Woodworking Inspirations of Italy #2: How Venice Italy was Built on a Foundation of Wood

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Blog entry by Bob Simmons posted 04-22-2011 02:05 AM 6038 reads 0 times favorited 7 comments Add to Favorites Watch
« Part 1: Decorative Door Knockers of Florence, Italy Part 2 of Woodworking Inspirations of Italy series Part 3: Santa Maria del Fiore...Duomo Cathedral of Florence, Italy »

Upon visiting Venice Italy with all its canals the woodworker in me became very curious as to how the building foundations were created. I also became inquisitive about the construction techniques of this old city along the Adriatic Sea. The city of Venice is made up of 117 islands that are linked together by water canals, numerous small bridges, as well as 3 large bridges of the Grand Canal. Venice is loaded with buildings of beautiful architecture that date back to the middle of the first millenium A.D. These buildings of grandeur are still very well preserved. So, what type of foundation supports this city built upon a lagoon? The simple answer is…wood.

Traveling on the Grand Canal of Venice, Italy

Venice history dates back many years when people sought refuge. These people built upon the lagoon for safety from being attacked. In the lagoon there a collection of small island of rock and mud and it was here that these people started driving wood pilings into the mud and sand and into clay. The wood pilings became the initial foundation. However, there is another question to be answered. Where did the wood come from as Venice did not did have any forest? The wood was gathered in forest far away in the mountains of Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro.The timber was then transported by water to Venice.

Buildings in Venice, Italy along the Grand Canal

Yet, wood rots. How could the Venetians use vertical wood pilings in the salt water for a foundations system without the wood rotting? The wood is not exposed to oxygen as it is submerged in the water and mud and as a result it does not rot. In fact the wood becomes petrified due to a constant flow of mineral rich water around and through it. As a result the wood becomes a hardened stone-like structure.

A home along the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

Once the all wood pilings are driven side by side into the mud of the lagoon as the initial foundation, they are then cut level where horizontal timber are laid. A stone foundation is then placed on top of the horizontal timbers. From there the building is built using wood framing techniques or brick. Who would ever have thought that the city of Venice with all its canals and gondolas was built on a foundation of wood?

A Venice Italy canal and bridge
Waterways of Venice, Italy
Buildings of Venice, Italy built on wood foundations

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7 comments so far

View hairy's profile


2656 posts in 3499 days

#1 posted 04-22-2011 02:28 AM

That’s my favorite place. I’d like to be there right now.

-- My reality check bounced...

View Bearpie's profile


2601 posts in 2985 days

#2 posted 04-22-2011 05:09 AM

My wife and I spent 3 wonderful days and 2 nights there back in 1994! We purposely got lost just walking around and crossing and recrossing the canals and bridges wherever our interest took us for 3 hours. Finally we were tired and had to search the maps since we don’t read Italian we had to seek each word to find the match for the street we were on and trace our way back.(that took an hour and half) That was the highlight of our 17 day vacation! We wished we had allocated more time for Venice and less time for Rome!

We had our first taste of Cappuccino there and then had to have it daily. In the Airport on the way back we bought a beautiful brass and copper Cappuccino maker from the duty free shop just before boarding the plane! If anyone’s interested we paid over 500 bucks for it and it was worth every penny!

Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

-- Erwin, Jacksonville, FL

View Bob Simmons's profile

Bob Simmons

505 posts in 2981 days

#3 posted 04-22-2011 05:51 AM

hairy…You have great taste. It’s early spring there now and simply delightful.

Bearpie…You’ve got some wonderful memories that will last your lifetime. Venice is unlike any other place that I know of. One naturally wants to wander and explore this environment as it has so much history and wonderful architecture. Walking the pathways with so many bridges and canals is like walking in a maze. It’s definitely an awesome place to get lost. Like the two of you, I had my first real cappuccino in Venice as well. Every cappuccino from now on will remind me of this wonderful place.

-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

View shipwright's profile


7966 posts in 2765 days

#4 posted 06-18-2011 03:25 AM

My favorite city in Europe for sure. We’ve been there four times I think. Last time we rented a place on the Grand Canal in sight of Rialto Bridge. I think our building is in your first pic. This just brings it all back.
Amo la Venezia.

Thanks for the thread.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

View Bob Simmons's profile

Bob Simmons

505 posts in 2981 days

#5 posted 06-18-2011 06:16 PM


Venice is unique unto itself…as you well know. I would wake up very early in the mornings and walk & walk & walk with my camera. Traveling thru the alleyways was like walking in a maze. However, every turn was a new adventure. Each step taken was like walking thru history. As you know, the architecture is incredible.

Early in the morning on the canals there are boats bringing fruits, vegetables, and supplies to Venice. (Just like trucks would transport food in our cities. In Venice, everything is transported on the water. The history and the culture is a wonderful experience. I can easily understand why you have been there numerous times.

You’re welcome.

-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV,

View antmjr's profile


262 posts in 3150 days

#6 posted 06-18-2011 06:41 PM

Just out of curiosity, my parents came from there, and I, too, lived and studied there. Strangely Venezia is a sort of Morgan le Fay for me. I mean, all such beauty can kill, if you understand what I’m trying to say. Now when I have a nightmare, my nightmare is always set there, sometimes in the house of my grandparents, near the Accademia bridge. I cannot go there anymore, this is the truth: Venezia is always the same, nothing may change; I can find the same pavement stones I saw more then 40 years ago when I was a kid. Nothing may change there, nothing but the people, who may die and disappear in the nothing (well this is my belief obviously). So if I visit Venezia, I find myself looking for people who do not exist anymore, and my feeling contrasts with all such beauty, so indifferent to my sorrow. Really a damned city for me.
If you will ever visit Verona, try to go and see the Santa Maria in Organo church: its wooden choir has one of the best wooden inlay in Italy, I remember some nightingales for instance. And obviously the other wonderful wooden inlay is in the famous little study of Federico di Montefeltro in Urbino. Well, my 0,0001 cent :-).

-- Antonio

View shipwright's profile


7966 posts in 2765 days

#7 posted 06-19-2011 01:09 AM

Your familiarity with Venezia gives you such a different perspective from the Venezia that we “tourists” see. We over-romanticize I’m sure, but she has a way , does she not, of entrancing us all in our own ways.

-- Paul M ..............If God wanted us to have fiberglass boats he would have given us fibreglass trees.

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