Today, Veneto is one of Europe's most dynamic economic realities. And all this did not happen merely by chance but has its roots in the particular historic and geographic course of this land, which we will endeavour to briefly illustrate. The region of north-east Italy, proceeding from the Adriatic Sea to the Eastern Alps divide, is Veneto with Friuli-Venezia-Giulia to the east and Trentino Alto Adige-South Tyrol to the west. This region is situated in a strategic position in Europe because it has always been the main crossroads between the Mediterranean area and northern and eastern Europe. Already inhabited in prehistory (the mummy Otzi found a few years ago in the Alpine glaciers belonged to the Remedello culture), it was in the Bronze Age (2nd Millennium B.C.) that at first settled the Euganei people and after the Veneto people of indoeuropean origin arrived from the far-off Paflagonia (today's Turkey) after the destruction of Troy, as narrated by the Latin-Paduan writer Titus Livius. In fact, this legend is attested to by the Oriental style of their artistic activities. A part of these peoples spread throughout Europe (Poland, Southern Germany and Brittany) while a part remained in today's Veneto.
They were mainly a peaceful people, more interested in maintaining good trade relations with neighbours rather than going to war to conquer, but were still always ready to defend themselves against any attacks, as we read from early accounts. To the south were the Etruscans and Greek colonies, to the west the Celts, to the north the Raetians, with the Illyrians to the East. They had their own language and writing and were highly religious. Their many sanctuaries dedicated to various deities, the main one being Reitia, were educational institutions as well as religious centres. They lived mainly along the rivers in wooden dwellings similar to the present-day 'casoni' of the Veneto lagoon, and were dedicated to farming, fishing, bronze-work and especially the breeding of horses, for which they were famous in former times. The horse and the colour blue were their symbols. They were also the first, as far back as the first millennium B.C., to trade amber (at that time a highly sought-after
material coming from the Baltic countries) to the Etruscans and Greeks, as we are told by the Latin writer Pliny in his Natural History. The main centre was Este, situated at the foot of the Euganei hills. Other important towns were Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Treviso, Altino, Montebelluna, Asolo and, in the Piave valley, Mel and Calalzo in Cadore. It is believed that they were federated together, there being no accounts of any ruling kings or leaders. And all this until around 200 B.C. with the arrival of the conquering power of Rome with which, in order avoid destruction, they preferred friendly agreements. The region was soon 'latinized' and under Emperor Augustus became part of the empire with the name 'Decima Regio Venetia et Istria'. There followed a prosperous period of about 300 years which favoured the arts and trade.
Titus Livius and Catullus were Latin writers coming originally from Padua and Verona. The towns grew and changed aspect due to many stone buildings. Others followed: Aquilea, in today's Friuli, was second only to Rome. With the advent Christianity this city became the main centre for spreading the new Religion in northern and eastern Europe. After the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 A.D. the region was invaded and plundered by barbarian hordes (Goths, Heruli, Huns and Longobards). The populations of the destroyed cities took refuge in the coastal lagoons and established new towns (Chioggia, Caorle, Grado and Venice) while the rest of the territory fell under the rule of the feudal vassals
with a survival economy. On the other hand, free Venice began its glorious adventure on the seas, though having to constantly defend itself against the attacks of Franks, Slavs, Hungarians and even the Normans. At the time of the first Crusade (1100 A.D.) it was together with Genoa, its rival, a great seafaring people. A flourishing trade between the East (Constantinople, Egypt, the Holy Land), Italy and Northern Europe ensured the city's prestige and riches. With the traveller Marco Polo, Venice became the first to reach China and the Far East. Later, the Venetians John and Sebastian Cabot explored the coasts of North and South America, and Pigafetta (from Vicenza) accompanied Magellan around the world. Meanwhile in the hinterland the towns gradually freed themselves from feudal rule to become free cities but still fighting against each other (Padua against Treviso, Treviso against Belluno, Verona against Vicenza). Taking advantage of the situation, around the year 1400 Venice once again managed to gather under its dominion the entire territory of the 'X Regio Romana', after about a thousand years! Towards 1500, Venice was at the height of its grandeur, the 'New York' of the period, and for this continually attacked by the other European states which were jealous of its power. With the Cambrai league half of Europe was waging war against Venice which though defeated managed to save itself. Furthermore, it had to resist an on-going war against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire with whom Venice also fought and traded at the same time. In the famous Battle of Lepante, where the Christian fleet finally destroyed the Turkish fleet, most of the ships were Venetian. The following centuries until 1800 were centuries of peace and prosperity for the entire Venetian Republic.
The arts enjoyed a Golden Age; especially painting with the Venetian School: Titian, Giorgione, Veronese, Lotto, Carpaccio, Tintoretto, Bellini, Pordenone, Jacopo da Bassano, Canaletto, Tiepolo and others. Architecture flourished with Longhena and with Palladium the creator of the famous Veneto Villas; literature with Goldoni and Casanova; sculpture with Canova, and music with Vivaldi, Monteverdi and Tartini. And all this while the Venetian Republic was on its way towards slow decline, until the arrival of Napoleon who brutally put an end to the millenary Republic, plundering it and then handing it over to Austria. For approximately 60 years Veneto remained under Austrian rule, but not without epic uprisings.
These included the memorable defence of Venice, surrounded and bombarded in 1849, with the Venetian Jew Daniele Manin leading the defenders and their last cry: "cholera rages, we've no bread, the white flag flies on the bridge". After 1866 Veneto became part of the Kingdom of Italy, but the serious economic crisis at the turn of the century, then the two World Wars - the first fought on its territory with consequent destruction and the second, lost with the loss also of Istria
- caused a serious depression in the mainly agricultural region. And this was also the main cause of the large-scale emigration which drove so many of Veneto's people to seek a better life firstly in Argentina and Brazil, then in the Unites States, Canada, Australia, and in other European countries, where their typical industriousness did them proud. It was only in the Sixties that Veneto started to come alive again. Thanks to the new commercial openings on a European and world level, the industriousness of its people, the vitality of the new leaders of industry mainly in the sectors of machinery, wood and furniture, footwear, clothing, gold jewellery, glasses, as well as its agriculture and
wines, Veneto has returned to being what it has always really been for 3,000 years: a bridge between Mediterranean Europe and the rest of Europe and the other continents. Therefore, long live the "Cavallo Azzurro" (Blue Horse) and the winged Lion of St. Mark.