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Venice (Italian: Venezia, Venetian: Venezsia, Latin: Venetiae) is a city in northern Italy, the capital of region Veneto, and has a population of 271,251 (census estimate January 1, 2004). Together with Padua, the city is included in the Padua-Venice Metropolitan Area (population 1,600,000). Venice has been known as the "Queen of the Adriatic", "City of Water", "City of Bridges", and "The City of Light".

The city stretches across 117 small islands in the marshy Venetian Lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in northeast Italy. The saltwater lagoon stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of the Po (south) and the Piave (north) Rivers. The population estimate of 272,000 inhabitants includes the population of the whole Comune of Venezia; around 62,000 in the historic city of Venice (Centro storico); 176,000 in Terraferma (the Mainland), mostly in the large frazione of Mestre and Marghera; and 31,000 live on other islands in the lagoon.

The Venetian Republic was a major maritime power and a staging area for the Fourth Crusade, as well as a very important center of commerce (especially silk, grain and spice trade) and art in the Renaissance and up to the end of the 17th century.

Origins and history
While there are no historical records that deal directly with the origins of Venice, the available evidence has led several historians to agree that the original population of Venice comprised refugees from Roman cities such as Padua, Aquileia, Altino and Concordia (modern Portogruaro) who were fleeing successive waves of Germanic invasions.

Situated on the Adriatic Sea, Venice traded with the Byzantine Empire and the Muslim world extensively. During the late thirteenth century, Venice was the most prosperous city in all of Europe. At the peak of its power and wealth, it had 36,000 sailors operating 3,300 ships, dominating Mediterranean commerce. During this time, Venice's leading families vied with each other to build the grandest palaces and support the work of the greatest and most talented artists. The city was governed by the Great Council, which was made up of members of the most influential families in Venice. The Great Council appointed all public officials and elected a Senate of 200 to 300 individuals. The Senate then chose the Council of Ten, a secretive group which held the utmost power in the administration of the city. One member of the great council was elected "doge", or duke, the ceremonial head of the city, who held the title until his death.

The Venetian governmental structure was similar in some ways to the republican system of ancient Rome, with an elected executive power (the Doge), a senate-like assembly of nobles, and a mass of citizens with limited political power, who originally had the power to grant or withhold their approval of each newly elected Doge. Church and various private properties were tied to military service, though there was no knight tenure within the city itself. The Cavalieri di San Marco was the only order of chivalry ever instituted in Venice, and no citizen could accept or join a foreign order without the government’s consent. Venice remained a republic throughout its independent period and politics and the military were kept completely separate, except when on occasion the Doge personally led the military. War was regarded as a continuation of commerce by other means (hence, the city's early production of large numbers of mercenaries for service elsewhere, and later its reliance on foreign mercenaries when the ruling class was preoccupied with commerce).

Military and naval affairs
By 1303, crossbow practice had become compulsory in the city, with citizens training in groups. As weapons became more expensive and complex to operate, professional soldiers were assigned to help work merchant sailing ships and as rowers in galleys. The company of "Noble Bowmen" was recruited in the later 14th century from among the younger aristocracy and served aboard both war-galleys and as armed merchantmen, with the privilege of sharing the captain's cabin.

Though Venice was famous for its navy, its army was equally effective. In the 13th century, most Italian city states already were hiring mercenaries, but Venetian troops were still recruited from the lagoon, plus feudal levies from Dalmatia and Istria. In times of emergency, all males between seventeen and sixty years were registered and their weapons were surveyed, with those called to actually fight being organized into companies of twelve. The register of 1338 estimated that 30,000 Venetian men were capable of bearing arms; many of these were skilled crossbowmen. As in other Italian cities, aristocrats and other wealthy men were cavalrymen while the city's conscripts fought as infantry.

By 1450, more than 3,000 Venetian merchant ships were in operation, and most of these could be converted when necessary into either warships or transports. The government required each merchant ship to carry a specified number of weapons (mostly crossbows and javelins) and armor; merchant passengers were also expected to be armed and to fight when necessary. A reserve of some 25 (later 100) war-galleys was maintained in the Arsenal. Galley slaves did not exist in medieval Venice, the oarsmen coming from the city itself or from its possessions, especially Dalmatia. Those from the city were chosen by lot from each parish, their families being supported by the remainder of the parish while the rowers were away. Debtors generally worked off their obligations rowing the galleys. Rowing skills were encouraged through races and regattas.

Early in the 15th century, as new mainland territories were expanded, the first standing army was organized, consisting of condottieri on contract. In its alliance with Florence in 1426, Venice agreed to supply 8,000 cavalry and 3,000 infantry in time of war, and 3,000 and 1,000 in peacetime. Later in that century, uniforms were adopted that featured red-and-white stripes, and a system of honors and pensions developed. Throughout the 15th century, Venetian land forces were almost always on the offensive and were regarded as the most effective in Italy, largely because of the tradition of all classes carrying arms in defense of the city and official encouragement of general military training.

The command structure in the army was different from that in the fleet. By ancient law, no nobleman could command more than twenty-five men (to prevent against sedition by private armies), and while the position of Captain General was introduced in the mid-14th century, he still had to answer to a civilian panel of twenty "wise men". Not only was efficiency not degraded, this policy saved Venice from the military takeovers that other Italian city states so often experienced. A civilian commissioner (not unlike a commissar) accompanied each army to keep an eye on things, especially the mercenaries. The Venetian military tradition also was notably cautious; they were more interested in achieving success with a minimum expense of lives and money than in the pursuit of glory.

Modern Venice
After 1070 years, the Republic lost its independence when Napoleon Bonaparte on May 12, 1797, conquered Venice during the First Coalition. The French conqueror brought to an end the most fascinating century of its history: It was during the Settecento (1700s) that Venice became perhaps the most elegant and refined city in Europe, greatly influencing art, architecture, and literature. Napoleon was seen as something of a liberator by the city's Jewish population, although it can be argued they had lived with fewer restrictions in Venice. He removed the gates of the Ghetto and ended the restrictions on when and where Jews could live and travel in the city.

Venice became Austrian territory when Napoleon signed the Treaty of Campo Formio on October 12, 1797. The Austrians took control of the city on January 18, 1798. It was taken from Austria by the Treaty of Pressburg in 1805 and became part of Napoleon's Kingdom of Italy, but was returned to Austria following Napoleon's defeat in 1814, when it became part of the Austrian-held Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia. In 1848-1849 a revolt briefly reestablished the Venetian Republic under Daniel Manin. In 1866, following the Seven Weeks War, Venice, along with the rest of Venetia, became part of Italy.

After 1797, the city fell into a serious decline, with many of the old palaces and other buildings abandoned and falling into disrepair, although the Lido became a popular beach resort in the late 19th century.