The city is of course most famous for its many canals, of which there are 177. Built over 118 islands linked by around 400 bridges over the Venetian lagoon, Venice is a triumph of the medieval imagination. A key European city-state for over five centuries until it lost its independence to Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797, Venice was a leading maritime and military power, a vital trading port and a significant centre for culture and art.
Venice first began to expand its territories following the success of the Fourth Crusade in the early thirteenth century. With its location at the north of the Adriatic, Venice was practically impregnable and ideally situated for expanding trade with the rest of Europe as well as the grain and spice markets of the Byzantine Empire, northern Africa and Asia. Marco Polo, the most famous merchant of Venice, traded throughout Asia and his extensive travels east opened the Silk Road to China and inspired generations of European exploration.
Centuries of belligerent trading continued under the governance of the elected Doges and an assembly of noblemen. However, decline began to set in towards the end of the 15th century, with long wars against the Turks costing Venice much of its territories in the east Mediterranean. In the following century, the colonial ambitions of the Spanish and Portuguese and later those of the French, Dutch and English would further diminish Venetian influence, although the city did remain a busy manufacturing and trading centre up until the late 1700s.
Eventually, following the Third War of Independence in 1866, Venice became part of the new kingdom of Italy. Its decline hastened during the nineteenth century, however it still exerted a huge influence on the popular imagination. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, its centuries-old grandeur is well-preserved, but the city continues to live its unique life. Simply breathtaking, Venice remains the Queen of the Adriatic.