Power to the merchants of Venice
Between the 10th and 13th centuries, the city was a strategic trade location between the Byzantine Empire and the Holy Roman Empire and many outposts in various countries. The location advantage of the Veneto-Byzantine civilisation brought many privileges from the ruling empires and control over the Adriatic Sea. After the Fourth Crusade at the beginning of the 13th century, Venice became hugely influential and experienced, even more, commercial and financial growth. Sea trade, the city’s enormous fleet of ships, and its own trading outposts created the perfect synergy of commercial advantage between Europe and the east, Egypt and other northern African states.
During this period, Venetians established several new forms of doing business and a finance system which was revolutionary at the time. Marco Polo, Venice’s most famous son, travelled along the republic’s trading routes. He explored Central Asia and China, and his unbelievable 24 year-long adventure on the famous Silk Route saw him documenting his experiences for generations to come. Marco Polo’s travels uncovered a whole new world to the Europeans, opened up the horizons to cultures and opportunities for travel, and led to more significant trade between Europe and the eastern empires.
The city’s unrivalled position within European trade operations and its talented Venetian merchants seemed to be in for the long run, but the status of a mighty trading nation was to last only until the 15th century. A series of miscalculations against the Ottoman Empire led to significant losses at battle, contributing to the downfall. But it was the Black Death, the plague, in 1348 that genuinely devastated Venice, and with it came a consequential loss of influence and wealth. Four times in a few hundred years – in 1348, 1575, 1577 and 1630 – Venice was troubled by the plague and saw its population decrease, along with its power. The issues with infectious diseases prompted the construction of the Lazzaretto Nuovo (New Quarantine), built in 1468 – a quarantine station for incoming ships and cargo, where crews and goods were isolated and searched for signs of sickness. The implementation of a quarantine strategy was a calculated move to protect the maritime empire.
The Portuguese conquer the Spice routes and Venice falls
While Venice had been the leading commercial region at the beginning of the Renaissance, trading opportunities were lost to Portugal and the city of Lisbon by the end of this period. Other countries had since developed strong commercial links with Asia, and Venice’s monopoly was lost. Over the following next centuries, Venice was conquered and overthrown by various empires, including those of Napoleon’s France and Austria. Despite these difficulties, during the 18th century, the city continued to hone itself as one of Europe’s most magnificent architectural wonders. It defended its place as an institution of literature and art. The fusion of Venetian gothic architecture with Byzantine and Ottoman influences, combined with its floating buildings amongst the waterways of the lagoon, gave Venice a truly original look.
Here come the Tourists
When did early tourists start traipsing over Venice’s old and narrow streets and marvelling at the grand sites of the city? The pilgrims of the Middle Ages were the first tourists that came to Venice. The city was quick to implement systems, policies and procedures to ensure the visitors were greeted and treated according to the ever so high standards that Venice inflicted on everything it took on. Guided tours, government-controlled accommodation standards and tourist merchandise policies were just the beginning. If medieval pilgrims were the first mass tourists, then was Venice the first tour operator? Did the Venetians invent the holiday in a package? Well, yes they did!
The proposition of travelling with a group tour of like-minded people guided by an itinerary that a specialised and knowledgable tour operator has organised is still a popular way to travel. Particularly if your destination is perceived to be culturally different, a foreign language is spoken or more important if there is some level of personal danger involved. The Venetians understood these worries and took the opportunity to provide a solution to a problem – this practice was very much the Venetian way of doing business (or really anything). They grasped the chance to provide a service to those pilgrims who were heroic enough to travel to Jerusalem but who were also still distressed about their personal safety needing the services of a weathered captain and his crew. The complete tour package to and from the port of Jaffa had a higher-priced ticket for pilgrims than it would have had for an experienced and well-travelled merchant for the same journey. In addition, other locations via the return routes were added to make the passage worthwhile and add a financial bonus for the Venetians and sightseeing for the pilgrims. This could have been a stopover at the port of pompous Alexandria, a visit to ancient Cairo, or even a crossing of the desert to visit the monastery at St Catherine of Sinai. As mentioned beforehand, the Venetians were swiftly, and their offers remind us of today’s travel planning with a renowned tour operator.
Touring Venice today with Odyssey Traveller.
Odyssey offers small group tours for mature and senior couples or solo travellers to Venice and many other destinations in Italy. The guided Venice tour can be combined with a classic Italy tour visiting remarkable landmarks and magical places with a tour company specialised in small group tours: Southern Italy, Cinque Terre, Amalfi Coast, Tuscany, Lake Como, Sicily, Lake Garda, Milan, Pompeii, Central Italy and sites of Ancient Rome. Prosecco will be flowing too!
Odyssey started in 1983 as a collaboration between the Universities of Australia and New Zealand in the continuing adult education market, so it is almost 40 years old. The company has been stewarding fellow travellers on an ever-expanding collection of diverse and curious small group tours. Tours are supported by a great group of leaders who are typically retired academics and schoolteachers with a passion for continuing to be curious and sharing knowledge with you.
Small is Beautiful – Economics as if People Mattered is a collection of essays by E F Schumacher published in 1973. He sets out the case for the community, not corporations, as the model for economic success. It influences us in all we do. For Odyssey Travellers, the term small is beautiful, captures the essence of the experience offered. We endeavour:
- to provide touring programs that stimulate the mind, ideally changing perspectives and perceptions through travel and shared knowledge,
- to offer small groups for like-minded people to explore,
- to foster a collegiate, open touring platform encouraging friendships to be made and journeys shared,
- to tread softly in the places we visit and not overwhelm the art galleries, museums, environment, or accommodation we use.
As a small team, we are orientated to learning about you the traveller, ensuring you are treated the way you wish to be treated, following the adage “treating others how you wish to be treated yourself”. When you travel with us, you may be part of a small group, typically 8-14 people, and be part of a small business group that averages some 40 people per week travelling with us all around the world. Our scale of operation and our tours anywhere in the world are orientated for the selective few, not the many.
By travelling with us, you assist us in supporting, each year, at least one academically bright University student who might be struggling financially to continue their studies, with a scholarship to underpin those studies for at least one year.