Venetian Lagoon - Italy

The Venetian Lagoon is an enclosed bay at the northern extremity of the Adriatic Sea in which the city of Venice is situated. It is crescent-shaped and lies within the arms of the Litorale Pellestrina, Litorale di Lido, and Litorale del Cavallino. These three strips of land are broken at only three entrances (the Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia inlets) along a length of some 30 miles (45 km), creating a marshy environment that is fed by rivers yet flushed by salt water from the Adriatic. The Venetian Lagoon stretches from the River Sile in the north to the Brenta in the south, with a surface area of around 550 sqkm. It is around 8% land, including Venice itself and many smaller islands. About 11% is permanently covered by open water, or canal, as the network of dredged channels are called, while around 80% consists of mud flats, tidal shallows and salt marshes. The lagoon is subject to tides, the most extreme being the spring tides known as the acqua alta (Italian for "high waters"), which regularly flood much of Venice. Yet the Venetian Lagoon has an average depth of just two feet and within that shallow depth you will find anemones, crabs, mussels, limpets, barnacles, cuttlefish, squill, oysters, shrimp, anchovy, eels, mullet, and sea bass. Consequently there are many birds such as ducks, swans, cormorants, and spoonbills on the many abandoned or uninhabitable islands in the lagoon. Many of the Lagoon's islands were marshy, but have been made habitable by drainage, some are reclaimed land and some entirely artificial. The remaining islands are essentially dunes, including those of the coastal strip (Lido, Pellestrina and Treporti). Murano (glassmaking), Burano (colourful houses and lace) and Torcello are, along with Venice itself, the most important islands on the lagoon. Two spiritual islands San Francesco del Deserto (Franciscan friary) and San Lazzaro degli Armeni (an early 18th century Armenian monastery) have a very particular charm and beauty. Other islands sport brightly coloured houses, painted fishing boats and tiny churches and include Mazzorbo, Sant' Erasmo, Giudecca, Lido, San Pietro in Volta, Pellestrina; the tiny Costanziaca, Ammiana, San Tommaso del Borgognoni and the "submerged churches" of Lio Piccolo; the abandoned San Secondo, Santo Spirito, San Giorgio in Alga, poetical Poveglia, Sant'Angelo della Polvere, the Lazzaretto Vecchio and the Lazzaretto Nuovo, San Servolo (once a hospital for the Crusaders), San Clemente (a luxury hotel), La Grazia and many others. In the sixth century, the Lagoon was a safe haven for Romanised people fleeing invaders (mostly the Huns) and later for the growth of the Venetian Republic and its maritime empire. It still provides a base for a seaport, the Venetian Arsenal, fishing and fish farming.