VENICE, IN SEARCH OF THE WRITTEN WORD
Long before movies, which continue to show the beauty and charm of the city, painters and writers lovingly represented Venice. It was a source of admiration and awe, and a stopover on the Grand Tour where young aristocrats discovered Italy. Numerous impor
Look among the city's innumerable literary sources for a special guide while visiting Venice.
If you're planning a trip to Venice, look among innumerable literary sources for a special guide that will help you discover its mysteries. And, if you wish to preserve the memory of its marvels on your return home, here is a small selection of must-reads to keep on your bedside table.
LOVE STORIES IN VENICE
With its canals, graceful bridges and secluded squares, Venice is the perfect backdrop for love stories.
You can peruse the tormented and intriguing comedies written by Venetian playwright Carlo
Goldoni. And, when in Venice, it is impossible not to think about the amorous adventures of
Giacomo Casanova (17251798), whose memoirs provide us with a wealth of details about Palazzo Ducale and its prisons where the adventurer was imprisoned on charges of magic and masonry. Those wishing to learn more about the atmosphere of the city should make sure to read his book titled ‘The Story of my Escape: from the prisons of the Republic of Venice otherwise known as “The Leads”'. Alternately, details of his innumerable amorous escapades can be found in ‘The Memoirs of Giacomo Casanova'.
Our journey takes us from the 18th century to the 19th century, when Camillo Boito, the author of ‘Senso', tells us about the love story between Venetian Contessa Livia and the handsome Austrian lieutenant Remigio (Luchino Visconti's famous film is based on an adaptation of Boito's novella).
In his famous novel titled ‘Death in Venice', Thomas Mann (1875-1955) tells the story of a middle-aged writer who falls
obsessively in love with a young boy. This deeply moving story takes us to the Lido of Venice at the beginning of the 20th century. Count Gustav von Aschenbach's passion for the adolescent Tazio unfolds amidst the sumptuous setting of the Hotel Des Bains (which is no more since quietly closing its doors in 2010), and the beaches of the Hotel Excelsior and the Alberoni. This is a unique opportunity to rediscover the lavish early
20th century Belle Epoque settings of Venice's celebrated Lido. On the other hand, the Hotel Danieli was the place where the scandalous love affair between George Sand and Alfred De Musset occurred. Their letters are filled with rapturous references to the hotel and Venetian life, which totally captivated their hearts. When not locked in each others arms, they would spend their time looking out of the hotel's windows at the bustling Riva degli Schiavoni below.
VENETIAN LEGENDS AND STORIES
With its centuries of history, Venice is inevitably the protagonist of legends and fantasy, a font of popular beliefs, topographical details and the life of entire ‘sestieri' (districts). Alberto Toso Fei is a name which many people associate with anecdotes, ghost stories and legends about Venice. ‘Mysteries of Venice. Seven Nights of History and Myth. Legends, Ghosts, Enigmas and Curiosities' enables readers to discover a mysterious, nocturnal Venice, a nighttime excursion without the uninterrupted daytime flow of tourists. Finally, this is the first book of its kind to feature QR codes (which may be scanned for access to additional multimedia content), making it possible to relive some of the stories on video, narrated on location by the author himself. Furthermore, his book ‘Venetian legends and ghost stories' can be used as a guide while strolling through Venice's ‘sestieri' and following four itineraries amidst the city's squares and labyrinthine ‘calli'.
The author describes the places where crimes were committed, and where the ghosts of the murdered people are still believed to wander. Several Venetian tourist agencies offer tours following the itineraries outlined in these books.
