Venice is a conglomerate of islands along the Adriatic Sea in northern Italy that is famous for its architecture and its artistic works. Approximately 60,000 people live on the main group of islands connected by pedestrian bridges, and another 200,000 live in the neighboring mainland or in other islands. The main mode of transportation is walking or water taxi.
Venice is considered to have been founded in the year 421 when the church of San Giacomo was dedicated on the islet of Rialto. Venice always played a role as a site for asylum because its distance from the shore and its multiple islands made it easy to evade any pursuer. Venice was a major maritime power during the Middle Ages and it served as a staging area for the Crusades. The sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by the Venetian-financed Fourth Crusade, brought back considerable loot to Venice, including the gilt bronze horses from the Hippodrome of Constantinople. The military might of Venice was maintained during the Renaissance and allowed safeguarding the transport of silk, spices, grains and art from the 13th to the 17th century. This prolonged stability made the merchants of Venice very wealthy and they spent some of their money constructing the magnificent buildings that we admire today.
When you visit Venice, it is a good idea to buy a day ticket for the waterbuses (vaporetti) which have designated stopping points throughout the city. In this way, you can visit the places that interest you and hop back on the waterbus to go to your next destination. Although Venice is only about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) from one end to the other, it is not easy to walk from one place to another because there are no streets, there are only waterways. You can walk on the sidewalks and cross to the other side of a canal using the pedestrian bridges, but sometimes you have to walk a long distance to get to a bridge. You will find gondoliers along most canals, but they are slower and more expensive than the waterbuses. The main public square of Venice is Saint Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco). Some of the important structures on the square are the clock tower, Saint Mark's Basilica, the Procuratie Vecchie, the Campanile of St. Mark's church, and the Libreria (Library of St. Mark). The rounded cupolas of Saint Mark's Basilica can be seen from most points of the square.
The economic engine of Venice is its tourism. Many people come by train just for the day from Padua; it is just a 30-minute ride. People who stay overnight are serenaded by musicians and can spend a pleasant evening at most of the hotels, bars and cafés.
Venice is known for its exquisite handicrafts which include hand-blown glass objects, carnival masks, lace and cameos. Blown glass of many colors can be formed into jewelry beads for bracelets or earrings, as well as paperweights, drinking glasses, jars, and even glass slippers. The value of these objects is not due to the materials used, which are very common, but to the labor that goes into crafting them. A cameo may take hours to carve. It is just a piece of seashell, but it is a lot more valuable once it has been shaped into a beautiful object.
Venetian glass is famous for its beautiful colors and its fine craftsmanship. Murano glass is equally famous, but this is not surprising considering that the islands that comprise Murano are less than two kilometers from Venice on the Venetian Lagoon. Murano was established as a glass-making center in 1291 when the glassmakers in Venice were forced to move to Murano to reduce the risk of fires.