Venice (2004): Season 1, Episode 1 - Blood - full transcript

1,550 years ago,

Attila the Hun brought terror
to the people of Northern Italy.

He burned and pillaged his way
through villages and towns.

The people were left
with only two choices -

escape... or die.

The refugees escaped to this -

a group of tiny islands
in a mosquito-infested lagoon.

Here, they created the most
beautiful city in the world - Venice.

This great city is a temple
to romance and passion and beauty...

...often borne out of violence
and disease, ambition and lust.

This place has produced
some of the most brilliant art
the world has ever seen.

But all around us,
every stone of the city, every brick,

is a brush stroke on the
greatest work of art of all - Venice.

The story Of Venice is also MY story.

My name is Francesco da Mosto -
I'm a Venetian.

My family has lived here
for more than a thousand years.

I have always lived here.

My children were born here,

and I hope my family will live
here for another thousand years.

My ancestors had been everything

from merchants
to prostitutes to explorers.

The city is in my blood.

Most great cities grew up because
they were in a good location -

Paris, Rome, London.

But here, Venice, no.

This city grew up because it
was in a very, very bad location.

It was a perfect
hiding place for the settlers
who fled here from Attila the Hun

almost 16 centuries ago.

The Venetian lagoon
is an enclosed shallow sea,

200 square miles of salt water

dotted with tiny islands.

It sits
at the top of the Adriatic Sea,

between Italy and Yugoslavia.

Even now, many of the islands
in the lagoon are strange
and desolate places,

each one little more
than a boggy marsh -

half sea, half land.

All my life, people have been
saying that Venice is sinking.

But these islands have been
sinking from the beginning of time.

They're made of sand, mud...

Not solid ground.

So the first settlers
had to invent a new way of living,
and a new way to build.

The first houses looked like this.

Built in the mud and on the water.

But before they could build anything,
they had to make a solid foundation.

So they began hammering
wooden piles into the lagoon.

we're still doing the same thing.

All of Venice is built on
a bed of huge wooden nails.

The marshland
was no good for farming,

so the early settlers
had to become fishermen.

The settlers lived
on the fish of the lagoon,
but it was also their currency.

They would trade fish

for wood, wheat and wine.

And fish is still a great
passion for us Venetians.

The first big settlement
was on the island of Torcello,

eight kilometres
to the north-east of Venice today.

Its basilica still stands.

It dates from the year 639.

Here you feel close to the
early settlers in the lagoon,

struggling to survive,

yet ambitious to create great beauty.

On the west wall
is a scene of the Last Judgment.

But this is not like
most Italian churches.

To the Western eye,
these figures are surprising.

They are Christian images,

but they are rooted in artistic
traditions from beyond Europe,

from the East before it was Islamic.

It was here in Torcello
that the lagoon dwellers
first showed their genius in art.

But their future
would not be on this island.

Their greatest creation -
Venice - lay just around the corner.

When the settlers had fled Attila
the Hun, they had occupied the
outer reaches of the lagoon.

And for more than three centuries,
they had been safe.

But now prosperity made
them an attractive target.

In the year 810, they were attacked,

this time from the open sea.

The settlers fled to
the heart of the lagoon,

to the group of small islands known
as the Rivo Alto.

But in the panic, they were about to
stumble on the secret of the lagoon,

a discovery shrouded
in the mists of time.

There is a legend in which
the attackers were directed
by an old woman to Rivo Alto

with just a simple word. She said,
"sempre dritto" - straight on.

Far from betraying the fleeing
settlers, the old woman of the legend
knew the secret of the lagoon,

the secret that would destroy
any enemy fleet.

The ships ran aground,
because beneath
the calm waters of the lagoon

lay a treacherous
underwater terrain

of shallows and mudflats
that wrecked the enemy fleet.

So, it would be here
the settlers built Venice.

The waters of the lagoon would
protect Venice from land attack,

while the shallows
would make attack by sea impossible.

The city would be
a miracle of its geography.

