Saint Mark’s winged lion statue on top of a granite column in the Piazza San Marco in La Serenissima—’the Most Serene’ is Venice’s nickname.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t as simple as “the Ottoman Empire closed the Silk Road.” After all, why wouldn’t the Ottomans want to do business with European merchants?
You remember that Marco Polo and his family were merchants from Venice. Venice was perfectly situated for trade—right on the shores of the Adriatic Sea; and close to the westernmost end of the Silk Road by land.
Venice was a city of smart cookies. Her city government made trade deals with other governments both east and west. Venice had on-again-off-again deals with the Ottomans. Her merchants became rich and brought money into Venice. Her government built ships and rented them to merchants so just about anybody could get in on the trading business. Her shipwrights revolutionized ship-building: instead of building the hull first and then installing the ribs and braces, they built the ribs first and then nailed planks to them. Venetian ships were lighter, more flexible and well-suited to the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas.
The Venetians created a trade monopoly—nobody else could play. She maintained a navy to protect her sea-trade routes which were hers exclusively. It may have happened that the Ottoman Empire was in direct competition with Venice as she became a powerful republic. That may have been a reason for the Ottomans ending trade with the west.
It may also be that other European cities wanted to get in on sea-trade action but were unable to break Venice’s monopoly. The upshot was that with new, speedier ships, merchants were looking for different ways to do business. That meant finding new and different trade routes that weren’t controlled by Venice or the Ottomans.
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If you ever have the chance to visit Venice—go. It’s probably the loveliest place I’ve been.