Venice’s Grand Canal

December 2004 » In Civil History
Venice's Grand Canal 58 t is known by Venetians as Canalazzo, but to the rest of the world, the Main Street of Venice is known as the Grand Canal. The city of Venice is built on a series of 100 islands located in a lagoon of the Adriatic Sea, and the main form of transportation in the city is on waterways, with the Grand Canal carrying the most traffic. The canal facilitates internal transportation, but also charms countless visitors every year.

Venice's Grand Canal 58 t is known by Venetians as Canalazzo, but to the rest of the world, the Main Street of Venice is known as the Grand Canal. The city of Venice is built on a series of 100 islands located in a lagoon of the Adriatic Sea, and the main form of transportation in the city is on waterways, with the Grand Canal carrying the most traffic. The canal facilitates internal transportation, but also charms countless visitors every year.

Centuries before Venice was founded, the River Brenta carved out a path through the mud flats and shallow waters of the Venetian lagoon. After weaving its way past the small islands of Rivoalto, the river widens into the Grand Canal before heading out to sea.


Along the borders of the islands are more than 100 canals. The Grand Canal is regarded as the main artery, meandering through the city of Venice and dividing it approximately in half. Shaped like a reversed letter S, the Grand Canal is almost 2.5 miles long, 15 feet deep, and varies in width from 100 to 150 feet. It is spanned by three bridges, the most notable of which is the Ponte di Rialto, a stone arch built in the 16th century.

An intricate network of smaller canals, extending from the Grand Canal, average 4 to 5 yards in width, and measure approximately 28 miles in total length. Almost 400 bridges span these smaller waterways. In total, there are more than 200 canals, serving as the streets and avenues of the city.

More than 100 historical palaces line the Grand Canal, displaying fome of the world's most opulent architecture. These buildings and others throughout the city are constructed on long wooden piles driven into the subsurface sand and clay deposits.

Preservation of Venice's architectural gems is complicated, however, by ongoing subsidence caused by the slow, natural consolidation of underlying sediments and, more recently, by significant groundwater withdrawal.

Combined with a recent rise in mean sea level, today Venice is not only a city of canals, but also a city of floods. Abnormally high tides can inundate large areas of the city and disrupt canal traffic by raising water levels to the point where boats can't pass beneath bridges. The city, now only a few feet above sea level, has experienced as many as 100 floods in a single year.


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