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In the early part of the 19th Century the principal station of the Austrian navy was at Venice, where there was a college for cadets, also a corps of marinea, and a battalion of naval artillery. A fleet stationed at Venice could slip in and out of the Adriatic as it pleased. In 1814 Venice and its territories were joined to the Lombard-Venetian kingdom, part of the Austrian Empire, of which they continued to form a part until 1866, when, in consequence of the misfortunes of Austria in her war with Prussia, the city and province were surrendered to Italy.

As of 1837 the Austrian Navy consisted of eight ships of the line, lying at the arsenal at Venice (none of which were in commission), eight frigates, four sloops, six brigs, seven schooners or galleys, and a number of minor vessels, such as gardaporti (guardships), gunboats, &c. The navy is under the command of a Vice-Admiral, residing at Venice, assisted by a Rear- Admiral ; next to them in rank are Captains of ships. The officers of the corps of seamen, whose head-quarters was at Venice, were under the command of a Captain of sloops.

The Naval Arsenal at Venice was one of the most interesting establishments in that city ; it was very spacious, being about two miles in circuit. This vast establishment at the east end of Venice, reached by the Rio del Arsenale at the E. end of the Riva degli Schiavoui, was founded in 1104, but attained its present dimensions, nearly 2 miles in circuit, between 1307 and 1320. Walls and towers battlemented and crenelated, attributed to Andrea Pisano, surround it. In the 16th cent, the number of workmen employed here exceeded 16,000. The arsenal contained 4 basins, 2 large and 2 small. These are nearly surrounded by dry docks, building slips, and workshops. The roofs are supported by ancient arches, lofty and massive, some circular, some pointed, standing upon huge cylindrical pillars, with angular leafy capitals. The columns are sculptured with numerous shields and inscriptions, some of which are in the ancient Venetian dialect. The rope-walk (Cordería délia Tana) dates from 1579, having been erected by Doge N. da Ponte: it is 346 yards long, and is supported by 92 Doric pillars.

Upon passing through the handsome gate of entrance, on either side of which is a colossal lion in marble, which formerly embellished the port of Athens, there was the whole of this vast establishment ; it comprised workshops of all kinds, together with a large store of every possible article requisite for the outfit of ships. The hall in which thousands of arms and muniments of war are grouped in a tasteful manner. The Hall of Models contained an extensive collection of models of all kinds of vessels, both large and small. In an adjoining chamber were Catiova's bust of Emo, a naval hero, well known in the annals of Venetian history; and of General Gattamelata, another Venetian commander of high repute : the same apartment likewise contained a splendid basso-relievo of the Adriatic, its rocks, cliffs, and islands. The Arsenal possessed thirty-two covered slips for ships of the line ; fifty-four slips for smaller vessels ; four large basins ; five cannon-foundries, a very fine ropewalk, 910 feet long, 70 feet broad, and 32 feet in height ; extensive works for carpenters and shipbuilders, &c. The number of workmen daily employed there in the 1830s was from a thousand to twelve hundred.

Long before the fall of Venice the arsenal displayed all the decrepitude of the state. When the French entered Venice in 1797, they found 13 men-of-war and 7 frigates on the stocks. This enumeration seems respectable ; but of these vessels, none of which were completed (nor were there any sufficient stores or materials for the purpose), two had been begun in 1752.

The Academy of Naval Cadets was also established at Venice. It was under the management of a Rear-Admiral and Deputy-Superintendent. As of 1837 there were six professors engaged in it, three of whom gave instruction in the mathematics exclusively ; the duties of the others extend to teaching ship-building, marine architecture, experimental philosophy, history, geography, naval law and police, and naval strategetics. One of the chaplains of the navy gave instruction in religious knowledge. There were three inspectors of internal discipline ; and two of them teach infantry exercise and writing. The Italian, German, French, and English languages, drawing and fencing, as well as the practice of navigation, were also taught. There were twenty pupils in this institution who are educated at the public expense ; the remaining cadets were educated at the expense of their parents or friends.

It was notorious in the mid-19th Century that the entire eastern coast of the Italian peninsula possessed no harbor at all comparable with Venice. That of Taranto had been sanded for centuries, and possessed no value, and it was much the same with Brindisi, while the port of Ancona was limited in size, and can scarce afford shelter to a frigate.


Venice, the capital of the renowned commercial republic of the same name, though fallen from its former splendor, was still the most picturesque city in Europe. It stands in the Adriatic Sea, 5 miles from the main land, and is built upon a multitude of islands intersected by canals instead of streets; hence carriages of any kind are unknown, and the inhabitants use boats, called gondolas, in passing from one place to another. The Grand Canal is crossed by the Rialto, a marble arch 90 feet in span. The prospect from this bridge is lively and magnificent. There are 500 other bridges. Most of the canals are narrow, and some have no quays, so that the water washes the houses.

Venice is built on a cluster of islands in a lagoon of the same name, on the N.W. fringe of the Adriatic Sea. The lagoon is banked off from the Adriatic by a long narrow sandbank, extending S.W. from the mouth of the Piave to that of the Adige, and divided into a number of islands by narrow sea passages, six in number. Formerly the chief of these entrances into the lagoon was the Porto di Lido, through which all the great merchantmen of the Republic passed direct into the city, and which at the end of the 19th Century was still frequented by small vessels and by the Trieste steamers. The Porto di Malamocco, between the island of the same name on the south, and that of Lido on the north, was at that time the deepest channel into the lagoon. Inside of this sandbank, and between it and the mainland, which was from 3 to 5 miles distant, was the lagoon - a sheet of shallow water navigable for vessels of very light dranght, except where channels had been formed naturally by rivers or artificially maintained.

