Potted history of Venice:
During the crusades Venice traded its maritime location for political and economic clout and was instrumental in the sacking of both Constantinople and Jerusalem. Wealth began to pour into the city and the newly formed 'Serene Republic' (Repubblica Serenissima) blossomed. However, it wasn't long before their powerful Genoese neighbours took exception and waged war. The Venetians won the deciding battle, but it wasn't long before the Turks would recapture Constantinople (1453) and sound the death-knell for their burgeoning empire.
Over the next three centuries the Venetian empire was gradually eroded and with new trade routes opening all the time they began to feel the economic pinch. The world's longest lived republic finally came to a standstill beneath Napoleon's boot in 1797, whereupon he promptly handed it over to the Austrians.
By 1866 Venice had become part of the Europe's newest country: Italy. Luckily historic Venice escaped the best efforts of allied bomber command in WWII, while the more modern mainland 'suburbs' of Mestre and Marghera weren't so lucky. Today things are going pretty well for the 'sinking city', except for the rising waters of the lagoon.
The best way to get around Venice is a combination of legwork and catching the odd vaporettti (municipal water-buses which cost € 3 for a single trip, € 9.50 for 24-hour unlimited travel or €18 for a three-day pass). Perhaps the cheapest thing you can do in Venice is to hop on a traghetti to cross the Grand Canal. For just half a Euro you'll be whisked accords Italy's most famous waterway in a brawn-powered wooden boat. For the quintessential Venetian experience nothing beats a gondola; expect to pay about € 100 for 50 minutes, but be prepared to haggle. The best places to catch a gondola are the Rialto Bridge and St Marks Square.
Central Tourist Office: Azienda di Promozione Turistica (San Marco) Tel: 041 5298711
Airport enquiries: Marco Polo airport Tel: 041 2609260
Rail enquiries: Tel: 0 14 7888088
Emergencies (police/ambulance): 113
The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin: widely acclaimed as the best non-native book on Venice
History of Venice by John Julius Norwich: Venetian history at its most accessible
Across the River and into the Trees by Ernest Hemingway: proving that Hemmingway's pages don't always need to be soaked in testosterone
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann : you've seen the Visconti film, now read the book
Venice by James Morris: a wonderfully insightful (if indulgent) look at the 'sinking city'
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