Venice

City of romance, miraculous sunsets, history, and way too many tourists.

Let’s see if we can step back in time and see what made Venice such a superb creation in its heyday. Think of it: a city built on water – the advantages of that. If we look only at the history and the art we’ll miss the sheer convenience of the place when it was in its prime.

What would it have been like? Well – to begin with, there would have been no need to have drains or trash collection, the canals would do it all. And transport became easier. No more slow lumbering wagons, heaps of horse manure, and noise of wheels. In fact no more need to house and feed horses and clear up after them. Instead there was the easy flow of water borne traffic. Surely the canals would smell a little, but nothing like the pungency of heaps of horse and human manure that plagued other cities. And, best of all perhaps, no dust.

Fresh water, filtered through the earth into the wells of individual houses, would have been better than in most other cities, and in no shortage. Better yet, fire, the scourge of so many cities (think of the Great Fire of London in 1666), would not be such a terrible threat.  Rats, too, would have had a harder time spreading diseases to stone built houses, and less garbage to feed on. Diseases would have been plentiful, of course: malaria and other water-borne plagues would have been very unpleasant, but then many European cities seemed to have them, anyway, as swampy areas adjacent to the city centers were always likely to breed mosquitos, flies, and so on. 

And as for trade… ships could bring in goods easily, reaching all corners of the city without effort.  Even from a military point of view all that was needed for defense was a navy, and once the ships were built a navy was not nearly as expensive to maintain as an army, nor as unruly. Other city states would have to gear up to fight a naval engagement, taking months to build ships, and they would be expected to maintain an army too.  Not the Venetians.

Quiet, calm, secure, relatively pleasant to the nose, easy travel – Venice would have had it all. It would have struck the visitor of bygone times as superbly modern and innovative. Perhaps we can learn from it about what city dwelling might need to be.