Perhaps no other city in the world conjures such distinct images as the gondolas plying the canals of Venice.  Join us for a virtual tour of this beautiful and historic city that is visited by more than 20 million tourists each year.  We will cover the story of the city, the most notable features, and end with a look at what the future holds for this city which is both sinking and shrinking as the waters rise and the full time residents move away.

Key Lecture Points

  • The business of Venice has always been business—beginning with the trading of salt and fish in its earliest days, moving to shipping in the Middle Ages and then to tourism with the Grand Tour of the 17th and 18th centuries and now today’s cruise ships.
  • Venice became a pilgrimage site when the Basilica of San Marco was consecrated in 1094, starting a long history of tourism in the city.  With the discovery of the Americas and the new sea routes to Asia, Venice saw its shipping industry go into a decline in the 17th century.  The city’s merchants saw secular tourists as the way to replace lost revenues and built a new industry on the city’s unique beauty.  To appeal to the wealthy European market segment, the Venetians enhanced their popular festivals of La Sensa and Carnevale by extending the length of the festivals to encourage longer visits and added new entertainments to Carnevale like the opera and lavish masked balls.  Casanova’s memoirs established Venice as a city of decadence and opulence in the popular mind of the time, adding to its allure as a tourist destination.
  • Today Venice has a love-hate relationship with its tourists.  60,000 tourists visit Venice daily (mainly day trippers), outnumbering the residents.  The city can’t survive without the tourists but many Venetians fear their city is being turned into a theme park—a fake city in which people come in each day to work but do not live there.
  • Venice is both sinking and shrinking.  Rising water levels, sped by global warming, bring more frequent episodes of acqua alta causing predictions the city will be underwater in 80-100 years.  The city’s population is now less than 60,000 and continuing to decrease due to a shortage of affordable housing and the high cost of living in a city in which everything must come in by boat.  Demographers predict there won’t be any full-time residents in the centro storico by 2030.

Exploration Questions

  • How have religion and trade affected Venice’s history?
  • What are the major challenges Venice faces today?

Reflective Questions

  • Have you ever been to Venice?  What were your impressions?
  • Have you ever lived on an island?  What was it like?  How does being on an island affect daily life?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Strathern, Paul.  The Venetians: A New History: From Marco Polo to Casanova. Pegasus Books, 2014. 368 pages.   This book gives us the history of Venice during its golden period prior to the Republic’s surrender to Napoleon and tells the stories of Venetian personalities like Marco Polo, Titian, Galileo and Casanova.
    Click here to order
  • Bosworth, R. J. B.  Italian Venice: A History.  Yale University Press, 2014.  329 pages.  The author describes the history of Venice from the fall of the Republic in 1797 to the present day.
    Click here to order
  • Belliveau, Denis, Francis O’Donnell.  In the Footsteps of Marco Polo.  Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2015.  This is the true story of two explorers who retrace Marco Polo’s journey, using his famous book as a guide, seeking to prove that Marco Polo really reached China.
    Click here to order