Venice – “Moving to the East Side”

(Welcome to Part II of the new series, “Venice – The Intentional City” on RenaissanceRules!  Part One, the Introduction, was posted on November 8, 2010, and can be accessed via this link: .  Please stop in again to discover upcoming segments, and always, enjoy the journey! Buon Viaggio!)

Forced Move, Familiar Territory

Venice, Italy is portrayed in some guidebooks and popular history books as a place that was originally roughly scabbed together in the marshes by poor farmers fleeing the mainland in 452 A.D. under the threat of subjugation by Attila’s Huns, who had invaded the area from north of the Alps. 

Timeless Torcello Piers  (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

Timeless Torcello Piers (c)2007 Randy D. Bosch

That theory has  early Lagoon migrants from the mainland living in reed hovels in the marshes, disorganized, without resources, cowering in fear but protected by miasmal swamps and watery expanses from their enemies. 

Instead of accepting either that legend or the other naive extreme of a rich alabaster city miraculously sprung virtually intact from the sea, a kind of reverse Atlantis, study of recorded history and application of a modicum of common sense is recommended.

Historians and archaeologists more focused on “evidence on the ground” and archived records have shared how the landscape of the Po Plain west of Venice was intensely cultivated in Roman and early post-Roman times.  The land was divided on a carefully measured grid plan into fields, drainage and irrigation channels covering an immense area.  Modern photogrammetry techniques clearly show the subdivision, evident even in areas where agricultural and urbanization patterns have overlaid it with a more modern pattern.

Several major Roman cities thrived near the coastline, connected by major Roman roads.  The closest to today’s Venice was the large city of Altinum (or Altino), located not far north of the location of modern Marco Polo Airport on the shore of the Lagoon. 


An interesting study of the “emerging” Altinum based upon modern photogrammetry techniques, led by Paolo Mozzi and Andrea Ninfo, can be found on-line at: .  After reading the article, utilize GoogleEarth for a great contextual location overview, zoom and scroll over the Lagoon and current development patterns to receive a great insight into the relative scale and close proximities involved.  If you have flown into or out of Marco Polo Airport from the north, you have flown over Altinum while the landing gear were down! 

Relocation from Altinum into the Lagoon was a massive, multi-generational enterprise, but the distance involved was short!

Altinum was a major port city until siltation overcame its dock facilities – perhaps long after the city was abandoned during migrations into the lagoon.  Scholars have found documentation that even names a few of the districts of Altinum, with striking parallels to nearby Lagoon settlements established during the migration:

  • Torricellum     =   Torcello
  • Ammurianum =   Murano
  • Porte Boreana =  Burano

From “Second Home” to Permanent Residence

Some prognosticators believe that the first “migration” or two were temporary – a portion of the population moved from the mainland to temporary villages in the Lagoon when the threat of invasion arose, joined by others when enemy forces drew near.  They are thought to have lived in simple wooden structures during the early events, until it was safe to move back to their permanent towns on the mainland.  This theory states that the people eventually tired of the uncertainty, danger, dislocation and destruction of their permanent towns – and therefore gradually moved “permanently” into the Lagoon. 

The milestone migration to islands in the Lagoon in around 452 A.D. was followed by two others also prompted by major invasions, that of Aloin’s Longoboards (Lombards) in 568 and then Pepin’s Frankish armies in 810.  By the time of the third invasion/migration, Venetian settlement was noted to be most densely concentrated at the Rivo Alto area (Rialto), some of the highest land in the archipelago.  Other “early adopter” communities included Torcello, Burano and Malamacco (on the littoral island now commonly referred to as Lido).  One or more of these areas were likely to have been the location of villages with a lagoon and sea based economy prior to any of the “mass” emigrations from the mainland. 

Such communities would have had a working relationship with the mainland cities long before migration from those cities into the Lagoon occurred.

In an unusual sense, the relocation could be characterized as…

Moving to the Suburbs!


About randysrules

From a professional background in architecture, community and regional planning, urban design, leadership, and fine arts, this blog provides insights on ethics, leadership, architecture/planning/urban design, Venice, and whatever intrigues me at the time. Enjoy!
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One Response to Venice – “Moving to the East Side”

  1. Yvonn says:

    Let’s see if this strange computer will let me post a comment!

    Randy, if only I could retain all this good information!

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