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Along the Amber Route: Venice

It is hard to walk purposefully in Venice. The city’s topography defeats it: the canals, the dead ends, the alleys too narrow to pass a person carrying an umbrella. I made my way slowly south to San Marco through a fine drizzle. As I approached the square, the atmosphere became more brashly touristic. Yet despite the crowds, despite the many millions of times it has been photographed, ‘the finest drawing room in Europe’, as Napoleon called it, still had the power to awe: the barbaric glitter of St Mark’s, the four gilt horses looted from Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade, the cool Moorish rhythms of the Doges’ Palace, and the towering campanile – a fake, of course, since the original telescoped in on itself in a cloud of brick dust in 1902.

Venice is said to have been founded by citizens of Aquileia and Altinum fleeing the invading Huns and Lombards. The story was propagated by the Venetian chronicler Giovanni Diacono in the 11th century, and subsequent histories elevated it to the status of a founding myth, conferring on the mercantile republic the authority of ancient Rome. Like many such narra-tives, it is only partially accurate. The archaeological evidence shows that the islands of the lagoon were inhabited centuries before the invasions of the 5th century, prompted by the silting up of the ports on the mainland. What remains true, though, is that Venice took over the role of Aquileia as a point of contact between Northern Europe and the Mediterranean. With the revival of trade after the Migration Era, Venice became the southern terminus of the Amber Route, and the point where it met the Silk Road from China.

From Along the Amber Route by C.J. Schüler

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C.J. Schüler

C.J. Schüler