Venice, Italy is an exotic and mysterious place that attracts visitors from around the world. It’s been doing so for centuries.

In its heyday, it was a rich and powerful center of trade and business. Poised between East and West, Venice became a city of merchants, many of whom ran their empires from exquisite palazzos designed to serve as their business headquarters, as well as being the family home. These gorgeous buildings still line the Grand Canal, greeting newcomers entering the city by vaporetti.

A typical Venetian house had an elaborate facade facing the canal since visitors and clients usually arrived by boat. The house was tall and narrow, with the ground floor serving as an office and, perhaps, warehouse. The second floor was used to entertain visitors and discuss business affairs, while the family quarters were kept on the third floor. Many houses also had additions on the street side that were used as an office, but  frequently became personal libraries.

So, you see, the home business movement  isn’t such a new idea after all. The Venetians, who did it more elegantly than anyone, were running international enterprises from their homes hundreds of years ago.

Despite heroic efforts to preserve Venice’s elegant buildings, the days when merchant ships sailed in and out laden with exotic cargo are long over. Today’s Venetian entrepreneur is more apt to be a shopkeeper catering to tourists—or a musician playing Vivaldi. If you are visiting, take a walk off the tourist paths and wander into a residential area. If you happen upon a supermarket or hardware store, pay a visit. It’s also worth a boat ride to see the glass shops of Murano where you’ll find pieces done by imaginative artists, alongside tackier pieces intended as souvenirs. The Lido is another island which is home to the Venice Film Festival. It also has the distinction of having streets where buses and cars can drive as well as beaches.