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How Venice Italy was Built on a Foundation of Wood

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Leonardo da Vinci
…Italian painter, sculptor, architect, and engineer…(1452-1519)

Upon visiting Venice, Italy with all its canals the woodworker in me became very curious as to how the building foundations were created. I also became inquisitive about the construction techniques of this old city along the Adriatic Sea. The city of Venice is made up of 117 islands that are linked together by water canals, numerous small bridges, as well as 3 large bridges of the Grand Canal. Venice is loaded with buildings of beautiful architecture that date back to the middle of the first millenium A.D. These buildings of grandeur are still very well preserved. So, what type of foundation supports this city built upon a lagoon? The simple answer is…wood.

Venice history dates back many years when people sought refuge. These people built upon the lagoon for safety from being attacked. In the lagoon there a collection of small island of rock and mud and it was here that these people started driving wood pilings into the mud and sand and into clay. The wood pilings became the initial foundation. However, there is another question to be answered. Where did the wood come from as Venice did not did have any forest? The wood was gathered in forest far away in the mountains of Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro.The timber was then transported by water to Venice.

Yet, wood rots. How could the Venetians use vertical wood pilings in the salt water for a foundations system without the wood rotting? The wood is not exposed to oxygen as it is submerged in the water and mud and as a result it does not rot. In fact the wood becomes petrified due to a constant flow of mineral rich water around and through it. As a result the wood becomes a hardened stone-like structure.

Once the all wood pilings are driven side by side into the mud of the lagoon as the initial foundation, they are then cut level where horizontal timber are laid. A stone foundation is then placed on top of the horizontal timbers. From there the building is built using wood framing techniques or brick. Who would ever have thought that the city of Venice with all its canals and gondolas was built on a foundation of wood?


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Comments

  1. TopamaxSurvivor of LJ fame says:

    I would never have guessed it!! Very interesting, thanks, Bob

  2. TopamaxSurvivor of LJ fame…

    Like you, I never would have guessed that Venice was actually built on wood that came from forest far away. Venice is truly a unique city. Great to see you here & thanks for your interest!

  3. mohammad amine el osta says:

    Thanks and I was not found who answer to widening knowledge in venice foundation without back to inherited technology since middle ages and use wood

  4. You are welcome. How Venice, Italy was built is an amazing story.

  5. Rudy Martin says:

    1. Has anybody measured how far below the water surface is the top of the log piles?
    2. How long are the log piles?
    3. How did the ancient builders drive log piles into mud, sand and clay?
    4. How can the bundle of log piles remain stationary and resist the moving forces of the sea through centuries?
    5. Is there a record in Venice history when the last ancient log piles were driven and also the construction of
    house or building on top of the log piles?

  6. Rudy Martin says:

    I forgot my last question:

    Last Q: Does Venice have any sewer system at all?

  7. Rudy,

    All of these are great questions of which I do not have the answers. How Venice was built and how it remains is purely a remarkable feat of engineering.

    3.) I understand that the ancient Romans used logs as pile drivers. In essence, they used blunt ended logs to hammer other pointed logs into the sand and mud.

    If you research and find out more information, please consider sharing.
    Thanks,
    Bob

  8. I am very interested in the rebuilding and restoration of Venice. All the countries should be involved
    In this process. If anyone knows of such a group let me know how i can become part of it.

  9. I agree with you. It is a wonderful city with a fascinating history.

  10. Marlys Buzby says:

    Just watched “Three Coins in The Fountain” on the local PBS channel. The movie’s Venice scenes showed the water lapping against the foundations of the buildings, which made me wonder how they’ve stood up against the elements all these years. This information is very interesting – thank you so much for your research!

  11. Alan says:

    Thanks for the information. I am staying in Venice now and after a few days of exploring, your post answered questions I had about Venice. Italian design :-)

  12. You’re welcome Marlys. It is pretty amazing how these buildings have lasted as long as they have.
    Thanks for your interest.
    Bob

  13. Alan,
    I’m sure that your stay in Venice is a memorable one. The Italian design is quite distinctive and rather fascinating isn’t it?

  14. Simrat says:

    I am in venice now, and i had all these questions myself. Your articles answered most of them and infact revealed intriguing detail of it. I found out one video as well, may be it will answer few of your querries.
    https://vimeo.com/21688538

  15. wow amazing history !!!!appreciated the brains that thought about the constructions.

    Venice is my dream destination and eagerly waiting to visit.

    Regards
    Reshma rao

  16. Dusan says:

    Hi there,
    I found a resource where an Italian historic Cristoforo Tentori is being cited. By this Tentori they say the origin of Venezian wood is from Perm in Russia calling it as a “karagai from Perm”. The word “karagai” should be a word of turkic origin meaning a wood or tree.
    I found this Tentori on internet only in Italian language what I do not understand at all.

  17. Jael says:

    What are you waiting for? Just go.

  18. Faruk Ahmed says:

    Coming soon Venice to see with my own eyes and to enjoy the most modern ancient city on water

  19. Georgia says:

    Such an interesting history of the substructure of Venice. I found it particularly interesting that the underwater wood doesn’t rot due to lack of oxygen. Thank you for a thorough & simple explanation.

  20. Yes do you know of an other sites to get more information on the building of this great place. Thank You

  21. Len Garrison says:

    While in Venice it looked like they were constantly filling in sinking areas. What is the truth?

  22. Len Garrison says:

    It looks like venice is slowly sinking. What is happening?

  23. sandra collins says:

    Is there a museum or to go to in Venice on its construction?

  24. Rick Reid says:

    this answers my question, how did they dam up the water and has Venice ever been drained.

  25. Sillyone says:

    What a beautiful city rich with history and wonder, hope to visit this city soon.

  26. Mobolaji Kosoko says:

    Hi. Rudy Martin to answer questions 2 and 4 i read somewhere that the log pikes are 60 ft long and are piled through mud silt and clay and rest on solid rock base. 60 ft is pretty deep. That’s about twice the height of the buildings placed atop them.
    To the question about why or how the piles have managed to resist oceanic forces, Venice is located in a lagoon which eliminates a large portion of the forces. The fact that the piles are driven into mud and clay takes away more of those effects, not forgetting that the city is built on and around several (117-118 )islands. So though it looks like it’s on water its mostly marsh and spmw land

  27. Maurizio Pighin says:

    Thanks for the info, I was born near there with little understanding on what foundations Venice was built on..

  28. David says:

    Very informative, thanks

  29. Kerry says:

    Thanks for sharing . We are in Venice now . And I guess millions of other visitors would be reading you article too. Wow wood who wood guess.
    Cheers Kerry

  30. Ann says:

    I am also watching Three Coins in a Fountain this afternoon and that prompted me to Google why Venice is on water. I appreciate finding the answers here but it causes me to question why no one has done this anywhere else? It would be charming to have a city built on water in other countries. I mean if it’s possible, why not do it?

  31. Barbara Belcher says:

    Thanks so much for all the information from all . I have always wondered how it just sits there in water. Now it is all clear to me except the sewage system and garbage removal . Curious !! Maybe someone can say !
    Barbara

  32. Deborah sauer says:

    Wow!!!! So interresting! I did visit Venice 5 years ago, and cannot wait to return someday. This was truly my favorite part of the trip. I always thought about how did they build this city and this information was so informative!!!

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