Documentary series. Using the latest 3D scanning technology, Alexander Armstrong and Dr Michael Scott explore the watery wonderland of Venice.
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Italy. I just love this country.
The people, the places, a history that reaches back over 2,500 years.
From the birth of the Roman Empire,
through the glories of the Middle Ages,
to the flowering of the Renaissance,
its achievements are just breathtaking.
But behind its glorious facades,
so much of that invention and creativity still remains invisible.
Look at that.
I'm exploring three of my favourite Italian cities to discover how their
hidden treasures played their part in the making of Italy,
and of Western civilisation.
I'll be working with historian Dr Michael Scott
to uncover the invisible layers of Italy's past in Venice,
in Florence and in Naples.
You've got Nero murdering his mum...
Using the latest 3D scanning technology,
we'll reveal the secrets of how these cities made Italy
a powerhouse of the Western world.
This time, I'm exploring the hidden secrets of one of the world's most
remarkable cities - Venice.
Our scans will strip back the layers of history to reveal how Venice's
beauty once masked a ruthless secret state
and a world of excess and vice.
The city was devoted to erotic pleasure.
Wahey, whoa, wahey, there we go!
We'll see how the Venetians battled the plague...
Welcome to the island of the Black Death.
Right, we're off, OK, back, back, back.
..how they build their city around money-making...
We were the biggest traders and marketers in the world.
..to create one of Europe's mightiest empires.
The smell of power is reeking in the air.
And for the first time, we'll use virtual reality.
And see how the Venetians turned a muddy swamp...
I'm sinking, you can see that.
..into this watery wonderland.
The second leg of our journey through invisible Italy begins at
the airport taxi rank.
-Benvenuto a Venezia!
-How are you doing? You all right?
-Look at this beautiful boat.
-Welcome, shall we take that?
'My expert guide, Dr Michael Scott, is travelling in style.'
-How do you do?
-Come on in, welcome aboard.
It's a hell of a way to arrive, isn't it?
This is the way to arrive in Venice.
There it is, there it is, the most famous cityscape in the world.
Certainly one of the most unique places in the world.
Absolutely. I mean, unless we've got some sort of sub-aqua kit,
what are we going to be looking at here?
Well, we're certainly going to be going underwater,
but we're going to be also, crucially...
I'm just going to stop you right there. We're going underwater,
-Oh, we're going underwater, yeah.
-You know. But we're going
to be exploring what it is that makes Venice possible.
Venice is built in 210 square miles of shallow lagoon.
Most of its 118 islands are just inches above sea level.
To get us started,
Michael's going to show me what this corner of north-east Italy looked
like when the first Venetians came here.
We're just two miles from the centre of the city.
You have your feet on the origins of Venice.
This is Venice, this mud,
this is what Venice really stands on.
Crab, big crab.
-We're in a lagoon.
-Protected by a big sand bar and to sea.
But 80% of it is this stuff - the salt marshes that are either just
-I'm sinking, you can see that.
I am sinking. And I weigh marginally less than a city.
The first Venetians were Romans, who started building here in the fifth
century AD, when the empire was in a state of collapse.
This strikes me
as a crazy place to build anything, let alone a city.
-You have to be pretty desperate...
..to want to make it here. That is due to huge invasions that
are coming in from people like the Visigoths,
people like Attila the Hun,
are coming in and sweeping through the northern Mediterranean.
And so, in northern Italy, people are looking for somewhere safe.
This muddy marshland inspired the Venetians to develop new engineering
skills. They created one of the finest cities on earth,
that would inspire poets from Byron to Shakespeare.
I don't think you arrive anywhere else in the world with this much
drama all around you. Byron called Venice the paragon of landfalls,
and he's absolutely right.
There's so much drama, histrionic level of drama,
as if a, sort of, mad genius has come up with the idea.
'By the ninth century,
'while Alfred the Great was fighting off the Vikings in England,
'Venice was emerging as a new power in the Mediterranean.'
The communities living in the lagoon had joined together to form the Most
Serene Republic of Venice - La Serenissima.
CHURCH BELLS CHIME
Michael has me up at dawn to avoid the crowds.
We are off to the most famous place in Venice, the Piazza San Marco.
What you see before you is only possible because of a whole set of
invisible magic tricks.
And we're going to have to employ some of our own magic tricks
to make sense of this place. We're going to have to use our scanning
team to the utmost to be able to produce some really good scans
linking together the places that we're going to be looking at
in some detail.
'Scanning this aquatic city is going to be one of our team's most
'difficult jobs yet, but it means they get to play
'with a whole bunch of new kit.'
We've definitely got quite an ambitious amount of scanning that is
happening here in Venice. We've got our mobile mapping team, who are
hoping to capture the whole of the Grand Canal.
