The Venetian Lagoon is the enclosed bay of the Adriatic Sea in which the city of Venice is located. The Venetian Lagoon stretches from the River Sile in the north to the Brenta River in the south. It is around 8% land, including the city of 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 the largest wetland in the Mediterranean Basin. It is connected to the Adriatic Sea by three inlets: the Lido, Malamocco and Chioggia inlets. Sitting at the southern end of the Gulf of Venice, the lagoon is subject to high variations in water level, the most extreme being the spring tides known as Aqua Alta (Italian for "high water"), which regularly flood much of Venice.
The Lagoon of Venice is the most important survivor of a system of estuarine lagoons that in Roman times extended from Ravenna north to Trieste. In the sixth century, the Lagoon gave security to Romanised people fleeing invaders (mostly the Huns). Later, it provided naturally protected conditions for the growth of the Venetian Republic and its maritime empire. It still provides a base for a seaport, the Venetian Arsenal, and for fishing, as well as a limited amount of hunting and the newer industry of fish farming.
The Lagoon was formed about six to seven thousand years ago, when the marine transgression following the Ice Age flooded the upper Adriatic coastal plain. Depositing of river sediments compensated for the sinking coastal plain, and coast-wise current drift, from the mouth of the Po river, tended to close tidal inlets with sand bars.
The present aspect of the Lagoon is due to human intervention. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Venetian hydraulic projects to prevent the lagoon from turning into a marsh reversed the natural evolution of the Lagoon. Originally many of the Lagoon’s islands were marshy, but a gradual programme of drainage rendered them habitable. Many of the smaller islands are entirely artificial, while some areas around the seaport of the Mestre are also reclaimed islands. The remaining islands are essentially dunes, including those of the coastal strip (Lido, Pellestrina and Treporti).
Venice Lagoon has been inhabited since ancient times, but it was only during and after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West that many people, coming from the Venetian mainland, settled in a number large enough to found the city of Venice. Today, the main cities inside the lagoon are Venice and Chioggia. The Lido di Venezia and Pellestrina are inhabited as well, but they are part of Venice. However, the most part of the inhabitants of Venice, as well as its economic core, its airport and its harbor, stand on the western border of the lagoon, around the former towns of Mestre and Marghera. At the northern end of the lagoon, there is the town of Jesolo, a famous sea resort; and the town of Cavallino-Treporti.
The Venice Lagoon is almost entirely within the borders of the Province of Venice, but the south-western area is part of the Province of Padua. The largest islands or archipelagos by area, excluding coastal reclaimed land and the coastal barrier beaches are:
Other inhabited islands include:
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