The Venetians knew their civilization could flourish only with a strong military to protect it.
Venice has been struggling, in the (literal) wake of November’s nearly unprecedented tidal flooding that swamped even some of its most hallowed religious and architectural sites. So for those of us who care about the world’s great cities and the civilizations they’ve spawned (in the case of Venice, think of the Renaissance), it seemed like a good time to visit Venezia — before perhaps it sinks into the Adriatic. (The streets were dry, in point of fact.)
One is prepared for, although still overwhelmed by, the aesthetic beauty of its built environment. But who knew (at least I didn’t) that its great art, music, and architecture had been made possible by what was, in the 12th through 14th centuries, a dominant military on which the city at the heart of a maritime trading empire — reaching from Asia Minor to Northern Europe — spent heavily?
It was the combination of military strength (a great navy and innovative gunboats, particularly) that made possible the legacies we view today as the heart of great Western humanist traditions: art (Titian and Tintoretto, among so many); architecture (Palladio, whose style Thomas Jefferson revived and channeled into American landmarks); democracy (Venice was a republic governed by an elected 45-member “great council”); and tolerance (it incorporated ethnic and religious minorities into its borders and economy).
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