Learn/ Educators/ Curriculum Resources/ Art of the Islamic World/ Unit Seven: Trade and Artistic Exchange/ Chapter Two: Venice and the Islamic World/ Introduction


The city of Venice, in northeastern Italy, was founded in the seventh century. The city is comprised of 117 small islands situated in a lagoon with easy access to both the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas. The Venetians took full advantage of their city's strategic location to conduct both local and long-distance trade, and eventually became one of the world's most powerful maritime empires. Venice's economy focused on trade and merchants held important positions of power in Venetian culture. Venice began trading with the Islamic world as early as the eighth century. For centuries, Venice was the link between Europe and the Muslim powers in North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean; most luxury goods making their way over sea routes from Islamic lands to Europe passed through Venetian ports (see map). Because of the importance of trade with Arab lands and Ottoman Turkey, many Venetians learned Arabic and spent considerable time in these regions, buying goods such as spices and raw silk that could be sold for a profit upon their return. This trade had an enormous economic as well as cultural advantage for both parties. Artistic techniques, ideas, and motifs flowed from East to West, and vice versa, through the movement of both merchants and goods. Venice's main trading partners were the Mamluks, whose capital was in Egypt, and the Ottomans, whose capital was in Turkey. Despite the mutual benefit of trade, Venice's relationship with both of these empires was complex, encompassing intermittent periods of peace interrupted by trade embargos and territorial wars.

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