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How Was Venice the Floating City Built

Architecture is a field of creativity. As a curious student who likes to compose her research into an article for better understanding.

Venice the Floating City


The beautiful city of Venice is in the northern eastern side of Italy in a capital of Veneto region. In between Po and Piave rivers. In a region of Venetian Lagoons. This city was built onto 118 small islands that are interlinked with each other by over 400 bridges and numerous canals passing through.

How did it come into existence?

This name, Venice was derived from Veneti people that resided here. When barbarians in 5th AD attacked the rich Veneti people, they ran and settled around the small islands that were difficult for those barbarians to reach. They found themselves around the fisheries. The marshy lagoons were used as protection against those invaders. This city hence came into existence on March 25th AD, Friday.

How were those floating houses built?

It is true that Venice is a city built on a water body. It was built on alluvial mud. Required support from substantial number of timbers that were driven into the mud. But why timber of all things? When wood is known to rot in water.

Alder trees are found to be water resistant. They are known as swamp dwellers. They thicken as exposed to water and turn stronger. This wood is well suited for buildings raised up in water as it does not rot and is known to be water resistant.

When laying a foundation, alder trees’ timber was used. As it is known to absorb the sediments of water bodies. Hence the weight of the pillars and building on the foundation of timber under water was led to a compression of wood with clay and water sediments settled that were brought by the tides of water. The foundation, therefore, hardens and becomes sturdy enough to float on water. Hundreds of canals were dug to maintain drainage and sewerage. And, the banks were shored up with wood pilings, that were set as pavements around the buildings to ensure a turbulent free motion among people on the ground.

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Thousands of alders were pounded into the alluvial sand, to an amount that they were compressed. The tops were then cut and shaped up as solid platforms for the foundation of their homes. As water resistant wood was used, no rotting underground took place. And the whole foundation of the city was laid strongly and firmly.

Why are their walls still steady?

Instead of using usual concrete and painting the surface, the buildings were raised by bricks but covered with Istrian stone, Pietra d’Istria, these impermeable limestone can be found in Croatia, in between Portoroz and Pula. These rocks are metamorphosed limestone, often referred to as marble due to their properties being similar to marble itself. These rocks were recommended by Francesco, son of Jacopo Sansovino in 1580, who wrote Venetia citta nobilissima et singolare, in this book he emphasized the distinctive properties of Istrian stone and Veronese marbles, they are copper-red in color. Giving a warm combination of colors on the buildings.

The flat ceilings of buildings at Venice were supported by timber beams which had a chance of forming cracks as the building settled on piles of foundation. That were laid on wood dug into alluvial mud. Therefore, two layers of floorboards are set at right angles to each other on joists. These joists would transfer the load to the vertical beams making building safe and steady for the next 1000 years!

Wood can easily catch fire, are the buildings still safe?

Wood can easily catch fire. Hence the chimney pots are placed on top of the chimneys to expand the length of the chimneys to improve its draft. It has a chimney cowl or wind directional cap that is a helmet-shaped chimney cap. It rotates to align with the wind. They help prevent a back draft of smoke and wind going down the chimneys and into the houses, offices and buildings. They are made of terracotta, that are made of glazed clay, hence, making buildings porous to fire.

The tops of chimneys are covered in terracotta shaped into inverted cones that helped escape the fires.

This ancient architecture is still practiced today with many advancements, but sadly people don’t conserve the trees that are cut giving rise to global warming.

A question to readers

© 2022 Laibah Kafeel

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