Comprised of 118 masses of land in a lagoon, Venice (Venezia) is connected to the mainland city of Mestre by a thin causeway. The city is divided into six ancient administrative districts or sestieri: Cannaregio, Castello, San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, and Santa Croce, with the Canal Grande snaking throughout. You can walk to most places in Venice itself, and take a ride on a vaporetto (waterbus) to any of the islands. The vaporetto network runs regular service around the city and out to most of the islands.
The gondola has been a part of Venice since the 11th century. With its slim hull and flat underside, gondolas are perfectly adapted to negotiating narrow, shallow canals. In the old days, there were no stone wharves and only a few wooden landing stages, so Venetian boats were built with flat bottoms to be dragged up onto the land with relative ease. Conditioned by their surrounding elements, the Venetian people row in a standing position, looking forward as one does when walking.
Gondolas were once displays of multicolored brilliance. Legend has it that their lavish reds and purples turned to black when the Plague struck. To stop further contamination from spreading throughout the disease-infested canal waters, the wooden boats were supposedly coated with tar and pitch. Some say that a more likely story, however, is that in 1562 it was decreed that all gondolas should be black to stop people from making an ostentatious show of their wealth.
Founded by Roman fisherman, Venice supplemented its gondolas with sea-bound ships in the 11th century, soon gaining a monopoly on Eastern trade: gold, silks, spices, and coffee. With the conquest of Constantinople in 1203, Venice gained control of parts of the Adriatic, the Greek Island, modern Turkey, and mainland Italy.
The immense wealth of the city was celebrated in art and architecture throughout the city. Over the last centuries, Venice switched its livelihood to a new trade: tourism.