The first settlement of Padua arose around the 12th century B.C. inside a wide bend of the river Medoacus, the actual river Brenta. Since then the history of Padua has been marked by waters.
Already in the 1st century A.D. the famous Roman historian, Titus Livius (or Livy), author of one of the more veritable versions of the history of the Roman Republic, narrated of the incredible skill of the Paduans in navigation, when in the year 302 B.C. they defeated the fleet of the Spartan King Cleonimus. During the Roman age Patavium was one of the most thriving commerce centres of the Roman Empire.
The great Greek historian and geographer Strabon wrote that Patavium was the most important town of the region and ancient chronicles report of the great number of wares that left its harbour towards Rome thus proving the presence of a flourishing and dynamic people and economy. The city thrived until the barbarian onslaughts and the subsequent Langobard invasion, which took place from the fourth to the seventh century. Recovery was slow and Padua’s great canal network played again a fundamental role, as it had an ever increasing strategic importance in the fights for the territorial supremacy. First during the Commune government and then during the Da Carrara Seigneury and the Venetian domination the excavations realized to control and exploit the waters led to the creation of a dense network of navigable canals, real and true “water motorways”. This network connected Padua with the surrounding territory and with all the most important towns of the Veneto region. During the four centuries of the Venetian domination waterways were used to transport an impressive quantity of wares and goods from the paduan territory to Venice and Venetian noblemen could easily navigate them to reach the Euganean Hills and the paduan countryside, where they erected their magnificent villas. Until the middle of the 20th century Paduan waterways were sailed by all sort of boats: rafts, peote, burci, gondole, sandoli, padovane and burchielli, and were populated by fix and floating watermills. The Bacchiglione river, which in the past connected Vicenza with Padua, represents still today the primary water source for the city: its waters enter in Padua from the South and flow along the Renaissance walls to the Ezzelino Castle. Here the Bacchiglione bifurcates: the link wing, called Tronco Maestro, flows downwards along the medieval walls to the old Carmine Basilica; the right wing, called Naviglio Interno, follows the internal side of the walls, flows through the city centre to the Porte Contarine, after which the Tronco Maestro and the Naviglio interno flow together and form the Piovego canal. In the last years a great programme of waterways recovering and restoring has given impulse to the tourist navigation along Paduan canals and rivers. The itineraries include the navigation along the internal canals with beautiful views on the walls, the Brenta River and its imposing villas, the Euganea Riviera with its enchanting vegetation and historical sites, the way to the Venetian Lagoon.