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Fortified Lagoon

History of ideas of fortification in the Lagoon of Venice


Venice, the city on water famous throughout the world, is actually the most important town of a complex system of relations between nature and artifice. This centre represents and describes only part of this system. We can synthesize the complexity of this system that defines the origin and future of this city with the term Lagoon. This Lagoon is the line that holds together all the different images of the cultures and societies that have lived in Venice since the sixth century.

The best form of defence that met some scared Roman during barbarian invasions it was to take refuge in Lagoon. Its walls were impenetrable to inexperienced people: because of its principal and not usual size, large surface extension and depth ambiguous. The history of the foundation of Venice, the downtown grow up around “Rialto”, is the history of the safest place in the Lagoon. Politics and the fighting techniques of Venice enlighten us about the true interest of this state. Venice did not want to rule other peoples, but to ensure a profit to those people with whom it traded, and which guaranteed safety by controlling the sea. That water represents the freedom of Venice to control a territory beyond the territory itself. It was interested in those territories that shared it their condition, those territories that were linked to it through its own reason of existence: water. Venice conceives itself, even outside of its domain, thinks his empire equal to itself, as a set of points connected by water. One can therefore say that the Republic had not developed a defence system, on the contrary, its development was measured with respect to the extension of the domains. So the Fortifications of the Lagoon are considered the fleets of the Republic. Only when Venice had to fight a war in its waters noticed to be not architectonically fortified.


But in the XVI century change the political geography, but also the weapons and navigation techniques. The realization of such a state of crisis and the complexity induced by this new landscape culminates in the creation of a judiciary: the “Provveditorato alle Fortezze” (the superintendency to Fortresses). The various arguments and debates addressed in this office show us how much that idea of Lagoon was still present in the consciousness and able to influence the process and architectural design. The constructions of some important military architecture shows how to build a fort in the lagoon means defining a limit, to break the law which was his previous guarantee of safety: the boundary between the channel and shallow water was viable and flexible indeterminate. There were few fortifications in the lagoon, situated in a few important points, until the fall of the republic.

Since the XIX century the foreign dominations found themselves to govern an unfamiliar and particular territory, the Lagoon, characterized by a widespread urban condition where it is difficult to perceive and represent the power of their institutions. Probably this dominations had to use the defensive work of architecture as a monument to his inauguration, repeating everywhere similar patterns and therefore recognizable. The defensive work in this sense becomes political action, authoritarian and coercive in some way; a general inspection of the lagoon rather than a defence.

They densified the fortifications with an idea opposite to that which had always supported Venice: to built a myriad of fixed figure, motionless, in that background established from the lagoon, landscape of freedom and flexibility.

When it is loses the knowledge of the Lagoon each piece of land becomes a possible point of attack. The possibility offered by the water to defend in every direction becomes the possibility of being attacked from all directions.

So Venice is the first place in which becomes manifest that any idea of defence is meaningless when this place is completely accessible. We could image that for this reason, when Venice was an independent state, built very few fortresses.