Above: Front of Specimen Card
"I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs..."
~ Lord Byron, 1812
The City of Canals, the City of Bridges, the City of Masks... The city of Venice has been known by many names and ruled by many hands. Yet, despite its legendary history at the center of a long-lived republic, it is the ever-present Adriatic Sea which has defined the fortunes of Venice, and it is to those waters that the city may eventually return.
This specimen comes from an early 14th century paving brick uncovered in the Cannaregio sestiere during a recent renovation. It first appeared in the Third Edition of the Mini Museum, and we're pleased to offer the remaining material as a single item.
Above: Uncovered 14th century Venice during an architectural renovation of the Cannaregio sestiere
The brick was acquired directly from the architectural firm performing the renovation. We are extremely grateful for the assistance of Mini Museum Backer N. Lugato in identifying and securing this specimen so that we can share it with the world.
Please Note: Sizes and shapes of this specimen vary widely. Keep in mind it is a 14th-century paving brick so it is a bit fragile. Handle with care.
The specimen is enclosed in an acrylic specimen jar with a removable top which arrives in a handsome, glass-topped riker box case measuring 4x3x1. A small information card is included, which also serves as the certificate of authenticity.
About the Republic of Venice
Above: Venice in 1500
Founded in 421 CE, the original "city" of Venice was little more than a trading post on the island of Rialto. This was a time of severe decline in the power of the Western Roman Empire. Thirty years later, Attila the Hun swept into the region. As the Empire struggled, the local coastal and island communities around the lagoon came together for mutual protection. They created a loose form of self-government, electing representatives, or tribunes to decide broad matters.
In the chaos that followed the final collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the entire region found itself in the center of new conflicts, the greatest of these being the Byzantine conquest of Italy during the Gothic War of 535-554 CE, the Lombard invasion of northern Italy in 568 CE.
Each successive wave of crisis brought more people to the lagoon. As the population swelled, it became more difficult for the tribunes to effectively govern in a coordinated fashion, so in 697, the position of Doge or chief magistrate was established to manage the region.
There is some debate as to whether the first Doges were elected by the people or appointed by the Emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Either way, they certainly held enormous power, ruling in an almost autocratic fashion until the establishment of a Great Council or Consilium Sapientis and subsequent smaller councils that would ultimately form the complicated structure of the Venetian government.
As the seat of power in the Republic, the city of Venice held great sway over commerce and maritime transport in the region. Many Venetians traveled even further, including the Polo family who went all the way to the court of Kublai Khan in China.
But the Venetians were not alone... They warred with the city of Genoa, their counterpart on the other side of the Italian peninsula, as well as other city-states such as Pisa. While fighting among each other, these maritime republics generally tried to maintain a position of neutrality with larger states upon which they all relied for commerce, though often with less success than they might have liked.
After nearly one hundred years of intermittent conflict, the Venetians prevailed against their rivals in Genoa in 1380. They became the dominant sea power in the Eastern Mediterranean and ruled the Adriatic with a fleet of more than 3,300 ships.
The Republic of Venice remained a powerful state for the next two centuries, but their power waned as global trade routes shifted away from the Mediterranean and towards the Atlantic. According to many scholars, Venice also made a critical error in strategic judgment by becoming more involved in the politics of mainland Italy. These major economic and political stresses were compounded further by two major two bouts of the black plague, which killed off nearly 30% of the population.
By the late 18th century, the fortunes of Venice were greatly reduced as the Napoleonic Wars closed in on the Republic from both sides. The navy, once the jewel of the Republic, had dwindled to just 11 ships. Venice could offer no resistance as the Austrian and French armies occupied their mainland territories and subsequently divided the Republic in April of 1797.
Napoleon famously told Venetian representatives in Graz, "I want no more Inquisition, no more Senate; I shall be an Attila to the state of Venice." Then, a month later he made good on his statement by arriving at the shores of the lagoon to take possession of the city.
Faced with insurmountable forces, the Grand Council voted to surrender. The final Doge of Venice, Ludovico Manin, removed the _corno ducale_ from his head and 1,100 years of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia (The Most Serene Republic of Venice) came to an end.
Above: NASA satellite imagery of Modern Venice
The modern city of Venice is situated on one of several islands in a natural lagoon on the northeast coast of Italy. This enclosed bay formed roughly 6,000 years ago as floodwaters from the late Pleistocene sea-level rise receded from the coastal plains. The region still experiences severe, natural flooding as peak tides combine with occasional warm winds in a phenomenon known as acqua alta.
Above: Back of Specimen Card