In some parts of this marshy, sea-covered plain, islets have - by the action of currents and otherwise - become consolidated into ground firm enough to be built upon, and fruitful enough to be cultivated ; and in the midst of a crowded cluster of such islets, amounting in number to between 70 and 80, the city of Venice was built. The chief of the islands is called Isota de Rialto (Island of the Deep Stream). The islands, in many places only shoals, afford no good foundations for buildings ; and the city, for the most part, is built upon artificial foundations of wooden piles or stone.

The Canalazzo, or Grand Canal - its tortnous course through the city being in the form of the letter S - divides the city into two almost equal parts, if the projection east of the Arsenal and its canal were eliminated, and is the main thoroughfare for traffic or pleasure. But the city is subdivided hy 146 smaller canals (rii). These are the water streets of Venice, by means of which passengers can be conveyed to any quarter, for here the canal is the street, and the gondola is the cab or carriage. Access can also be had to all parts of the town by land - across the canals by bridges, and along their banks hj- narrow passages (calli).


In the wars with the Avars in the 9th century, the Venetians became expert sailors. In 997 the ports of Dalmatia placed themselves under the protection of Venice. The wealth and power of the republic increased during the Crusades, and Venice became the richest and most powerful city of Lombardy. The commercial power of the republic reached its greatest height under the Doge Enrico Dandolo, who, in the crusade of 1204, undertaken by the Venetians and French, conquered Constantinople at the head of the Venetian fleet.

The possessions of Venice on the Continent were gradually enlarged, and her rival, Genoa, was humbled, after a struggle of 130 years for the supremacy in Lombardy. in 1489, after the death of James, the last king of Cyprus, his wife, Catarina Cornaro, a Venetian lady, ceded that island to the republic.

The power of Venice then reached its zenith ; henceforward it began to decline. The Portuguese, in 1498, discovered the way by sea to the East Indies, and the Venetians lost their commerce with that country by Alexandria. The Osmanli, who had become masters of Constantinople, gradually wrested from the Venetians all their possessions in the Archipelago and in the Morea, and also Albania and Negroponte. Though the danger which threatened the republic upon the formation of the league of Cambrai, in 1508, was averted by skilful negotiations, its power had been greatly crippled by that war. The Morea was reconquered in 1687, but was again given up at the peace of Passarowitz in 1713. From this period Venice ceased to take any part in the great affairs of Europe. By the peace of Campo Formio (1797), the whole territory on one side of the Adige, with Dalmatia and Cattaro, was given to Austria. By the Peace of Pressburg (1805) it was given to the kingdom of Italy.

In 1814 Venice was again declared Austrian. The Lombardo-Venetian Kingdom, or Austrian Italy, was composed of the former duchies of Milan and Mantua and of the territoiy of the republic of Venice. Until the rebellion of 1848-9 Austrian-Italy was governed by a Viceroy, who was generally an arch-duke of the Imperial Austrian family. By the division of the Austrian empire, established in 1849, Lombardy and Venice formed two of the crownlands of the empire.

The heroic but foolhardy attempt of the brothers Bandiera, Venetians who had served in the Austrian navy against the Neapolitan Bourbons in 1844, was the first event to cause an awakening of Venetian patriotism, and in 1847 Danielle Manin presented a petition to the Venetian congregation, a shadowy consultative assembly tolerated by Austria but without any power, informing the emperor of the wants of the nation. He was arrested on a charge of high treason (Jan. 18, 1848), but this only served to increase the agitation of the Venetians, who were beginning to know and love Manin. Two months later, when all Italy and half the rest of Europe were in the throes of revolution, the people forced Count Palffy, the Austrian governor, to release him (March 17).

The Austrians soon lost all control of the city, the arsenal was seized by the revolutionists, and under the direction of Manin a civic guard and a provisional government were instituted. The Austrians evacuated Venice on the 26th of March, and Manin became president of the Venetian republic. Towards the end of 1848 the Austrians, having been heavily reinforced, reoccupied all the Venetian mainland; but the citizens, hard-pressed and threatened with a siege, showed the great est devotion to the cause of freedom. Early in 1849 Manin was again chosen president of the republic, and conducted the defence of the city with great ability. At last, on the 24th of August 1849, when all provisions and ammunition were exhausted, Manin, who had courted death in vain, succeeded in negotiating an honorable capitulation.

The establishment by the Austrian Government of naval stations at Trieste, and especially at Pola on the island of Istria, tended to destroy its importance.

In April 1866 Prussia plotted with Italy to wage a two-front war against Austria that would enable Prussia to gain Holstein and Italy to gain Venetia. Although Austria tried to keep Italy out of the war through a last-minute offer to surrender Venetia to it, Italy joined the war with Prussia. Austria won key victories over Italy but lost the decisive Battle of Königgrätz (Hradec Králové in the presentday Czech Republic) to Prussia in July 1866.

Although Austria possessed for better harbours in Pola and Cattaro, still the possession of these depended entirely on the retention of Venice. So long as the new Italian Kingdom possessed no port on the east coast of Italy, that state can make no preparations for joining in an Oriental contest; but, from the moment Venice slipped from the grasp of Austria, the navy of the latter power would be held in check in the Adriatic, for the maritime resources of Italy were there as great as those which Istria and Dalmatia can offer. It would be sufficient to station a strong division of the new Italian fleet at Venice, in order to blockade the Austrian navy on the outbreak of the war.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 02:51:28 ZULU