We've got our underwater team,
and then we've got the terrestrial scanning
that we're doing for some of the squares and churches that pepper
their way across Venice.
So, all of these should hopefully kind of come together as, you know,
a monumental map of Venice.
Michael's taking me up to see his favourite view of the
Basilica di San Marco...
Ah, here we are.
..the cathedral at the heart of Venice.
I'm tempted to say, "It's a mess!"
I mean, it's beautiful, of course it's beautiful, very striking.
But, if somebody built something like that today,
they wouldn't really get away with it.
They've certainly gone to, sort of, maximise every square inch.
The Venetians first built a basilica here in the year 829,
to house the bones of the gospel writer Mark.
Two Venetian merchants stole his body from Alexandria
and brought him home to be their patron saint.
And poor old Saint Mark wasn't the only thing the Venetians pinched.
The ninth century is when Venice is really starting to come together as
a city. And it's getting, sort of, a sense of itself
and it wants all the trappings.
And then in the 11th century, this magnum opus is consecrated.
But then, they add to it over the years.
-So, when Venice is, kind of, really in full flood of...
frankly, grabbing staff, they come and slap it on St Mark's.
The horses that dominate the centrepiece,
they're nabbed from Constantinople.
All these columns that you see along the front,
they're all kind of Oriental columns from the east that they brought back
from different parts of the world.
Every bit of this building screams the fact that Venice went elsewhere,
grabbed stuff and brought it back to Venice.
And displays it proudly, this is looting as proof of dominion.
There's stolen booty all around Venice,
from its conquests in Greece, Croatia and Cyprus.
Even the symbol of St Mark, the bronze Lion of Venice,
was originally an ancient winged god taken from eastern Turkey.
'Everywhere you look in this city reminds you just how powerful
'and wealthy Venice became in her heyday.'
Our first scans capture the smallest details of the loot on St Mark's,
and build out from there to the grandeur of the Piazza and beyond.
The scanners are going to create a giant 3D model
of the heart of Venice.
They'll build it onto the existing digital map.
When complete, this will be an accurate snapshot of this slowly
An invaluable tool for archaeologists,
engineers and conservators.
And it'll help us reveal the invisible secrets of Venice.
While the scanners get on with their epic assignment,
I'm off to meet Michael.
He's going to show me how the Venetians managed to build their
city in this muddy marsh.
He is with a team of underwater archaeologists
and restorers repairing a section of canal wall.
Sadly, I'm not qualified to dive,
so the intrepid professor will be slipping into neoprene
for both of us.
-Ah, good morning.
-Good morning. Shall I hop on?
Come on board, come on board, welcome.
What are you doing down here? OK.
So, the newest member of our presenting team is here.
What is this, Blue Peter? So, you'll be going down to the bottom of the
canal, basically, just to look at the bed, see what's there.
And you're examining foundations, are you?
We're going to be looking at some foundations.
What's all this, "we"? You keep saying "we".
Well, "we", because of the wonders of modern technology.
-You, too, are going to be able to share in what I see down there.
I'm so pleased to hear that, the "we" has been worrying me.
-Not in the water...
-Well, the "wee" could still be worrying you.
We are going to take some precautions.
So, we are going to be spraying medicated olive oil.
Oh, the last defence against the superbug, good.
I have to admit to having been in Venetian canals once or twice
before, sort of, in my youth.
Byron used to swim the Grand Canal every morning before breakfast.
-And look what happened to him.
-Yes, died aged 36 of a fever.
So, yeah, there we are.
Listen, good luck. I shall be right here, I shall be gunning for you.
Well, I can tell you, I've never been more grateful that I've not
done a scuba diving course,
which means I'm exempt from going down into the canal.
I am looking forward to this, though.
I'm intrigued to see what Michael's going to find down there.
Michael, just checking you can hear me.
-'I can hear you.
'I have to say, Xander, visibility is not currently fantastic.
'You, literally, cannot see a thing.
'It's incredibly disorientating.'
The team has timed Michael's dive at the turning of the tide.
As the water starts to rush out of the lagoon,
it takes some of the silt with it.
'We're starting to get a little bit of clarity now down here,
'which is really exciting.
So, I'm pressed up just against the canal wall,
'the deep stone foundations under the building.'
As the water clears,
it reveals the invisible foundations of the Venetians' amphibious city.
'What we're looking at here is there's some exposed tops
'of tree trunks.
'These ones here are in fantastic condition.
'It's hard to believe this is wood that is hundreds of years old.'
I can see them, I can see them.
A bit of sediment now, but I got a clear glimpse
just about five seconds ago.
'The early Venetians took massive wooden trunks between one and a
'half, two to three metres long,
'and they pounded them into the mud along the boundaries of the area
'they wanted to build on.
'Now that secured the mud and gave
'them the beginnings of a strong foundation.