But its location would also make life
hard for the first Venetians.

In summer, the heat and humidity
can be almost unbearable.

In the early days, malaria
killed off many Venetians.

In winter, the city lies exposed
to the snows and biting wind

beating down from the Dolomite
mountains to the north.

Banks of fog sweep in
across the flatlands of the lagoon
and settle over Venice

like a deep impenetrable blanket
that clings to the narrow waterways.

The early Venetians
set about making their new home
into a place to live and work.

They would expand the inlets and
rivers of the Rivo Alto islands

into the greatest network of canals
ever created.

Today, distracted by
fine churches and palaces,

we forget the first great success
of this city was its canals.

They are
triumphs of early engineering.

But they have
always been a delicate balance -

harnessing the tidal waters
of the lagoon to man's needs.

Every few years, each canal has to
be blocked by a dam, then drained,

so that the wood piles in the
foundation walls can be repaired.

The spreading network of canals
shaped the city that grew up
around them.

Houses lined the canals
and bridges crossed them.

Water would define the very
layout of the city -

both the abundance of salt water
and the need for fresh water.

Here in Venice, we're all
surrounded by salt water.

It is very difficult to find
fresh water to drink.

So what did they decide to do?

They made some wells
to collect rainwater and they
stored it in underground tanks.

These four parts are to
filter the water in sand.

They went down
in an underground tank...

This is the old stone,
and then here there is the tank.

And then, all around the well, there
was the normal life, there were the
houses, they were living day by day.

Each square
had its own small community.

They were tightknit
and tightly packed.

Each bridge crossed was a
journey into a different territory.

There were feuds,
and one feud in particular between
the Nicolottis and the Castellanis.

The Nicolottis and the Castellanis
were gangs,

sworn rivals.

They hated each other.

The hatred led to fighting,
blood and death.

The fights became known as
"la guerra dei pugni".

The Castellanis were shipbuilders.

They wore red hats and scarves.

The Nicolottis
were hard-living fishermen.

They wore black.

Castellani women wore flowers on
one side of their breast, and the
Nicolotti on the other breast.

Blood feuds continued
for generations.

So Venice needed strong government
to impose law and order.

It was to evolve a system like
no other in the world,
and a ruler unlike any other -

the doge.

The doge was an elected ruler,

head of a republic, not a monarchy.

His descendants couldn't inherit,
but he did live in a palace.

The doges' Palace is one of the most
extraordinary buildings in the world.

There has been a palace on this site
from the early 9th century.

From here, for almost 1,000 years,

the doge ruled Venice.

The present building is a mix of
Gothic and classical, East and West,

the marriage of styles that would
come to define the look of Venice.

The doge could enjoy a fine palace
at a time when other rulers

hid themselves away
in heavy medieval fortifications.

Venice was beginning to exhibit
the confidence that came
with its miraculous location -

impregnable to attack,
protected by the lagoon.

At the top of the giant staircase
in the palace courtyard

are the figures of Neptune and Mars,
the gods of the sea

and war.

It seemed as though
Venice had tamed them both.

This was the ultimate seat of power.

The doge presided over
the Ruling Council here.

Laws were made here
and justice dispensed.

Even the state prison
was part of the palace.

And, at its centre,
the doge lived in splendour.

This is your Downing Street, Houses
of Parliament, Tower of London and
Buckingham Palace rolled into one.

Throughout the palace, Venice
is represented as a beautiful woman.

In painting after painting,
she appears with Christ himself.

At times, she seems to outshine
even the son of God.

The doge, too, is deified.

These images foretell what Venice
would become - proud and arrogant.

The doge
even appears with the Madonna.

But that was all far in the future.

In the early days, the doge was
far from being considered a god.

In fact, as warring families
fought for control of Venice,

the doge had trouble
even staying alive.

Doge Teodato Ipato
came to a terrible end.

He was blinded
and deposed by his successor.

Doge Domenico Monegario

was stabbed to death
in his own palace.

