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Story of a Mercantile Empire

From the Würm ice age seventy thousand years ago when the waters of the Adriatic first began to recede to the turmoil of the French Revolution and the dawn of the Napoleonic era, “Story of a Mercantile Empire” will take you on an enlightening journey through the history of the world’s greatest trading nation.  Along the way, you'll retrace the urban and architectural development of the city and discover its singular role in the evolution of world commerce.


Venicescapes' guided walking tour of Venice "Story of a Mercantile Empire" includes the gondola building yard.

gondola building yard


Built with time-honored construction techniques, the modern-day gondola preserves design aspects essential to nagivation in the marshy wasteland where the Venetians first sought refuge.


We'll begin our adventure at the gondola building yard almost sixteen hundred years ago when the roots of Venice formed.  As we visit the workshop and discover how the natural environment was originally created and later affected the development of the city's traditional boats, we'll also talk about the genesis of the first permanent human settlements and about early life on the Venetian Lagoon.  Moving on to the banks of the Grand Canal, we'll then see how the primitive economy evolved as the Venetians began to venture onto the open sea and learn about the distant origins of the city's noble families.  As we wind through the back streets, we'll also talk about construction techniques and building materials and about the urban development of the Rivoalto settlement as it grew and became the city of Venice.  The people and events of the decisive ninth century will then take center stage.  We'll witness the clash of two empires as they seek to control the emerging city and discover how the intense theological debates in distant Constantinople led to the creation of a Venetian national identity around the relics of the evangelist Saint Mark.  At our next stops, we'll see Venice expand its dominion from the slopes of the Alps to the shores of the Black Sea and penetrate into the heart of the Mongol Empire.  We'll discuss the economic interests that dictated Venice's policy of expansion as well as the tremendous commercial importance of Marco Polo's travels and the role of Asian technology in the growth of European manufacturing.  We'll then enter into the sumptuous residence of a noble-merchant dating from the city's golden age to talk about the mechanics of the lucrative trade with the Orient from the role of the State and the nationalization of the merchant galleys to private initiative and the birth of the joint venture.  Our story will then take us to the Arsenal for a closer look at ship building when Venice was the world's mightiest sea power and then on to the magnificent Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute to see how the city's economy changed with the expansion of the Ottoman Empire and talk about the final decline and fall of Europe's oldest republic.


A visit to Santa Maria della Salute is included in Venicescapes guided walking tour of Venice "Story of a Mercantile Empire"

Santa Maria della Salute


Santa Maria della Salute was built to invoke the end of the plague in 1631. With a staggering death toll, the disease raised domestic wages and created the industrial recession that began Venice's final decline.



Approximately 6 hours


  • Gondola building (exterior)

  • Saint Mark's Square

  • Palazzo Pisani Moretta (private visit)

  • Arsenal (exterior)

  • Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute


  • The city is born: from island communities to urban center

  • A theft in Egypt: Saint Mark and the birth of a nation

  • The quest for commercial supremacy: Adriatic piracy, Norman expansion, and the Crusades

  • The urban environment: building materials and architecture

  • Marco Polo: Asia in the aftermath of Mongol expansion

  • Glass, chemicals, and textiles: Asian technology in Medieval Europe

  • Convoys, cartels, and joint ventures: from transient to resident merchants

  • Mercantilism: the balance of trade and government regulation



Timeline for the guided walking tour of Venice focusing on Venice's history and urban development
material protected by copyright

History of
the Republic of Venice

a comprehensive timeline covering two thousand years from the birth of the Roman Empire to the modern-day Republic of Italy and including the major events in Venice's history and those of the empires, caliphates, republics, and states whose stories are interwoven



The guided walking tour does not include the interior visit to the Pisani Moretta home on Sunday.


The price indicated for this guided walking tour is intended to cover the costs of the Society's continued research initiatives and organization and is in compliance with the conditions concerning the activities of non-profit organizations as set forth in the Ministry of Finance Unified Code Article 148, paragraph 3 (T.U. Art. 148, comma 3).