'But, obviously, normally, wood would not survive and yet,
'thanks to the anaerobic conditions deep in the mud, where there
'is no oxygen - these tree trunks don't rot.'
There's just tree trunks holding all this up.
The exterior walls of Venice's palazzos
are supported by thousands of tightly packed wooden piles thrust
into the mud of the lagoon to shore up the city's precious land.
It's an ingenious piece of engineering that's kept the city
afloat for hundreds of years.
But Venice is under attack by rising sea levels.
And the 30,000 boats rushing around Venice every day
are making the problem worse.
The wash and the underwater waves from their propellers are destroying
the canal walls and exposing the ancient tree trunks.
They very quickly start to rot, putting Venice in greater danger.
I'm leaving Michael to peel off the neoprene to go and meet other
inhabitants of the lagoon, and a genuine Venetian contessa.
Happily, Enrica Rocca is also one of Italy's favourite chefs.
Bite into the head and eat the tail.
'We meet in an area known as Rialto, in one of Venice's oldest markets.'
We're going to buy a couple a few ingredients and then we'll go to my
-house and we'll cook a few things.
you're going to have not only a food lesson, but you're also going to see
how food relates to history, to the history of the Serenissima.
Fantastic, to justify it, there we are.
Brilliant, history through food.
Can we do history through booze as well, I wonder?
-Yes, of course.
-Come on, we're going to have lots of booze.
Allora, Damiano. Mi da piacere mezzo chilo di vongole.
-So, we're going to get some vongole,
We're going to make you a nice pasta with clams.
With the vongole of the lagoon.
-And the vongole come from the lagoon?
From the lagoon. The lagoon was the first source of food
-You lead on.
Here we go, welcome to my home.
I feel like I've broken something!
This is my piece of craziness.
-May I introduce you to Morella?
-Nice to meet you.
-So, here we have sardines.
We're going to make it taste a little bit of the sea.
And you just put some egg, breadcrumbs, deep fry it.
-This is local, this is straight out of the Adriatic.
-Straight out of the frying pan, more importantly.
-Don't worry, there's more coming.
-Yum, yum, yum!
'By the 13th century,
'Venetian merchants were exploring far beyond the lagoon.
'They returned with fabulous tales
'and even more fabulous things to eat.'
The most famous was Marco Polo, who explored as far as China.
Go, on the table, very strong, go.
-More, stronger, stronger!
That's it. Now you've opened it.
So, we started off with our lovely sardines,
which are very much locally sourced.
We have now moved into things that have been inspired by stuff from far
afield. Spaghetti, which we think of as just, couldn't be more Italian,
doesn't really originate from Italy.
Pasta comes from Marco Polo, from the east, from China.
Risotto, which we think of as quintessentially Italian also...
-..doesn't originate in Italy.
What's happening here?
Basically, we have influences coming from everywhere, that transform
themselves in what is today...
But that I think is the key thing, isn't it?
You made it your own.
You've, sort of, appropriated things...
-And turned them into heartfelt Venetian dishes.
Absolutely. We were the biggest traders and marketers in the world.
-Because this comes from the east.
'Venice grew rich by cornering the European market in exotic foods and
'spices from Asia.'
It's gloriously salty.
-Delicious black pepper as well.
At the time of the foundation of civilisations
was salt, pepper, saffron, spices.
So, all these things, it turns out, have come from as well.
They're not really Italian at all, but they've been brought here,
they've been appropriated, like so many other things.
And this is the great thing, the chutzpah of the Venetians,
they've been hallmarked as quintessentially Venetian,
And that's how they've been sold to the rest of the world.
Just brilliant. And delicious.
After last night's gastronomic history lesson,
Michael is taking me to explore the city's canals.
I'm starting to see how everything in medieval Venice
was geared towards buying, selling and making money.
'As Venice's international trade expanded,
'the commercial area of Rialto became more and more important.
'It's connected to the political centre, San Marco,
'by one of Venice's most visited landmarks.'
We're coming to the oldest bridge across the Grand Canal, at Rialto.
So, this is something like this sixth Rialto Bridge, which,
they nailed it in the 16th century.
-With this extraordinary structure,
which the people at the time didn't believe could possibly work,
because it has no central support.
This was the genius invention of somebody called,
if you can believe it,
Antonio di Ponte, Antonio the Bridge Man.
He was Antonio Smith before he built this, I imagine, wasn't he?
The brilliance of da Ponte's engineering
is completely hidden from view.
The elegant arch directs all the weight of the bridge onto massive
stone foundations on either side of the canal.
And buried beneath them, more of those preserved tree trunks,
6,000 of them under each bank.
The design is strong enough to support the weight of an entire
street of shops.
Those wily merchants wasted no opportunity to make money.
The scanning team is right behind us on the Grand Canal.
To create a perfect digital reproduction of this watery city,
the team has enlisted Federico, a local scanning specialist.