And 80-year-old Doge Pietro Tradonico

was sprung on by an armed gang
and left for dead.

But, over time, things improved.

This is the Great Council chamber.

Here, the doge presided over meetings
with the 2,500 representatives
of Venice.

This room was
at the heart of Venetian government.

What we see today is the replacement
to an earlier hall,
burnt down in 1577.

But it reflects
the confidence of early Venice.

At the far end,
is a huge canvas by Tintoretto.

His vision of paradise,

a bold assertion
that Venetian government could match
the divine order above.

Venice tried so hard
to banish earthly imperfections,

that the whole process of electing
a doge turned into a real nightmare.

nine members were chosen by lottery.

And these nine had to choose
40 members of the Great Council.

And each of these 40 members
had to be approved
by at least seven of the nine.

From these 40, they drew lots
and they become 25.

And these 25
have to choose another 12.

The 12 decided,
they choose another 45.

And from the 45,
they arrive to be 12. Sorry, 11.


These 11
were going to choose 41 voters,

and it is this 41
that are going to make
the election of the doge.

It was that easy.

Even us Venetians don't
really understand it.

But we do understand that it worked.
I think so.

So, for the times, Venice made
immense efforts to avoid
the corruption of other states,

to stop power falling
into the hands of one dynasty.

Even ordinary people could have
some influence on government.

All over the palace
are these letter boxes.

Into the mouth, people could post
private accusations

of crimes
committed at any level of society.

It worked - Venetians were amongst
the most law-abiding of Europeans.

Even the doge was checked
for bribery and corruption.

Every indulgence
was granted to the doge,

except he was not allowed
to speak to foreigners
without supervision...

except every letter he wrote,
even to his wife, had to
pass before a censor.

He could receive gifts,
but only flowers, rose water,
sweet herbs and balsam.

So he had everything...
except his freedom.

In this room, are pictures of
every doge who ruled Venice.

Only one is missing -

hidden by a black cloth
is the face of Doge Marin Falier,

the doge who tried to make himself
king, to overthrow the republic.

The plot was foiled and he was
beheaded on the steps to the palace.

The office of the doge brought to
Venice all the majesty of a monarchy

without its dynastic limitations.

In a world of magnificent
court ritual, Venice was unrivalled.

But the city lacked
a spiritual figurehead,

something all powerful cities
of the age possessed,

the relics
of a great saint to call its own.

Rome had the body of St Peter, an
apostle, and a direct link to Christ.

All Venice had was St Theodore -
truly a second-division saint.

But the Venetians believed they
had a claim on someone greater.

Local legend claimed that the
apostle St Mark, blown off-course
into the Venetian lagoon,

had seen an angel who told him one
day he would be laid to rest there.

Inspired by the legend,

two Venetian
merchants slipped unnoticed into the
crypt of a church in Alexandria

on the north coast of Africa.

They were there to steal
one of the most sacred
relics of the Christian world -

the remains of St Mark the Apostle.

In the medieval world,
the relics of saints

who were close to Christ brought in
huge amounts of money from pilgrims.

They conferred sacred status
on a city and inspired armies
to feats of military glory.

News of the theft spread quickly.

All the ships in the harbour
were searched.

But the merchants concealed the body
of the saint in a basket,
under pieces of pork,

and the Muslim soldiers fled.

The audacious plan had succeeded,
and St Mark came back to Venice.

The city had a saint
to rival even Rome,

and soon the ancient symbol of St
Mark became the emblem of Venice -

the winged lion.

When the Venetians built a church
to house the body of their new saint,

it would become one of the most
recognisable buildings
in the world -

the Basilica of St Mark.

On the front of the building,
a mosaic depicts the body
arriving from Alexandria.

St Mark's is the most extravagant
and richly decorated church
in the whole of Europe.

Built as the doges' private chapel,
it took 30 years to complete -

a miracle of engineering
for the end of the 11th century,

though it has been sinking
into the marshy ground ever since.

