1,600 years ago a bunch of people fled their homes in what is now northern Italy. They were escaping social and political turmoil surrounding the fall of the Roman Empire and (rather more urgently) hordes of barbarians sweeping in from the north. History has repeatedly proven these people to have been quite a clever bunch. Understanding that the brutal savagery of the Huns was equaled only by their ignorance and/or fear of water, they simply went to a little archipelago just off the mainland and set about establishing the most beautiful and prosperous refugee camp imaginable.
Starting from scratch, the refugees quickly set about trading their lucrative fish and salt stocks with Constantinople and the east. Once their mercantile economy was well established, they commenced construction of a wonderful new city. As it turns out, they had a flair for engineering and architecture too. Venice became one of the wealthiest and most beautiful cities in Europe.
Great cities rise and fall, but 21st Century Venice (if imperceptibly subsiding) remains as beautiful and wealthy as ever. I’m not sure what, if anything they do there these days, except of course catering to the 5,000,000 visiting tourists each year. That alone appears more than enough to keep the place afloat, as it were.
Speaking of staying afloat, there surely is a kind of magic around Venice. Only this can explain how the city has retained its nickname, ‘the floating city’. I have been told that Venice is indeed the world’s only floating city. Now that’s some powerful magic.
Alright, I do understand the romantic nature of the place, and the famous waterways of Venice do give the impression (in a magical world devoid of physics or common sense) that the city is indeed floating. These beautiful canals and bridges attract millions of people to Venice each year. In fact, Venice has almost as many canals as Cape Coral and almost as many bridges as Pittsburgh!
It’s impossible not to know about the canals of Venice. In fact, it’s not the easiest task to find an image of the city that doesn’t feature a canal. It matters not that the majority of the city is on the mainland (that’s the part with the cars and shopping malls and the international airport (which doesn’t float)). Everything these days is about image, and Venice weaves its 21st Century magic well. Here are a few pics.
Anyway, you get the idea. Funnily enough, Venice is frequently absent from lists of the Europe’s most beautiful canal cities. More favoured are the likes of St Petersburg (Russia) and Utrecht (Netherlands).
I’ve got nothing against Venice. It’s undoubtedly beautiful and unique, and the availability of overpriced hotel rooms and tacky souvenir stands is second to none. Personally though, I think some places get built up in the collective imagination to levels that reality simply cannot live up to. My idea of a romantic getaway is quiet and intimate (and ideally not shared with tens of thousands of other camera-wielding romance enthusiasts). So, for romance by the canals I think I’d take my wife to Brugge (Belgium), which is conveniently close to France (the romance capital of the world) where we would of course stay in… Strasbourg. But that’s just me.