Our scanner is quite static, you know,
if you knock the tripod, you ruin the scan.
Here we are on a boat.
How does that work, how are you getting straight data and not wibbly
-Yeah, we have two informations,
one with the GNSS position, the global position,
plus, inside of the system we have a gyroscope and accelerometer
and we know exactly what is the position
and the angle of the equipment.
The specially adapted scanner is going to work its magic
along the entire length of the Grand Canal.
The data will form the backbone of our 3D model of the city.
This waterway has been bringing the riches of the world flooding into
the markets of Rialto since Venice's earliest days.
So, coming to Rialto today,
being surrounded by people from all over the world,
it's just like Venice would have been in its heyday.
From the 10th-11th centuries,
Venice is getting trade concessions with the East.
By the 12th and 13th centuries,
it is the major power trading with the East.
And from these, can I just quickly ask, what's coming in?
Luxury things, silks, spices?
Absolutely. But everything from humdrum wheat
and food supplies to gems, to dyes, to silks, to fabrics.
They talked about the way merchandise in this period
was flowing into Venice like water from a fountain.
I mean, it's just this continual rush of people and things.
This was the first place you could write a cheque,
as a result of the needs of all the people trading.
Of course, of course.
There's something in the blood, there's something in the water,
that makes these people incredible innovators,
incredible entrepreneurs, incredible businessmen.
The 3D scan of the Grand Canal shows how prosperous merchants packed
their grand palazzos and warehouses along every inch of the waterway.
The shadowy outlines of boats rushing past our scanners
are ghostly reminders of centuries of commerce
that flowed along Venice's trading superhighway.
Michael's taking me down a side canal,
to a place that was home to a group of immigrants
vital to Venice's commercial success.
What we are looking for here is a doorway...
..to another world.
Which is here.
Here it is. Aha.
What we've walked into is the ghetto,
the Jewish ghetto of Venice,
the first ghetto in the world.
'In the 16th century, Jews suffered widespread
'persecution across Europe.
'Venice was relatively tolerant.
'Jews were allowed to settle here,
'but they still faced severe restrictions.'
From 1516 onwards, the Venetians demanded that if you were Jewish,
you had to live in the Jewish ghetto.
As a word, it gained negative reputation, but it didn't begin like
that. Before it was used as a ghetto,
it was the area of foundries, smiths.
And the word in Venetian for that is "gheto."
-Jews were prohibited from marrying Christians
and could only work in a few designated trades -
services the city most needed, like medicine and moneylending.
In the Middle Ages, Christians were forbidden to charge interest.
So, the Jews came in very useful.
The Venetians borrowed their money, but many also resented them for it.
The ghetto was a way to appease Christian mistrust.
The doors were locked at night and guarded by Christian soldiers,
-so they were...
Contained. Yeah, but on the other hand,
they're highly valued members of Venetian society.
They were absolutely fundamental to making Venice work
as such a rich environment.
This tiny enclave was soon home to around 3,000 Jews,
arriving from all over the world.
'Professor Shaul Bassi is going to show me one of their synagogues.
'They're hidden away behind plain exteriors at the top of the ghetto's
-Welcome to the German Synagogue,
the Schola Tedescha.
The German Synagogue.
This is probably 1528 or 29, so 12 years into the existence
of the ghetto.
The oldest and also the sign that the Jews at that point felt stable
enough to create a place of worship.
-This was where they were going to stay?
Shaul became fascinated by the history of the ghetto while studying
Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice and its Jewish villain,
the moneylender Shylock.
This would have been Shylock's synagogue.
Since moneylending was a prerogative of the German Jews,
if Shylock had been real person,
he would have probably prayed in this place.
-In this synagogue.
The Jews weren't allowed to be architects or builders,
so they had to employ Christians to construct their synagogues.
And they weren't allowed to buy land, so they had to carve them out
of the existing buildings.
All the buildings in the ghetto were not the palazzos of the aristocrats,
they were actually poor housing that was made available
to the first Jews.
And then later, when the community was probably more prosperous,
they added all the gilding and this wonderful elliptical women's gallery
-that is a kind of imitation of a typical Venetian theatre.
So, again, one can think of the ghetto as a place of separation,
but can also very much think of it as a place of encounter,
dialogue and exchange.
The scanners are stitching together data from teams across the city to
create their colossal 3D model.
I'm off to see their work in progress.
Oh, Matt, time for a few more treats.
-What have you got for me today? OK.
-OK, so, here we are in Venice.
We're going to start today with the Ghetto Nuovo.
-We have the canals bounding this area on all sides.
And as a result of that,
-the buildings in here are incredibly tall.
-Look at that, yeah.
They've ended up creating their synagogues in these really quite
unique, quite...quite hidden away and quite strange places.
And the upper floors.
Nestled in between facades, in these strange shapes.