Like the Basilica of Torcello,
the inspiration is from the East.

The church is in the form of a Greek
cross, supporting five great domes.

The interior is dominated by Christ
and his disciples.

In all, there are
4,000 square metres of mosaic,

crafted by Venetian
artists over several centuries.

Above the altar is the Pala d'Oro,

the great altar screen created by
Venetian and Byzantine goldsmiths.

Beneath the altar
lies the tomb of St Mark,

the sacred heart of the city.

But this place is more than
an expression of religious devotion.

For it was here that the authority
of the doge received divine sanction.

In the nave sit two great pulpits.

One pulpit was reserved
for religious addresses,

the other was for the doge.

This is where he would address
the people of Venice,

where he stood to proclaim
Venice would submit to no-one -

emperor, king or pope.

The exterior is an extraordinary
confection -

Venetian ornament mixes
with precious objects from overseas.

In 1075, the doge
had proclaimed it was the duty
of every travelling Venetian

to bring treasures
back to adorn the facade.

But it is the domes of St Mark's that
give it such a memorable skyline.

Those famous Eastern-looking
onion domes were put on later.

They are made of
wood and covered by lead.

The real stone domes,
much flatter and less eye-catching,

are hidden underneath.

St Mark's set the mood for Venice to
be the most sensational stage-set
the world had ever seen.

Its religious and political
centrepieces proclaimed the city's
independence and growing confidence.

Its people had transformed
from fishermen into merchants.

Now merchants
would become princes of trade,

their early wooden houses
replaced by brick-and-stone palaces.

Modern Venice
was beginning to take shape.

It was around this time that my
family became successful merchants

and decided to build a grand house.

It is the oldest palazzo
to survive on the Grand Canal.

Now it is rotting, and one of
the saddest sights of the city.

It breaks my heart.

This palace is called Ca'da Mosto.

It was built by my family
in the 13th century,

and my ancestors lived here
nearly 400 years, until 1603,

when it was bequeathed
to another family.

I've driven past it
a thousand times...

but I've never been inside.

If I have to be sincere, I'm a
little shy to come inside this place.

Because I have always seen
this house from outside,

the mask
that normally the public sees.

It's difficult to enter a world
where you have never been before.

A place you know
all the people of your family
lived over many centuries.

It's quite a strange sensation.

Something that gives you a feeling of
all the history on your shoulders.

You think of who you are
in this moment of your life.

My family
didn't just live in this house -

they did business here.

They used their house
as a warehouse - a showroom.

And a place to make
money, and a landing stage.

Because the most profitable goods
were from overseas,

a successful
merchant had to be a sailor, too.

When this house was first built

it would have been
a more modest building,

just two storeys high,

but it stood
at the very hub of the city.

It was here
that merchants built their boats,

ready to travel ever-greater
distances across the seas.

These merchant sailors
had to be ready to defend themselves.

Their boats, loaded with valuable
goods from around the Mediterranean,

had to fight off pirates
and foreign rivals.

The Venetian merchant traders
became feared as the ablest
military seamen of the age.

Trade - something of a
dirty word in the rest of Europe -

was a noble occupation in Venice.

And one merchant would become
more famous than any other.

His name was Enrico Dandolo.

And his story would become
linked with the fate of the city.

It began with a gross act of violence
against the people of Venice -

violence that would come
from an unexpected source.

By the 12th century,
the Venetians had trading posts
all over the Mediterranean.

Most profitable of all were the
trading links with Byzantium,

and in particular
its capital city of Constantinople.

Byzantium had influenced
events in Venice for centuries.

But now, power had shifted,
and Venice
was gaining the upper hand.

This was the old Venetian
Quarter in Constantinople.

10,000 Venetians
lived and worked here.

First, they were
invited here to trade,

but slowly they were taking over
and getting rich.

The Byzantines were not happy.

The Byzantine Emperor had given them
permission to live in a confined area

of warehouses and wharves
by the sea wall.