  • Price: 320.00 (U.S. dollars) for two (2) persons.  Each additional adult costs $60.00.  Minors under the age of 18 cost $30.00 each.

    • Price includes one (1) copy of Venicescapes’ timeline “History of the Republic of Venice”

    • Incidental transportation costs and entrance fees are not included

  • Special note: The private visit to the Pisani Moretta home cannot be confirmed prior to arrival in Venice.


To help make this guided walking tour a culturally enriching and educational experience, these books are recommended.



Comments on
Story of a Mercantile Empire


“It was the highlight of our trip.  We particularly enjoyed understanding the political, economic, and religious history to pull together what the city is about and the “whys” of the architecture and art.”

Karen Rhyne and Michael Michel
Newport Beach, California


“A beautifully prepared and detailed presentation and a day we will never forget.  The tour was so evocative of time and place; it took us away from the bustle of tourist-filled streets and gift shops to a Venice of fascinating proportions.  We could imagine the city’s beginnings in silt and salt, its glory days of rich fabrics and spices, and the sorrows of its plagues and wars.”

John Steve and Nancy Davis
Spokane, Washington


“A beautifully constructed and enthrallingly told history of Venice, from early life in the fifth-century swamps to her eventual reign over the surrounding land and seas.  How did little Venice, whose only natural resource was salt, become the most powerful and wealthy empire of her time?  What role did she play in the complex power struggles of church and state, east and west?  How did she spur the economic and industrial growth of all of Europe?  And why, eventually, did her enormous power decline?  If you are interested in history, you must not miss this experience.”

Jerry and Carolee Kolve
Portland, Oregon


“The tour surpassed my expectations.  I wanted to know why Venice is Venice and what events occurred that made it so.  The insight into the development of the Venetian Empire is invaluable.  I particularly enjoyed the Arsenal.  The organization with which the Venetians produced and maintained their ships was amazing to me.”

Martin Hunt
Vienna, Austria


“The day was a back-stage look at this museum city, delving into world history, religion, architecture, art, economics, shipbuilding, and political and private culture in order to understand the historical and religious connections that created and then ultimately destroyed Venice as a world power.”

Scott Clarkson and Cheryl Friedling
Los Angeles, California


“We most enjoyed learning in detail of the origins, history, and central importance of Venice during the 13th - 16th centuries.  It made the city come alive for us.  The detailed knowledge and obviously meticulous study of the history, architecture, culture, and importance of Venice made this marvelous tour truly unique.”

David and Bonita Turner
Evanston, Illinois


“The private visit to the Pisani Moretta house stood out.  It was there that we understood how a grand mansion actually lived and worked — from finance, mercantile practices, and alternative forms of investment to the extravagant entertaining, inheritance rights, and education.  This made it concrete how different the Venetian nobility was from the landed nobility elsewhere in Europe.”

Alan and Jeanna Struthers
Ridgewood, New Jersey


“The tour proved to be essential to our understanding of Venice and everything we saw.  We would not have had the same experience without this “Venice 101”.  The thoughtfully produced and beautifully written reference guide with maps and a timeline is an added benefit.”

Terry and Ethel DeMarr
Scottsdale, Arizona


“The tour was well thought out and organized yet not rigid.  Historical information was both in-depth and put into a broader context.  Overall, we probably learned more about Venetian history than if we had taken a semester course and will certainly remember more because of the fascinating presentation.”

Cliff and Kathy Murphy
New York, New York


“We saw places and things that we would never have seen with an ordinary tour and learned numerous insights that we would never have picked up on.  The tour did an excellent job of breaking up a vast amount of information into digestible pieces and engaged both of our children by presenting history and art in a meaningful way.”

David and Leueen Willoughby
Toronto, Ontario


“Very informative yet relaxed.  My son got a history lesson in great detail without his understanding that he was getting an in-depth history lesson.”

R. Daniel Jacob
New Orleans, Louisiana



For further information about this unique guided walking tour, write to:

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