-Extraordinary, isn't it?
-So, we have the German one here.
And, actually, let's take you back to street level here.
Up the passageway here, there is another interior lurking.
This is the Levantine Synagogue.
The Levantines got a rather more foursquare space to deal with.
They did, but it's still, you know, quite a traditional apartment plot,
really. Complete with, at the rear here,
-just this little garden space.
-It feels very domestic.
Let's pop you inside. You know, we just have this normal front door,
-bit of a staircase...
-And then, suddenly,
we're inside this incredible chandeliered space.
Oh, but it's beautiful, though.
It's an extraordinary privilege, isn't it, with this technology,
to be able to go in? I mean, we look from the street level and you see
these tenements, people rammed into this tiny area
that they were allowed. And yet,
here are the special spaces where they were allowed to be themselves.
-And these rooms of extraordinary opulence.
Yeah, these little jewels, kind of hidden behind the facade,
-not given any dominance from outside.
Suddenly, there's this one space where they can, like you say,
be themselves and celebrate.
This is an enormously valuable tool for just so many reasons.
We're building up this incredibly extensive map of the city,
inside and out, from the water, from the streets, from inside buildings.
And we're handing that over to a team of international researchers
and it's helping inform their knowledge of
the history of the city,
but also helping them plan for the future.
Since medieval times,
Venice has absorbed the influences of a fabulous melting pot of
cultures from all over the world.
When Charles Dickens saw Venice, he said,
"Opium could not have fashioned such a place." And he's right,
it does have this otherworldly, hallucinatory quality.
But I'm getting a picture of something much more determined,
much more driven, a sense of a city pushed onwards, constantly,
by its entrepreneurial spirit.
The merchants shaped the politics of the Venetian Republic.
The head of state was known as the Doge.
His formal residence on St Mark's Square
was built during Venice's golden age.
It was begun in the 14th century
and completed over the next 200 years.
This is the grand staircase of entrance to the Doge's Palace,
and the smell of power is reeking in the air.
It is just extraordinary.
I mean, one doesn't really know where to look.
Every tiny part of it is so exquisite.
So, as you walk up this grand, monumental staircase,
you're greeted by Poseidon, god of the sea, and by Aries, god of war.
And then as you head through the portico,
you walk under the lion of St Mark of Venice, the winged lion.
The message you're being given is unmistakable.
-It's clear, isn't it?
-But this is a palace not really for a king,
the Doge wasn't really a king,
because Venice had a very complex system
in which no-one person was trusted with absolute power.
And it's more than a palace, it's the government building,
it's the military HQ.
Our scans uncover the labyrinthine internal structure of the palace.
It reflects the Venetian Republic's complex political structure that
evolved over the centuries.
This is the room where Venetian leaders gathered to elect the Doge.
He would then hold the position for life.
Then there are grand halls, for overlapping
and competing bureaucracies, diluting his power.
There's the Senate,
the Council of Ten.
The members of these bodies and the Doge himself were all drawn from the
most important assembly of all.
So, welcome, Xander,
to the chamber of the Great Council of the Venetian Republic.
This is just astonishing.
53 metres long and 25 metres wide,
it is the largest room in the Doge's Palace.
This is Venice.
This is the scale and magnificence
and the beauty with which Venice does things.
-You can tell where the big cheese is sitting.
The Doge is right there.
Now, who would be occupying this space?
The Great Council. Now that is members of every patrician
and aristocratic family in Venice over the age of 25.
So, we're talking a large number of people,
somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 people.
And these guys see themselves as the absolute bedrock of the Venetian
-It's their job to look after the laws,
make sure stuff stays on track, not allow him, the Doge,
to get away with too much.
I was just thinking as you were saying that,
the guy sitting in a throne up there their isn't really sitting that
-Look along the top line around the walls.
These are portraits of the first 76 Doges,
but if he ever over there in his seat got a little bit lippy,
see this guy here?
The black curtain.
The Doge who tried
to take too much power.
In ancient Rome. we would call this "damnatio memoriae,"
you're dammed from memory, you're obliterated.
But in a way that preserves the memory forever.
So, that is in the corner of the eye.
Absolutely. You know, the Doge is the chief magistrate of the Republic
of Venice, but it's not a hereditary position.
It's not like a kingship.
It's worth remembering, they can't meet the foreign ambassador on their
own, they have to be shepherded.
There is a very strict chain, if you like, kept on the Doge.
It's a very unusual and unstable position.
'The Venetian system the government seems absurdly complex,
'as if designed to obscure where the real power lay.'
But every aristocrat in this room was also a merchant and so whether
making laws for fighting wars,
the Venetians' priority was to protect and increase their wealth.
'Venice conquered territory as far away as Cyprus and the Crimea and
'defended her trade routes -
'from the Black Sea to Gibraltar and beyond.