But more and more, Venetian merchants
spread throughout the city.

This all became too much for
the Byzantine authorities.

The Venetians
were buying up their houses
and marrying their women.

And on one quiet night in March 1171,

something happened that would change
the course of Venetian history.

As the Venetian trading families
sat down to eat,

they all received
an unexpected house call.

In just a few days, thousands
of Venetians were arrested...

...stripped of their possessions,
and thrown into prison.

The Venetians had been caged
by their trading partner.

they could do nothing but wait.

For centuries, Venice
and Constantinople had been allies,

but now
they had become the worst of enemies.

News of the arrests
travelled fast to Venice.

You can imagine how the people
felt here,

when they heard that thousands
of their fellow citizens
had been jailed in Constantinople.

Brothers, fathers, sons,
even mothers and daughters,
had all been thrown into prison.

It was the greatest threat to Venice
since the city had risen from
the swamps of the lagoon.

The Venetians decided to negotiate
the release of the prisoners.

There was only one man for the job,
Enrico Dandolo, the greatest
merchant seaman of the age.

But it was a trap.

He was taken prisoner
and probably tortured.

Either that, or he was beaten up
on the streets of Constantinople.

All we know is when he got
back to Venice, he was blind.

We will never know the truth
of how Enrico Dandolo lost his sight.

But one fact we can be sure of -
even blinded, stuck in his palace
on the Rialto,

he never abandoned
the cause of the republic.

Venice had been brought to her knees.

Byzantium had stamped
on the city's growing economy

and wiped out her
great trading links with the East.

But the Venetians
were not about to give in.

Let me tell you something
about us Venetians.

We really stick together.

Living in this little island in the
lagoon, we have to help each other.

Every building is an achievement.

The Venetian character
is in the bridges

and in the stones around me here.

How did Venice show her
defiance to Constantinople?

Let me show you.

We built this - St Mark's Square,

perhaps the world's most
beautiful urban space.

The surrounding buildings are later,
but the piazza itself,

its proportions and shape,
was created in the 12th century -

planned, cleared of other buildings
and paved over

at the very moment
Venice faced financial ruin.

To build this square,

Venetians reached into
their own pockets.

The money came from everyone,

from the doge
to the ordinary merchant.

For more than 800 years,
this square has been a showpiece
of Venetian civic pride.

Swept daily at dawn
to be immaculate,

we care passionately
about this open space.

St Mark's Square was
to be the first example

of Venice's powers
of defiance and recovery -

symbolised in great architecture.

And Venice had created a great
stage-set for its ceremonial life,

an arena for pageantry
and celebration of the republic.

The earliest image of the square,
from 1496, shows the
Feast Day of St Mark,

and it captures the spirit of
ritual that grew up around the piazza
almost as soon as it was built.

More than anything, the creation
of this square showed one thing -

Venice would not be defeated.

And once the square was complete,
to further strengthen their resolve,

Venice elected a new doge.

Venetians greeted him with

even though he was an old man
and it was over 20 years
since he had been in the public eye -

Enrico Dandolo.

When Dandolo signed his
oath of office on 1st January, 1193,

it brought to the office of doge
the greatest patriot
Venice had ever known.

In his oath, he swore to advance
the cause of the Venetian Republic.

But Dandolo would go further.

At last, the Venetians had found a
doge whose ambition for the city
would stop at nothing.

In Enrico Dandolo, they had a master
tactician, a brilliant strategist
and a consummate politician.

For me to explain in English
is very hard.

And he was always on the look-out
to strengthen the Venetian Republic
and its trading prospects.

For a hundred years,
Christian Europe had waged a war
against the Islamic world

for possession of the
Holy Land. In particular, Jerusalem.

In the West, these campaigns
became known as the Crusades.

But the Fourth Crusade of 1201 was
short of ships, manpower and money.

In April that year, the crusaders
sailed into the Venetian lagoon

to ask Enrico Dandolo
for Venetian backing.

had avoided serious involvement
in all the previous Crusades,

but now Dandolo seemed interested.

