According to legend, Venice was founded at precisely noon on March 25, 421 A.D. However, people had been fleeing to the mud islands that would eventually become the city since at least 400 A.D, fleeing invaders, such as Attila the Hun, who were sweeping down from northern Europe.
Because Venetians were so isolated, they were largely independent from the rest of Italy and the tribulations of the Roman Church. They traded mostly with powers in the East, and in 726, the first Doge, Orso, was elected to rule over the islands that made up the city. In 828, the city came into possession of what are thought to be relics of St. Mark, its patron saint.
The Crusades also helped Venice increase its wealth, as the city-state charged substantial fees to outfit the Crusaders, and by the middle of the 15th century, Venice was an empire. It ruled over the island of Crete as well as other parts of Italy. Wealthy Venetian merchants built palaces on the edge of the lagoon and were patrons to many Renaissance artists. However, the dominance of Venice was dealt a blow when a trade route to India was discovered around the Cape of Good Hope in the late 1400s. By 1797, Napoleon divided much of the Venetian empire between Austria and France. Eventually, Venice joined the newly unified Italy in 1866.
Though Venice was occupied by the Nazis during World War II, it suffered little damage from Allied bombing. It remains a hub of the arts and culture as of 2015.