Facts About the Venetian Lagoon and It's Environs

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The Venetian Lagoon - Laguna Veneta - is a 550 square kilometre enclosed bay, of the Adriatic Sea, where the Italian city of Venice is located.

Eighty per cent of the lagoon is made up of mud flats, tidal shallows and salt marshes, making it a haven for marine life and it's many uninhabited islands a safe haven for sea birds and waders.

The lagoon is situated between the two Italian rivers that flow into it, the River Sile, to the north and the River Brenta, to it's south.

The lagoon is seperated from the Adriatic Sea by way of the three coastal, sand banks of Lido, Pellestrina and Treporti, which between them have forged the three sea inlets of Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia. The lagoon has an average depth of only 80 cms, with the many boats that traverse it, having to navigate along specially dredged channels.

The lagoon is made up of one hundred and seventeen islands, which are all essentially large sand dunes, the five largest of which are the City of Venice, Sant Erasmo, Murano, Chioggia and Giudecca.

The lagoon is the largest wetland in the Mediterranean Sea and a major coastal ecosystem, which is subject to large variations in water level, the most extreme of which is it's spring tides, which are known locally as acqua alta, which regularly flood various parts of the city of Venice.

The lagoon is home to the Port of Venice, the Venice Arsenal and the three famous islands of Lido, home of the annual Venice Film Festival, Murano, world reknowned for it's fine, hand made lace and hand blown, glass ware and Giudecca which is home to the San Basilio ferry terminal and port.

Other islands of repute are Chioggia, reknowned for it's unusual, bobbin made lace, unlike the other islands whose lace is made by needle, and the island of Sant Erasmo which is reknowned locally for it's annual boat race.

The lagoon is spanned by two bridges, the 3,605 metre long, Venice Railroad Bridge, which opened in 1846 and the Ponte della Liberta, a 3.85 kilometre long, road bridge which was opened in 1933, both of which run side by side and link the Venice suburb of Mestre with the Venice Santa Lucia railway station or the Piazzale Roma.

In all, the city of Venice and it's suburbs and islands have over 400 bridges, including the beautiful Ponte de Sospiri, which was built in 1600, which connects the Doge's Palace and the old prison, otherwise known as the Bridge of Sighs.

Linking some of these islands and the six suburbs of the city of Venice, is the Grand Canal, an S shaped, man made waterway which historians believe follows part of the old course of the River Brenta. The canal is 3,800 metres long and is situated between the Venetian Lagoon and the Saint Mark's Basin. The canal is between thirty to ninety metres wide and has a depth of five metres.

The banks of the canal are lined with 170 palaces, churches, and merchants residences, all of which were built between the 13th and 18th centuries.

Until the early 19th century, the canal was served by only one bridge, The Rialto Bridge, opened in 1591 which is situated between San Marco and San Polo. Today the canal has four bridges, the Ponte dell Accedemia, opened in 1854 which is situated between San Marco and Dorsodura on the island of Guidecca, the Ponte degli Scalzi, opened in 1934 which is situated between Santa Croce and Canneregio and the Ponte della Constituzione which was opened in 2008 and built in order to link the Venice Santa Lucia train station with the Piazzale Roma.

In all, the city of Venice and it's suburbs and islands, are served by 180 canals.

Because of all this water, Venice and it's lagoon is reknowned for it's many regattas, including the world famous Vogalonga - the long row - an exciting spectacle of over 1000 boats which sail a thirty kilometre course between San Marco and the island of Burano. Held every year on Ascension Day, it is a celebration in order to commemorate the Doge's symbolic marriage to the sea.

Another impressive and colourful extravaganza is the Regate Storica, a gondola race held on the Grand Canal every May, in order to test the strength and skill of the city's famous gondoliers.

Some other interesting facts about Venice include –

From the year 697 until 1797, Venice was a country in it’s own right, known as the Venetian Republic - Republica di Venezia.

Venice has it’s own language, Venetan. It is spoken by around two million people who live in the Venice region and understood by another five million across the Veneto region. It is derived from pure Latin and has some considerable differences to standard Italian. English words taken from this ancient language are - arsenal, artichoke, casino, ghetto, lagoon, lido, marzipan, regatta and zero.

The historical part of the city of Venice is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. 

The entire city of Venice is 414.57 sq kms in size, just slightly larger than New York City’s, Central Park.

Although there are many small towns, villages and islands around the world that do not allow vehicular transport, Venice is the only city in the world to do so. 

The Venice Film Festival, held annually at the Palazzo del Marconi on Lido Island, is the world's oldest, having been in existence since 1932. 

Venice is also famous for it's annual, Carnival of Venice, when the whole city comes alive due to the age old tradition of wearing masks and flamboyant, brightly coloured, medieval costumes. The tradition of the 'mask' was incorporated into the carnival in order to break down class barriers, as the carnival is a celebration of expression throughout all classes. The carnival begins forty days before Easter and ends on Shrove Tuesday / Fat Tuesday.     

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