The secret of her naval success was hidden in a city within the city,
behind 4km of eight metre-high walls -
This enormous shipyard is still a navy base to this day.
By the beginning of the 16th century,
they'd built a fleet of over 3,000 ships.
The English navy, under the first Tudor king,
Henry VII, had just five.
This is where Venice becomes a global superpower.
This is how they protect their trade.
This is how they keep dominion at sea.
The Venetians invented the world's first production line here.
There were over 100 separate areas
to produce all the different components needed to make a ship.
Expert craftsmen churned out anchors, ropes, oars and masts,
all in standard sizes.
Once the hull of a ship was watertight, they floated it around
the complex and added the parts straight out of the factory.
This was industrial production on a scale not seen anywhere else
in the world for another 500 years.
At its height, 16,000 people lived and worked here
and the Arsenale area took up one tenth of Venice.
And just absolutely extraordinary to think how far ahead they were.
Three ships a day are being turned out here.
It's just mind-boggling.
The Venetians celebrate their mastery of the sea every year on the
Feast of the Ascension, Festa della Sensa.
It dates back to 1177, where the Pope gave the Doge a ring,
a ring that was to symbolise the wedding between Venice and the sea
and as part of the Festa della Sensa,
they would go to the lagoon entrance and throw that ring into the sea.
Now, lots of people get married in Venice,
George and Amal Clooney most recently in 2014,
but I bet none of them had the sort of wedding ceremony that is intended
here at the Festa della Sensa,
because this is not a marriage of equals.
The sea and the dominions that Venice control had no option to say
yes or no. This was a marriage in which the wife, the sea,
was to obey her husband, Venice.
This festival is now passing Italy's modern naval military college.
And there they are, saluting.
Italy's modern naval power,
saluting the symbol of Venice's ancient maritime supremacy.
The city's religious leader, the Patriarch,
would bless the wedding ring and give it to the Doge.
Today, the mayor of Venice takes the Doge's place.
HE SPEAKS ITALIAN
While Michael's enjoying the Venetian wedding party,
he's sending me on a mystery tour two miles across the lagoon.
We've come to this island here.
It has the appearance of a sort of penal colony with these high barred
I'm going to say not very decorative structures on it.
But I guess all will be revealed to me when we dock.
I'm not quite sure where we are docking.
Welcome to the Island of Black Death.
Right, we're off, OK.
Back, back, back. I'm joking, I'm joking.
The Island of Black Death. Well, listen, that explains everything.
-Alexander, very nice to meet you.
Ciao, how do you do?
All those ships bringing exotic luxuries from the East
were also carrying rats and with them exotic diseases,
like the plague.
Victims would suffer painful swelling and bleeding.
Their bodies started decomposing before they were even dead.
In one outbreak, over half the population of the city
was wiped out.
The Venetians came up with a radical solution.
From 1361 until 1528,
we registered 22 different outbreaks. 22.
And that's why, after a while, they decided to make the first isolation
hospital in history.
Created in 1423 by the Republic of Venice.
And they chose this little island, it's very small.
Anyone showing symptoms of the plaque was immediately removed
from the city and rowed out to this island.
Even today, this feels like a desolate place.
Very few Venetians set foot on the island.
You soon notice there aren't even any birds singing.
'Doctor Rizzi and his team have been excavating graves and restoring
'buildings here for over 15 years.'
There was obviously no cure for it but did some people survive,
-or was it...?
-Very, very few.
Believe me, we walk on mass graves.
WHISPERS: Oh, Lord.
During their work, the archaeologists found over 1,000
crates of human bones under one collapsed wall alone.
Please, take a look inside.
How effective was it in controlling the plague?
Here, in the island,
the people arriving could get two things that were very important.
The last rites.
Right, so there were priests here?
Yes. And the second thing was basic food, basic assistance.
-Almost no medicines.
-God, it goes on and on.
-Please, yes, on and on.
-Hall after hall.
And by night, it's not the happiest place to visit.
I can easily believe that.
How many people do you think died here?
It's impossible to know.
Tens of thousands, minimum.
-This was a hell on earth.
-A hell is exactly it.
-That's exactly it.
-This is the image I have of this island.
From here, you can see how big it is.
Really, you can get lost.
Look how big.
Oh, my Lord. Oh, my Lord!
It's just overwhelming to think of the sheer number
of untold tragic stories that
must have worked out their sorry ends here.
But tempting though it is to wallow in the tragedy of it,
there's also something brilliant about this.
Yes, it was vile to bring people over here,
but it contained the plague and it must have saved
further hundreds of thousands of lives.
Half a century later,
Venice took the idea of isolation one stage further.
Michael's exploring an island four miles away,
by the entrance to the lagoon.
From 1468, all ships arriving in Venice were required to stay here
for 40 days before entering the city.
