Why was Venice built on water?

The city of Venice is famous around the world. Though it has wonderful food, great local artisans and beautiful architecture, it is most famous for being built on water. So exactly why, and how, was this floating city built?

A history of fear

In the 5th century, people fled their homes to avoid barbarian conquerors. A marshy lagoon was located just off the mainland and protected from the barbarians who would not cross the water. As invasions continued across Italy more and more people fled until eventually, they realised there was a need for a new city.

Building the city

Building a city on a marshland, however, wasn’t going to be easy. They needed more space and better foundations to build on. To largen the marsh islands they were taking refuge on, they began to dig canals and used wooden planks to shore the banks. They used a similar wooden plant technique to create foundations for their buildings.

The settlers hammered thousands of wooden piles into the mud, each one touching the next until they cut the tops off to reveal a solid wooden platform. These platforms are still below many of the buildings you see today.

But doesn’t the wood rot?

Actually, no! There are two key factors to rotting wood, water and oxygen. When the piles were hammered into the marshlands, they were so surrounded by water that there was no oxygen to rot them.

Additionally, as the waters around the wood continued to flow, there was a shift in the woods state. The water was contaminated with silt and salt and blasted the underwater wood for years. This has somewhat of a petrifying state on the wood, turning it stone-like at an accelerated pace.

The sinking city

Some people have suggested that Venice should be known as the Sinking City and not the Floating City. And there’s some fair reasons why.

Despite the sturdiness of the wood piles, there has been some sinking movement by Venice.

The 1960s wells

In the 1960s a series of artisan wells opened across the city. Having been built on a lagoon and surrounded by the salty Mediterranean Sea, the city had always struggled to find drinking water. To service these wells, holes were drilled deep, past the piles and into the hard clay the piles were standing on. This disruption has dire consequences. By changing and weakening the structural integrity of the wood, the city began to sink at an increased rate.

The city was quick to stop once they realised the error of their actions, however, it was too late to undo the damage they had done. Today, the wells are banned across the city and no one is trying to drill into the ground.


Another impact on Venice is erosion caused by boats in the canals. Today there are double the number of motorised watercraft in the canals than ten years ago. These motorised vehicles create much more disruption and turbulence in the water than their rowed counterparts.

It is believed that over 60% of the buildings lining the Grand Canal have been damaged by the increase in waves. This water disruption is leading to increased rates of erosion on the already aging buildings.

Venice Today

Today Venice faces a lot of problems, from erosion to rising sea levels, the city is working hard to ensure it stays for years to come.

While we don’t predict the city disappearing any time soon, we still think you should visit ASAP. It’s a wonderful place you’re sure to love!

Related article: Where To See The Best Art In Venice?

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