Wednesday, February 3, 2016

A little background to Gabriella's home town - Venice.

The single, major factor that distinguished Venice in the 1500s, from the other
powerful states in Italy, is that it was not a principality or a dukedom, but was a state
run by merchants, by traders and by businessmen.
There was no permanent garrison of troops -as in other cities of the time - to
intimidate the population. It wasn't necessary. The Venetians of all classes felt that
their government was a fair and egalitarian one. The religious fraternities, the parish
organisations, the pageants and festivities gave them a feeling of belonging; and
through the magnificence of the state architecture, a feeling of pride.
If you fell upon hard times, the state would sell you bread and wine at subsidised
prices. It provided some hospitals and doctors and the Scuole (the religious
fraternities) would take also care of you if you were ill or penurious. There was
hardly any unemployment. Beggars had to be registered and the number always rested
around 400. If you were running a business, your enterprise was not at the mercy of
tyrants or the whim of a Prince, nor your premises likely to be looted by marauding
troops. Venice was an unusual and comfortable place to live in, for those times.
There were police patrols to keep drunken sailors and young hoodlums under control
and maintain the peace at night in the Rialto taverns and hostels. The state provided a
paid fire brigade as fire was a very serious matter. If you were a young woman in
danger of assault, it was better to cry 'Fire!' than 'Help!'. More people would rush onto
the street. The courts were considered fair and efficient. A young patrician was
gaoled for assaulting a black servant girl. If you couldn't pay a fine or a debt, you
could work it off with labour service. Murder was a hanging offence. There was even
legislation to curb bad language, insulting gestures and blasphemy. It generally
succeeded, although less so with the gondoliers who were inordinately proud of their
inventive vocabulary of insults.

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