Our word quarantine comes from the Venetian practice of making their
traders stay on this island for 40 days.
"Quaranta," that's our quarantine.
The incoming goods were also unloaded off the ships into this
massive warehouse in the centre of the island.
Here, they were disinfected with vinegar,
boiling water and smoking herbs.
This building was built and paid for by the Venetian state,
because if Venice couldn't keep its trade going,
if Venice couldn't ensure that this artery continued to flow,
Venice itself was dead.
The Venetians conquered the Black Death,
but they couldn't fight the tide of history.
In the Elizabethan age, new competition from English,
Dutch and Spanish traders,
piracy and wars with the Turks all started to cut into the Venetian
merchants' bottom line.
But the Venetians still had one thing left to sell.
The city itself.
Venice's wealth had paid for the world's greatest architects,
painters and musicians.
For the super-rich, this was now an essential place to see in the
aristocratic gap year known as the Grand Tour.
Tony Perrottet has written about the seedier side of the Grand Tour.
So, Tony, you look around and you see that Venice is just a massive
tourist trap. They have cruise ships the size of small market towns
arriving, but I suppose 250 years ago with the Grand Tour,
-it was similar even then.
it was a great tourist destination in the 18th century,
but people came for a different reason.
-It was the sin city of Europe.
So, sex, gambling, sensuality.
The city was devoted to erotic pleasure.
There were beautiful casinos all over the city.
The Florian here was once one of the great sights for
the romantically inclined, because women were allowed to be served,
which was quite unique in Venice at this time.
And there was a brothel upstairs.
-They keep that quiet.
-Now it's very glamorous.
Look at it with its posh string quartet playing.
-Butter wouldn't melt.
It's a facade.
There's other places in Venice that are even more
appealing these days. We can go and have a look at one.
Tony is an expert on one of Venice's most notorious playboys,
Casanova was a writer, musician, all-round intellectual,
and a notorious gambler.
But he's become best known for his exploits in the bedroom.
I hope this isn't going to get me into trouble at home.
And here we are, this is one of the original casinos,
that Casanova would have visited, for sure.
This is it. So, this is an 18th century...?
-This is exciting.
-Yeah, one of the great gambling houses of Europe.
Wow, think how many fortunes were made and lost in here through these
doors. Look at this.
A real sense of luxury and decadence.
It would have been filled with gambling tables here.
-It's terribly elegant, isn't it?
Everything was exquisite, beautiful food going by, great wines.
-Gorgeous women, of course.
-I see, yes.
And certainly quite a lot of,
quite a lot of dalliance going on in here as well.
Yes. Venice had around 100,000 people in the late 18th century,
of whom 12,000 were prostitutes,
-which is 12% of the entire population.
Now the Venetian courtesans were very famous, weren't they?
Oh, yeah. It was legendary, because they were extremely well educated,
they could speak many managers, play musical instruments.
The courtesans used always extraordinary fashion tricks,
they would soak their hair in urine,
which would give it a sort of reddish golden glow.
They would put raw veal on their cheeks to improve the complexion.
And they would dress fantastically with these beautiful plunging
bodices and these quite amazing platform shoes.
What size shoe are you? Want going to try one on?
I mean, if these fit, I'll be walking out in these,
-I should think.
-They're more like a circus outfits.
They have something of the circus about them.
There we go, I think you're fitting into these.
These become me.
Oh, look, and on, there we go.
-We've got a strap there, maybe back here.
-It looks suspiciously like I've been wearing these before,
doesn't it, Tony?
It's almost too beautiful.
I can hardly tear my eyes away.
-Doing a great job there.
-You might have to give me...
Oh, no, I need no help at all.
There we go. Look at that. Now if you could just imagine yourself
as a ravishing Venetian...
What do you mean, "imagine myself," thank you very much.
Wahey, whoa! Wahey, there we go.
There we go. I think that's...
..enough of this folie de grandeur.
I love my ankles as they are.
Casanova had over 100 casinos to choose from in the city.
But he would have to be on the guest list.
Hey, Xander, hey, Alexander, let me in!
Ah, Tony, how are you?
So, as you can see it was just like a speakeasy.
If there was a bang on the door, you could come in and you could look
down and see who was there. If it was someone, if it was the
police, someone you didn't want to see, someone's husband,
there was a secret exit out the back. So, you could see who was down
here and just get out of there if you needed to avoid them.
Not today, thank you. Not today.
18th-century Venice wasn't all debauchery and decadence.
In 1755, Casanova's life of pleasure caught up with him.
He was arrested and with no reason given,
he was marched off to a room high in the Doge's Palace,
the torture chamber of the Three Inquisitors.
Like Casanova, I'm still not sure what I've done to deserve this.
So, Casanova was led up here into the torture chamber,
which is the most terrifying and legendary place in the whole palace.
