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The Renaissance in Italy was a great cultural and intellectual flourishing that changed Europe and it is widely seen as heralding the end of the Middle Ages and ushering in the Modern World. Many Italian city-states and the Papacy made important contributions to the revival of art and intellectual pursuits during the period from 1400 to 1600. The contribution of Venice to this period has long been recognized by historians for many years. This city-state was unique in Italy at the time and made a singular contribution to the Renaissance. Venice was very important in this remarkable
period as its trade networks helped to create the wealth that laid the foundations for the cultural flourishing. Moreover, the city was pivotal in the development of the printing press and print culture in Italy. Finally, the Republic of Venice developed its own schools of painters, architects, and sculptures who were among the finest produced in Italy during the High Renaissance (1490-1550).
[[File: Venice One.jpg |200px|thumb|left|Gentile Bellini painting of a civic procession in Venice]]
==The rise of Venice==
During the various cataclysms that engulfed northern Italy in the centuries after the fall of Rome, many refugees fled to a lagoon in the Adriatic Sea, sometime in the 5th century AD <ref>Norwich, John Julius. A History of Venice (New York: A.A. Knopf, 1982), p 13</ref>. Over time, several settlements developed, on a number of islands and they merged to become a single city, which came to be known as Venice. It became a dependency of Byzantium in the 6th century AD <ref>Norwich, p 14</ref>. The relationship with the successor state of the Roman Empire allowed Venice to become a great trading and maritime power by the 11th. century AD. The city which was a Republic benefitted enormously from its role in the Crusades and after several wars with other Italian maritime powers such as Genoa, it came to dominate the trade in the Eastern Mediterranean. The ‘Serene Republic’ as it was known was governed by a Doge who was elected by the citizen body <ref>Norwich, p 17</ref>. Venice was able to become the richest city in Europe and had the largest navy in the Mediterranean by 1200. It was very democratic for the time and its institutions and laws were by contemporary standards very equitable. Relations between Venice and Byzantium deteriorated in the 12th century. The ‘Massacre of the Latins’, when the Emperor Andronicus incited the populace of Byzantium to kill Italians in the city, embittered relations between the Italian maritime republic and the Greek Orthodox Empire <ref> Ferraro, Joanne M. Venice: History of the Floating City (Cambridge University Press; 2012), p 145</ref>. The Fourth Crusade was another expedition by Christians to reclaim the Holy City of Jerusalem that was occupied by the Muslims. Venice was contracted by the Crusaders to ferry them to the Near East. However, they could not afford to pay for their passage. The Doge at the time reached an agreement with the Crusaders to attack Byzantium to pay for their transport to the Holy Land. In 1204 the Venetians and the Crusaders attacked and seized the city and partitioned the Byzantium Empire, among themselves. This greatly increased the power of the Republic. The Venetians by 1400 had established a maritime Empire in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Adriatic. The emergence of the Ottoman Turks prevented their further expansion in the Levant. The city-state abandoned its long-established policy and began to expand on mainland Italy <ref>Herne, Judith. The History of Byzantium (London, Knopf, 1995), p 101-110</ref>. This involved it in wars against an alliance of Italian principalities and city-states. Venice was able to secure much of the rich lands of north-east Italy. However, in 1453 Byzantium fell to the Ottoman Turks and this changed the geopolitical situation in the Mediterranean. Venetians were constantly on the defensive after 1453 and they became embroiled in many brutal wars with the Ottomans. This is commonly seen as the start of the decline of the city-state. From the late fifteenth to the mid-sixteenth century the Hapsburgs and the French monarchs battled for control of the Italian peninsula. Venice allied with France and the city paid dearly for this alliance. It was attacked by an alliance of Italian cities and was considerably weakened as a result. The 16th century was the Age of Exploration and European kingdoms such as Portugal create trans-Oceanic trade routes <ref>Norwich, p 134</ref>. This meant that the trade routes that were controlled by the Italian city-state were not as lucrative. The best example of this was the spice trade, the Portuguese excluded the Venetians from this trade by the mid-sixteenth century. Then there were several disastrous outbreaks of plague that dramatically reduced the population. However, Venice remained an important power in the region and it continued to fight many wars against the Ottomans and was even central to the Christian victory at Lepanto (1571). Moreover, while the city went into economic decline it remained a wealthy state. The Venetians, natural entrepreneurs began to find other markets and the city became a major exporter of agricultural products and they also developed new industries such as the glass industry. By 1600, the city was past its zenith, but it was still wealthy and great maritime power.