The Diary of Young Explorers: Venice


The Diary of Young Explorers is a collection of travel accounts from Ankur, Giulio, and Caspar, who are documenting their experiences while journeying from Venice, Italy to Xi'an, China. You can read the introduction to their adventure here: The Diary of Young Explorers: Retracing the Ancient Silk Roads.

© UNESCO/ Silk Dresses, Fortuny Museum

To us, Venice seemed like an appropriate starting point to begin a journey along the Silk Roads. Venice was established, in large part out of trade and conflict with the East, and became immortal thanks to its merchants, who headed East, notably to Constantinople, Cairo, and Kashgar. The strategic position, provided by the lagoon on which the city was built, allowed Venice to rise as a maritime power in the Mediterranean. The relevance of trade with the East in the city’s past is still visible today in its iconic patchwork of architecture. As we walked around the city we soon noticed the inflected arches of most windows facades, framed around a design which merges an Islamic influence with a Gothic style. Similarly, within the famous basilica of St. Mark, the influence of the Byzantine Empire can be seen in the mosaic designs visible across the floors, walls and ceilings.

On our first day we visited Marco Polo’s house to pay homage to the merchant who gained a place in history thanks to his travel accounts, which documented his journey to China. While not much is left of the original house—a marble plaque marks the location—we left feeling inspired to commence our own journey to China. On that same day, we also visited the Fortuny Museum to see how silk was put into use once imported from China. This renowned palace, formerly owned by the artist Mariano Fortuny, is a treasure trove of textiles, paintings and photographs revealing a portrait of Venice’s past life. The museum contains a wide-range of silk dresses made by Fortuny himself, who was fond of exotic textiles and patterns.

In our conversations with locals, we learned that while the city’s population has been shrinking and its main source of income is tourism, Venetians take great pride in the city’s historic role as a port. Today, following the establishment of the North Adriatic Ports Association in 2010, Venice, along with the ports of Ravenna, Rijeka, Luka Koper and Trieste, aims to re-establish its reputation as a port by building an offshore multi-port gateway capable of receiving cargo ships from around the Silk Roads network and providing efficient and rapid access to the heart of the European common market. This project may provide renewed opportunity for the city to reap the benefits of its advantageous geographical position as in the days of the ancient Silk Roads.

© UNESCO / The Roman Forum of Aquileia

On our way out of Venice we decided to visit Acquileia, a UNESCO World Heritage site. This ancient port was one of the Roman Empire most important cities. Unfortunately its prominence ended rapidly during the fifth century as the Visigoths and Huns descended from the steppes of Eastern Europe and Central Asia into Europe. The city was repeatedly destroyed by these invasions, with many of its residents migrating to neighbouring lagoons, which were more isolated from the instability of the mainland. On these same lagoons, Acquileia’s former residents would eventually build Venice, a city born out of pressures from the East, which became a global centre thanks to its trade with the East.




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