The three inquisitors were there and this was their
favourite thing of the Venetian Inquisition, "the strappado,"
also known as, "la corda." Just, "the rope."
The strappado, so how would that work?
-That in effect, that's...
-Yeah, you would have your arms tied behind your back.
-Facing the inquisitors.
Someone would actually pull it up, so you would be taken up fairly high
and then dropped to just above the ground.
So, your arms would be like wrenched up and it would often
-dislocate your shoulders.
-So, screams would echo
through the prison. And the other prisoners were in cells up here.
I was just wondering, so you've got barred windows there and there are
windows right by it. So, I would be strung up that high, would I?
-So, I would be screaming in their windows.
Casanova when he comes up, he's so terrified he goes to the bathroom
every 15 minutes, he records. He's so scared.
He still doesn't know exactly what's going on.
Of course, his main crime was hitting
on the Inquisitor's girlfriend.
I think that was a pretty serious black mark against him.
This is the secret state, police state reality
of what Venice can and will do.
And we're still in the Doge's Palace, I mean,
this is what I can't get my head around.
Venetian society by the 18th-century was sort of rotting from the inside.
It was all falling to bits. And there's all this sense of secrecy,
there's people observing you, spies everywhere.
Casanova was locked up in a squalid cell,
squeezed under the roof just above us.
After 15 months he made a daring breakout.
Accompanied by a fellow prisoner, he dug his way out onto the roof.
He climbed back into the palace through a dormer window.
He then snuck down through the maze of rooms and corridors and walked
brazenly out by the front door.
Casanova and his accomplice were the only two prisoners ever to escape
from the palace prison.
'The scanning team has combined 173 separate scans to build a
'three-dimensional digital model of the Doge's Palace.
'Matt is going to take me on a virtual reality tour.'
So, Xander, with the help of our headsets here,
-we are into Venice in a way that you will never have seen it before.
Oh, look at that.
-Here we are in St Mark's Square.
There is a kind of me-sized St Mark's Tower,
just stood between the two of us there.
There we go.
So, you're parading around like a giant.
-Shall we take another layer of zoom and get inside?
-Oh, yes, let's.
I know this room only too well.
Yeah, so having seen this kind of remove perspective
of doll's-house world, we are now back in one-to-one.
Absolute real dimension.
We're in this terrifying torture chamber,
but if you crouch down now and if you just look through the floor
here, we're actually just hovering inches above another room.
So, let's actually drift down now through the floor level now
-and check out the slightly more...
-It's slightly weird, isn't it?
Whoa! We we're going up.
-There we go.
-Down we go. OK.
-Out of body experience,
disappearing down as the floor comes crashing up to us.
And I think that's about perfect.
And up above there is that painting.
-There it is.
-Looking on the one hand angelic, but actually we get this
privileged view, we see through, transparently,
into that hall of torture directly above us.
The virtual tour reveals how the torture chamber is connected to a
network of rooms and cells specially created for the secret police,
the interrogators and their secret archives.
From the early 1600s,
the Bridge of Sighs joined the palace to an additional prison.
Its tiny windows gave captives their last view
of the outside world.
'As Venice's power in the world declined,
'the state's paranoia increased.
'Finally, Venice found herself caught between
'Napoleon's conquering armies and the rising Austrian Empire.
'In 1797, the last of the republic's 120 doges surrendered to the French.
'The Lion of St Mark was toppled from its column.
'Venice lost her independence forever.'
Thankfully, the wonders created by a millennium of Venetian ingenuity
We've combined over 400 scans to complete our monumental 3D model.
It reveals the city's invisible secrets in all their glory.
The Grand Canal.
The synagogues hidden in the ghetto.
The might of the Arsenale.
And the hidden network of power and terror in the Doge's Palace.
Venice, La Serenissima, preserved forever.
There's not a bit of Venice that isn't beautiful.
It's not possible to be here and not at least be cheered by the
combination of the sparkling sunlight on the water,
the grandeur of the vistas.
Venice is just enormous fun.
You know, just everything happening on water.
-It's absolutely bonkers.
-But enormous fun.
I mean, our very sense of the romantic and romanticism,
born not least out of half the places
and buildings from this very town.
I think Venice is absolutely perfect.
Next time, Florence.
I mean, my word.
A beautiful Renaissance city forged on rivalry.
Oh, that was a kick to the face!
This was Florence bursting out.
If you'd like to explore Venice in 3D yourself,
go to bbc.co.uk/invisibleitaly and follow the link.
Documentary series. Using the latest 3D scanning technology, Alexander Armstrong and Dr Michael Scott explore the watery wonderland of Venice.
They uncover how a city built in a swamp became one of the most powerful in medieval Europe and dive into its canals to experience how the city remains standing. Plus, they reveal how the city's beauty once masked a ruthless secret state and a world of excess and vice.