Nowadays we walk in a labyrinth of narrow streets taking pictures during the Photo Tour, but where all this came from?

 An ancient map of Venice

An ancient map of Venice

 

In the ninth century Torcello was an important trading center with a rich Roman past.

The problem of the origins of Venice is, a heart, that of continuity, if any, between the Roman period and the early Middle Ages. The ancient texts themselves become a problem when considered in the light of recent archaeological excavation: for example, a letter dating from 537-38 by Cassiodorus evokes an idyllic world of equals, a strange branch of humanity, like water birds, with boats moored to the walls of houses, living off fish and paying for goods with salt. The simple life or an idealized simplicity? Is not the existence, revealed by excavation, of a glass kiln at Torcello, dating from the seventh or eighth century, proof of other, more complex activities, ascribable to the continuing existence of technical skills attained in Late Antique time? Implied is not original libertas with elements of sovereignty, but rather an organization within the Byzantine sphere and dependent on the exarch in Ravenna, which became autonomous only later, a consequence of her growing strength.

 Mosaics in San Vitale, Ravenna

Mosaics in San Vitale, Ravenna

The migratory pressures unleashed by the barbarian invasions, especially that of the Lombards in 568, merely served to increase the population of an already inhabited area. The refugees were not the first to arrive. Torcello already inhabited in Roman times when it was a flourishing center of market gardening, supplying Altino, was inhabited and active even earlier than the seventh century, when the Bishop of Altino moved his palace there.

 Santa Fosca in Torcello

Santa Fosca in Torcello

In the ninth century it was an important trading center with a rich Roman past. If the earliest history of Venice is a history without written records, the recent excavations at Torcello have supplied us with finds from which it is possible to trace a history even older than expected. Within this framework of a human presence that predates Venice – a Venice before Venice – the mainland Venetia which constituted Regio X of the Roman empire the progress of history accelerates, impelled by the migration of terrified refugees driven toward the curve of coastline from Grado to Cavarzere and Chioggia, while Altino and Concordia Saggitaria disappeared. This was an area that exploited its remoteness from Byzantium in order to achieve independence.

 View of Torcello from the bell tower

View of Torcello from the bell tower

This independence led to its taking on an idiosyncratie, original form, marked by particular institutions, enterprises, social structures, and a military strength that was capable of repelling, in 809, the attack by Pippin, of organizing, in 838, a naval expedition to Dalmatia, and of resisting, in 899, the Hungarians, whom they went on to push into the sea. During the early Middle Ages, the political and administrative center was first at Cittanova – Eraclea, then at Malamocco, in the Lido’s island.

 Mosaic in Aquileia

Mosaic in Aquileia

As early as 811, however, the construction of the palatium (palace) at Rialto attests to the importance of Civitas Rivoalti, by then the center of intense building activity, which would later become the civitas Venetiarum (city of the Venices). The firs Venetian document, compiled by the tribune and ducal notary Demetrius, dates from 819 and implies the existence of an organized chancery. By this stage the articulation of the forma Urbis is already apparent: the Rialto specialized in trade, while Piazza San Marcowas the political and religious center.