Wednesday, June 1, 2011


The other day, I visited another grand old port:  Venizia.  This one was far grander than the one at Angra, although the opening of the New World and the route to India played no small part in marginalizing Venice as grand master of Mediterranean trade.  The grandeur of Venizia is breathtaking, especially as one emerges from the warrens of the narrow city alleys into the broad spaces of the Piazza San Marco, with the palace of the Doge, the grand tower, and the splendidly tiled Basilica.  Walking through this square and to the water's edge, one may focus on the gondolas or the massive Church of San Giorgio Maggiore across the protected waters.  The real focal point, however, should be the Dogana da Mar, to the right as one faces the Adriatic.

The Dogana da Mar was home to the customs house of the Venetian Empire, which drew much Mediterranean trade through its port, taking a tax for its protection.  As I stood looking at the amazing scene, I thought about how this power center predated the one I saw a few weeks ago at Angra (that of course an outpost of the real center in Portugal).  I also thought about the commonality of the great buildings surrounding me with the great buildings of other civilizations I have visited.  Each was built by a political power center that created an environment amenable to and relatively safe for the flourishing of commerce.  In turn, that power was able to draw significant revenues from this commerce in some form of taxation.  Until recent times, those revenues were turned into greater power capabilities, along with the  visible trappings of power that created a sort of cultural hegemony that perpetuated peoples' acquiescence to that status quo... until eventually the pyramids (literally or figuratively) became unsustainable, or a new power center and new patterns displaced old, and the grand buildings faded into history.

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