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March 28, 2017

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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