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Friday, 11 September 2015

Birth of Venice Fall of Rome

Bella Venezia

See also related post Was the Fall of Rome Important?

Venice is not just a pretty face
Our odyssey to Turkey was fabulous for meeting people as well learning about their art and architecture.  We also lived and worked many years in Italy, which is fabulously rich in art and architecture.  Actually there is a very strong historical link between them.  

Fall of the Roman Empire

The reasons for the fall of Rome (the city) are described in detail in the Amazing Rome Walk 3 - The Roman Empire Did NOT Fall.  

Blue Mosque Stained Glass
What is amazing is the close link between the Fall of Rome and the Birth of Venice.  This relationship continued as Turkey went through two imperial eras, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire.  A previous post mentioned this link in reference to the gorgeous stained glass that Venice gave as a gift during the construction of the Blue Mosque.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, the Roman Empire continued to exist!  As explained in the Hagia Sophia post, the people of that time still called it the Roman Empire even though the capital was now Constantinople.  It was only renamed Byzantine in the 16th century by a German historian. 

The Byzantine and Ottoman Empires ironically ruled almost the same expanse from Algeria to Iraq.  They also had a tremendous influence on trade – both in goods and ideas – being the terminus of the Silk Routes from the Far East and South Asia and into Europe.

Constantinople controlled the sea routes in the Black, Aegean and Mediterranean Seas.  This is why Istanbul became such an important and large city.  In 1000 CE, Constantinople had a population of approximately 500,000 people.

Birth of Venice

Sleepy Venice

By 540 CE, Byzantium had reclaimed parts of Italy and the western empire. Sleepy Venezia built on sand bars and canals was one of the Byzantine provinces.  In 810 CE, it became the independent Serene Republic of Venice. 
That's Venetian Marco Polo! 
The lira was their currency – the same name as used in Turkey today because libra (lira) was the standard weight of Troy silver used by the Roman Empire!  Translated into the local language, this is the origin of the currency names for the French livre and English pound. Even the symbol is the same £ as in Roman times.  Wow! How interconnected we are.
Pretty in Pink
Venice wasn't strong enough to defend itself and wanted protection from the German kingdoms.  Venice developed a navy and became a trading partner of Byzantium, who was content to buy the allegiance of its emerging province to preserve the appearance of Byzantine rule. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Venice obtained trading privileges from the Byzantine Empire that gave them a distinct advantage over their European trade competitors. 
Venetian Navy Showing Off 

It is always about trade and naval power.  That is why Venice became one of the largest cities in Europe. By 1000 CE Venice had a population of approximately 70,000 people; Rome had 50,000; Paris and London were much smaller!

But Venice is not just the pretty place we know today.  Venezia played a pivotal role in changing Europe not just in terms of trade but also in the transition from feudalism to capitalism, from the Medieval Age to the Renaissance.
Soon the Venetian gold ducat was accepted as currency throughout the Near East.  With trade also comes ideas and an openness to other cultures.  Any city with wealth and power wants monuments to proclaim its glory. So Venice built a magnificent national church, Basilica San Marco, from 1073 to 1117.  No, it is not named for Marco Polo!  He wasn't born yet. 
Basilica San Marco

St. Marks Basilica is a replica of the 6th century Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.  Its based on a Greek cross design with five domes resting on pendentives similar to Hagia Sophia.  It is decorated with the quintessential Byzantine art form developed by Byzantine mosaicists from nearby Ravenna.  With its opulent gold mosaics, it is an expression of Venetian wealth and power.  Theres enough mosaic in San Marco to cover 1.5 football fields!

The bulbous canopies over the domes that have a distinct Islamic feel.  Another Eastern influence appears in the Saracenic arches. The pointed arch originated in the Byzantine and Sassanian (Persian) empires.  But here is the smack down – it originated there in early Christian buildings.  After being copied by Muslim architects, it become the quintessential characteristic of Islamic architecture!
Venetian Gothic

The architecture of Venezia was not Italian.  It was unique from the rest of Europe. Venetian buildings combined Gothic, Byzantine and Islamic elements.  Did this reflect the average citizen's view of Venice as the gateway to the East?

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