Venice is built on 117 small islands, has 150 canals and 409 bridges (only three of which cross the Grand Canal, considered the main 'street' of the city). The historic centre is divided into six sestieri (quarters): San Marco, Dorsoduro, San Polo, Santa Croce, Cannaregio and Castello. No cars or buses can be encountered in the city. The entire transportation system is based on the water.
The islands of the Venetian lagoon were first settled during the barbarian invasions of the 5th and 6th Centuries AD. Since then Venice slowly evolved into a republic. Within the 10th and 11th Century Venice became the biggest sea power in the region as well as a relevant manufacture centre. Since the 11th Century Venice has been known as a centre of art. It developed painting, mosaic and its own style in architecture, which combined the Byzantine style with Islam and Gothic. Till the end of the13th Century Venice transformed into an oligarchic republic, in which great houses ruled. The Venetian head of state was the doge. At the turn of the 14th and 15th Century Venice conquered her rival city Genoa and gained reign over most cities in northeast Italy (Padua, Verona, Bassano).
As the political and economical power of Venice grew, the republic used its economy to support art and artists. Therefore Venice gave an immense contribution to Italian Renaissance and became one of its main centres. The city gave birth to a distinct school of painting represented by such names as Titian, Tintoretto, Paolo Veronese, Lorenzo Lotto, Antonello da Messina, El Greco, and Albrecht Durer. Additionally, a lot of famous artists traveled to Venice, thanks to its reputation, and spent time in the workshops there.
From the end of the 15th Century began the slow decline of the power and significance of Venice. Long years of war with Turkey, the discovery of a new route to India eliminating Venice from trade with the East diminished the position of the Republic. Finally in 1797 Napoleon conquered Venice, bringing an end to the Venetian Republic. Never again Venice regained the position of the power it once was. It regained sovereignty only for 15 years, until in 1866 it was united with the Kingdom of Italy.
Today the population has more than halved in the past 50 years: housing is too expensive, transport too complicated, jobs too scarce. If the depopulation continues, Venice may one day truly become just a tourist attraction.
Another significant problem of the city is the water, which year after year covers more of the city. In a few years the pearl of the Adriatic can truly become history.
Due to the unique architecture and location Venice has be listed on UNESCO's World Heritage List.