The Venetian canals and their gondolas provide one of the world's most romantic experiences. The black gondolas and their gondoliers are the real figurehead of the city.
If somewhere in the world it is spoken about Venice, one does not hear first famous words as the Piazza San Marco or the Basilica. People rather associate Venice with the gondolas and the small waterways. The 150 canals of Venice are its streets - roads for land passenger vehicles are nonexistent. Everyone must travel by foot or boat, tourists and locals alike. They date back to the 5th century when regional inhabitants built nascent Venice in a swampy, sparsely settled lagoon in order to escape the swords of the invading Barbarians.
The banks of the Grand Canal are lined with more than 170 buildings, most of which date to 13th to the 18th century and demonstrate the welfare and art created by the Republic of Venice. The noble venetian families faced huge expenses to show off their richness in suitable palazzos: this contest reveals the citizens’ pride and the deep bond with the lagoon. Amongst the many are the Palazzi Barbaro, Ca' Rezzonico, Ca' d'Oro, Palazzo Dario, Ca' Foscari, Palazzo Barbarigo and to Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, housing the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The churches along the canal include the basilica of Santa Maria della Salute. Centuries-old traditions such as the Historical Regatta are perpetuated every year along the Canal.
Because most of the city's traffic goes along the Canal rather than across it, only one bridge crossed the canal until the 19th century, the Rialto Bridge. There are currently two more bridges, the Ponte degli Scalzi and the Ponte dell'Accademia. As was usual in the past, people can still take a ferry ride across the canal at several points by standing up on the deck of a simple gondola called traghetto.
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