delicate balconies, reflecting the wealth and taste of its Venetian merchant owners.
  • Basilica di San Marco (St. Mark’s Basilica):  This iconic church is a prime example of Venetian Byzantine architecture. Marvel at the golden mosaics, the five domes, and the elaborate sculptures adorning the exterior.
  • Rialto Bridge:  This famous bridge, one of the oldest on the Grand Canal, is a masterpiece of engineering and design. Its distinctive arched structure with shops lining its sides has become a symbol of Venice itself.
  • Santa Maria della Salute:  This magnificent Baroque church stands out with its large dome and white stone facade. Its construction was a votive offering to the Virgin Mary to end a devastating plague in the 17th century.
  • Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri): The bridge is a famous landmark in Venice, shrouded in a veil of romanticism and mystery. It is a beautiful example of Baroque architecture with intricate stonework and arched windows that showcase the artistic merit of Venetian design.

Typical Venetian greeting you know and love

The famous Italian greeting “ciao” comes from the Venetian phrase “s-ciào vostro” or “s-ciavo vostro” which literally translates to “(I am) your slave.” This wasn’t meant to be demeaning in the modern sense. It was a courteous expression used by someone of lower social status to greet a superior, similar to “I am at your service.”

Over time, the phrase was shortened to simply “s-ciào” and eventually “ciao.” The servile connotation gradually faded, and it became a general informal greeting used by people of all social classes. 

Final thoughts on Venice Italy facts

Venice is where you can find centuries of history, beautiful architecture and a mixture of styles. As one of the world’s most famous cities, Venice is a place for adventure and discovery. Whether you stroll through the famous Piazza San Marco, take a water bus along the canal or shop for the famous Venetian glass, you’re walking in the footsteps of those who lived here.

To experience the city is to understand its complex history, indulge in its timeless beauty, and appreciate the subtle marks time has left behind. Visiting Venice really is a unique experience, and to fully embrace it, you have to move away from the touristy spots. Consider a walking tour or visiting local historical and cultural sites to uncover more of this city’s magic. I think you’ll love it.

If you love facts about Venice, check out our podcast episode!

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