All of Christendom waited
for his response.

Let's think about it.

What did Venice have to gain
from a Crusade to Jerusalem?

Would it make the Pope happy? Good.

Everybody will like us? Fine.

But how important is that?

But Dandolo agreed to help.

Venice would build and pay for more
ships and more men to sail in them.

In exchange, he demanded a high
price - 50% of the conquered land.

It was a hard bargain.

Suddenly, it was Dandolo's Crusade.

This was outrageous - he was
hijacking the Crusade - but Dandolo
wasn't interested in Jerusalem.

He had another aim in mind.

Dandolo's galleon led the fleet
of 480 ships out of the lagoon

on the morning
of the 8th November, 1202.

At first, everything went according
to the agreed plan,

but then Dandolo changed course.

No longer was Muslim-held
Jerusalem their destination.

They would sail instead
for Christian Constantinople.

The fleet dropped anchor
with Constantinople in their sights.

Now, Dandolo would put the final
touches to his plans for revenge

on the city that 30 years before
had imprisoned him

and so brutally
decimated the population of Venetian
traders living within its walls.

The walls of Constantinople

surrounded the city on the land side

and all along the coast.

Over the centuries, they had
repelled attacks
from the ferocious Bulgars,

the bloodthirsty Saracens and even
the vast army of the Russians.

The walls were the most impressive
man-made defences

of any city in the world.

The Venetians would launch their
attack from the sea

AND from the land.

At the base of the walls,

the crusaders fought with Byzantine

...and attempted to break the defences
with battering rams.

This was brutal.




But it was clear
there was only one answer.

They had to go
over the top of the walls.

The attackers
threw up scaling ladders,

but they were easy prey
for the Byzantine forces.

And now a storm was blowing up.

The Venetian ships were being
smashed against each other.

The battle was turning against them.

It was then that one act of
mad desperation turned the day.

A man left to plant the Venetian
flag on the shore.

It was the doge, Enrico Dandolo.

This roused the Venetians
for one last great attack.

They tied their ships in pairs
and built towers on the decks.

From the towers,
they lashed wooden planks together
as bridges onto the ramparts.

The attackers had made it
over the walls and into the city.

Once inside the city walls,
the Venetians spared no-one.

They murdered old and young.

They raped women,

girls, nuns.

Desecrated churches.

They torched the city.

This was a shameful
victory for the Venetians.

And in the great church
of Hagia Sophia, now a mosque,

lies the tomb of the man
who engineered it all.

He changed the entire
course of Venetian history

and the history of the world.

But now almost no-one visits
his tomb.

Doge Enrico Dandolo

never made it back to Venice.

But what he sent home would enrich
my city

and would change Europe
for centuries to come.

The crusaders had destroyed so many
treasures of the ancient world,

and what the Venetians saved,

they saved only for their own profit.

The value of goods and money
shipped back to Venice
is impossible to calculate -

gold, silver,
and jewels in immense quantities.

The Basilica of St Mark's became the
greatest robbers' den in the world,

an Aladdin's cave of stolen booty
and plundered treasure.

The opulent altar screen, the Pala
d'Oro, was re-embellished with
jewels stolen from Constantinople.

On the outside, the Venetians proudly
displayed more stolen treasure.

Great columns in finest marble.

These 4th-century Roman emperors
are carved out of porphyry

and originally came from Egypt.

But the crowning glory from
Constantinople was the four great
bronze horses.

Their origins
are lost in the mist of time...

...but legend has it, once they
stood in ancient Greece,

testimony to the artistic
genius of the classical world.

The statues
were more artistically brilliant

than anything Venice
had ever dreamed of -

a shining example that Venetian
artists would now seek to emulate.

They were symbols
of a new era for Venice.

Venice stood
on the brink of its golden age,

richer and
more powerful than ever before.

It would become home

to some of the most brilliant
artists and architects

the world had ever seen.