22 July, 2006

58. The Hard Back

Nobody knows when Venice began, when the residents around the estuary of the River Po began to live on the marshy islands out in the Laguna Veneta, the Venetian Lagoon.

Legend has it that the 'Repubblica Marinara' was founded in 422, which is as likely a date as any other, but there are no existing records to support that. What is more certain is that the original marsh-dwellers were Roman refugees, first from the Goths in 166-168 AD, then the Visigoths a few hundred years later, and later the Huns, under Attila. A land-based marauding army found it difficult to ravage the island-based marsh towns and villages without a fleet of boats.

The original seat of the government was on Torcello island, then later on Malamocco. It wasn't until somewhere around 820 AD that the seat of the Byzantium-appointed governor – the 'duke' or Doge - was relocated to Rialto (an abbreviation of 'Rivo Alto' or 'High Shore'), because it was more easily defended. Around this settlement the present historic centre of Venice grew.

One of the reasons why Rialto was the 'high bank' is that the deeper river channel, which later became known as the Grand Canal and that flowed out through that part of the lagoon, twisted and turned to get around a ridge of more solid ground at the southern end of a group of silty islands. This hard ridge became known as 'Dorsoduro' or 'Hard Back', and this area is today one of the six sestieri of Venice.

Obviously, there are no pictures of what Dorsoduro looked like back then, so here is a picture of part of that district today.

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