The city's mazelike ‘calli' and ‘campielli' serve as a perfect backdrop for thrillers and crime novels set in Venice. Best known are the series of murder mysteries by Donna Leon. Her Commissario Guido Brunetti is the protagonist of novels set in Venice which, despite its reputation as a safe city, can be the scene of crimes and the discovery of bodies in its canals. Places often mentioned in her novels include the ‘Questura' overlooking
Rio San Lorenzo – the area's neighbouring restaurants and bars are frequently visited by the ‘Commissario' – and the ‘Ospedale Civile di Venezia ai Santi Giovanni e Paolo' where the commissioner often goes to conduct his interrogations (we recommend a visit to the beautiful Scuola Grande di San Marco, the headquarters of the hospital).
In addition to above, her novels also feature interesting references to other Venetian landmarks, and are an excellent means of boning up on the artistic history of the city.
An interesting fact: none of Leon's novels are translated in Italian. Rumour has it that Donna Leon is afraid of attracting too much attention in this city where she has lived for so many years.
Another particularly noteworthy book is Patricia Highsmith's ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley'. The multiple locations mentioned in the novel include Venice, which is a luxurious hideaway and the perfect place to bury secrets and hide identities.
Many novels, like Jason Goodwin's ‘The Bellini Card', are set in the 19th century. The book, which references Italian painter Gentile Bellini, features an exciting meld of Venetian and oriental atmospheres because everything begins in Constantinople.
Others, like Tiziano Scarpa's ‘Stabat Mater', takes us back to the era and music of
VENICE IN PICTURES
Did you know that in addition to books, Venice has also been portrayed in comic books? Among these, one of the most noteworthy is Hugo Pratt's Corto Maltese, the hero of numerous stories and comics set in Venice. To discover the places mentioned in the stories of Corto Maltese, we recommend ‘The secret Venice of Corto Maltese. Fantastic and hidden itineraries' by Vianello and Fuga. This is a real almanac of Venetian places seen through the eyes of the famous comic book character, such as the celebrated ‘Corte Sconta detta Arcana'. Another means of exploring Venice through images is offered by Jirô Taniguchi with his ‘Louis Vuitton Travel Book'. The famous Japanese Manga artist transforms his stay in Venice into the story of a man in search of his roots. It's told through watercolour illustrations offering readers a
poignant and contemporary vision of the marvels of Venice. Autographed copies of the book can be purchased at the Vuitton boutique in St. Mark's Square. Also available in graphic novel form is Shakespeare's famous work, ‘The Merchant of Venice'. The idea of retelling Shakespeare's compelling story in picture book form was conceived by John F. McDonald, the author of ‘The Merchant of Venice: The Graphic Novel'. Shakespeare's spellbinding story, also featured in numerous films, is presented in the guise of a comic book infused with all the drama of the original play. Those wishing to experience the evocative atmospheres and places in which the masterpiece is set should definitely make a point of visiting the Jewish ghetto of Venice.
The famous Hotel Danieli, for centuries a favourite haunt of lovers. On the right, a page from ‘Lettere di una viaggiatrice' (‘Letters of a Traveler') where, in a series of literary references, Italian novelist Matilde Serao (1856-1927) describes the hotel as the place where the scandalous love story between French novelists George Sand (1804-1876) and Alfred de Musset (1810-1857) occurred.
Above: the Bridge of Sighs and the ‘Piombi' prison where Giacomo Casanova, one of history's most notorious playboys, was imprisoned. The details of his daring escape are documented in his book titled ‘The Story of my Escape' (on the left, an illustration from the ancient edition).At the side, the statue of ‘Signor Rioba' who, according to legend, was punished by being turned into stone. Historical anecdotes about Venice are featured in a book by 51 year-old Venetian novelist Alberto Toso Fei.
Before being a film by Luchino Visconti, ‘Death in Venice' is a novella by Thomas Mann. Originally published in 1912 (above), Mann drew inspiration for the book while holidaying in Venice. Most of the scenes described in his short story are set at the Hotel des Bains. Below: water colour illustrations of Venice by famous Japanese Manga artist Jirô Taniguchi who died in February 2017.Bottom: since 1992, Donna Leon has written detective stories set in Venice, where she now lives. At the author's specific request, none of her thrillers are translated into Italian.