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From Jacob Burckhardt's 2nd edition of the Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy; edited for this on-line publication, by ELLOPOS
Part One: The State as a Work of Art
The Republics: Venice and Florence
» Full Contents of this PartPage 2
Among the cities which maintained their independence are two of deep significance for the history of the human race: Florence, the city of incessant movement, which has left us a record of the thoughts and aspirations of each and all who, for three centuries, took part in this movement, and Venice, the city of apparent stagnation and of political secrecy. No contrast can be imagined stronger than that which is offered us by these two, and neither can be compared to anything else which the world has hitherto produced.
Venice recognized itself from the first as a strange and mysterious creation the fruit of a higher power than human ingenuity. The solemn foundation of the city was the subject of a legend: on March 25, 1413, at midday, emigrants from Padua laid the first stone at the Rialto, that they might have a sacred, inviolable asylum amid the devastations of the barbarians. Later writers attributed to the founders the presentiment of the future greatness of the city; M. Antonio Sabellico, t who has celebrated the event in the dignified flow of his hexameters, makes the priest who completes the act of consecration cry to heaven, 'When we hereafter attempt great things, S grant us prosperity! Now we kneel before a poor altar; but if [ our vows are not made in vain, a hundred temples, O God, of 6 gold a nd marble shall arise to Thee.' The island city at the end [' of the fifteenth century was the jewel-casket of the world. It ; is so described by the same Sabellico, with its ancient cupolas, [ its leaning towers, its inlaid marble facades, its compressed k splendor, where the richest decoration did not hinder the y practical employment of every corner of space. He takes us to the crowded Piazza before San Giacometto at the Rialto, where the business of the world is transacted, not amid shouting and confusion, but with the subdued bum of many voices; where in the porticoes round the square and in those of the adjoining streets sit hundreds of money changers and goldsmiths, with endless rows of shops and warehouses above their heads. He describes the great Fondaco of the Germans beyond the bridge, where their goods and their dwellings lay, and before which their ships are drawn up side by side in the canal; higher up is a whole fleet laden with wine and oil, and parallel with i t, on the shore swarming with porters, are the vaults of the merchants; then from the Rialto to the square of St. Mark come the inns and the perfumers' cabinets. So he conducts the reader from one quarter of the city to another till he comes at last to the two hospitals, which were among those institutions of public utility nowhere so numerous as at Venice. Care for the people, in peace as well as in war, was characteristic of this government, and its attention to the wounded, even to those of the enemy, excited the admiration of other States.
Cf. The Ancient Greece * The Ancient Rome
The Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium) * The Making of Europe