Veneto, was once the centre of a large maritime empire, the Venetian Republic, which lasted 1,000 years from its foundation in the eighth century until it was invaded by Napoleon in 1797. Subsequently, it was sold to Austria who, with the exception of a few months of independence in 1848, kept control until the region joined the unified Italy in 1866. Still today many inhabitants speak the old Venetian language and are fiercely independent, even if the region doesn’t enjoy the same kind of autonomy as others.
In ancient times, the area had been the territory of the Veneti tribe of cisalpine gauls, who gave the region its name. Then, during the Germanic invasions of northern-Italy, inhabitants of the Roman towns and cities in the area took refuge in the lagoon on the coast. The mists and shifting sands of the lagoon provided ample protection and eventually they created a permanent settlement which became the almost mythical city of Venice. A republican city state with an elected Doge the city soon expanded its territory to the terraferma, incorporating modern Friuli Venezia-Giulia, Trentino Alto-Adige, and parts of Lombardy. A seafaring nation, whose economy was based on trade with the east, they expanded east to control a lot of the Istrian and Dalmation coasts, and the greek islands of Corfu, Cefalonia, Ithaca, Zante, Crete, and Cyprus. This afforded their trading ships safe harbour all the way back from the middle East.
The modern region of Veneto stretches from the sea up to the mountains on the Austrian border rising to above 3,000m. The southern region contains the last third of the Po plain which enters the sea just south of the Venetian lagoon. There are many other rivers that flow into the lagoon itself, the most important being the Brenta, along the banks of which are some important villas by Palladio and other architects.
In the last forty years, the economy of the region has been transformed by industry including the metal and chemical works in Marghera and Mestre. Traditional world-famous glass making still takes place on the island of Murano and many important fashion labels were founded in the Veneto. These include Benetton, Geox, and Diesel.
Despite this, the area is still of great agricultural importance to Italy with crops including maize, peas, vegetables, apples, and grapes being grown in large quantities as well as fish.
Tourism is centred on the large cities of Venice, and Verona, the latter being famous as the home of Juliet from Shakespeare’s play as well as staging an important opera festival in a preserved Roman amphitheatre.
Food and wine
The food of the region is distinctive and based on local produce. Risi e bisi, is a delicate and delicious risotto with fresh peas. Sarde in saor is a dish of sardines, marinated in a sauce of vinegar, raisins, and pine nuts for sweet and sour notes. Fish dominates with salt cod or baccalà a firm favourite particulary when prepared the Vicenzan way as baccalà alla visentina.
Perhaps the Veneto’s greatest culinary gift to the world is the dessert known as tiramisù although this can only be traced back to the 1960s. It is often served as a semifreddo or ice-cream cake which only makes it more delicious.
The wines of the region are well-known and exported worldwide. The two most famous are the sparkling prosecco—the best quality produced in the Valdobiaddene near Treviso—and the red Valpolicella. There is also widespread production of dry white pino grigio again, an international favorite.