The greatest living chronicler of Venetian history brings to life the city's magical charm in a beautifully illustrated and captivating book.
John Julius Norwich, the author of the acclaimed A History of Venice, traces the transformation of Venice from a proud independent state into a dazzling dreamscape that attracted artists, writers, and composers from around the world. In a strikingly effective departure from straight narrative history, he tells the story of Venice through the experiences and reactions of such famous nineteenth-century visitors as Napoleon Bonaparte, Lord Byron, John Ruskin, Henry James, Richard Wagner, James Whistler, and Robert Browning.
Written with brio and humor, the profiles capture the incomparable charms of Venice--and the quirks of these historic figures as they discover (or fail to discover) them. Napoleon, having achieved the conquest that had thwarted other forces for a thousand years, was totally indifferent to the glories of his prize. The almost comically lascivious Byron seduced nearly every woman in Venice until he had the misfortune of falling in love with one of them, and the prim Ruskin obsessively sketched every architectural detail for his seminal book, The Stones of Venice, even as his comely wife grew weary of his celibacy. Wagner worked on Tristan und Isolde in Venice, and Whistler painted his greatest masterpieces there.
Like Peter Ackroyd's much-praised London, Paradise of Cities is at once a fascinating history, a matchless travel guide, and a wonderful gift book. Filled with vintage photographs and full-color reproductions of period paintings, it conveys both the misfortune of Venice's decline and the magnificence of its eternal beauty. It is as magical, as colorful, and as irresistible as its subject.
There are no customer reviews available at this time. Would you like to write a review?
November 08, 2004
Number of Print Pages*
Adobe DRM EPUB
* Number of eBook pages may differ. Click here for more information.
Excerpt from Paradise of Cities by John Julius Norwich
After the Fall
What will happen now to the city of Venice? This city could exist in all its wealth, splendour and beauty only when a capital, inhabited by the aristocracy who governed the Republic. When you are all gone, you patricians, to live on the mainland, Venice will waste away. And is it not true that you are leaving? What would you do in Venice, when you have nothing to do?
giacomo casanova to pietro zaguri
4 December 1797
Sometime in November 1798, Lorenzo da Ponte, Mozart's greatest librettist and a former Jesuit priest, arrived in Venice for the first time since he had been expelled from the city for gross immorality, nineteen years before. He tells in his memoirs of how he entered St. Mark's Square under the clock tower, and of his horror at what he saw. "My reader will judge," he wrote, "my surprise and grief, when in all that vast space, where in happy times nothing is to be seen but a great concourse of gay and contented people, I myself saw on every side only melancholy, silence, solitude and desolation. . . . There were only seven people when I entered the Piazza. . . . Even the cafes were empty."
It was no wonder. Just eighteen months before, threatened by the young Napoleon Bonaparte at the culmination of his triumphant campaign across Italy, the Venetian Republic had come to an end. It had lasted, by the most conservative reckoning, for 1,070 years--a period of time comfortably longer than that which separates Queen Elizabeth II from William the Conqueror--and the Venetians were still in a state of shock. Many of them also felt no small degree of shame; for they themselves, as they were well aware, had been largely responsible for the speed and suddenness of their collapse. Venice had long since lost the last vestiges of her former greatness, and even of the respect which, in former days, she had enjoyed throughout Europe and beyond. Her commercial supremacy--the source of all her wealth--had failed to survive the discovery of the Cape route to the Indies, which had gradually reduced the Middle Sea to a backwater. Moreover the relentless advance of the Ottoman Turks, both before and after the capture of Constantinople by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453, had led to the annihilation, one by one, of her trading colonies in the Near East. Cyprus had fallen in August 1571. Nine weeks later Venice, Spain, and the Papacy had admittedly scored a spectacular victory over the Turks at Lepanto--the last sea battle in history to be fought by oared galleys--but even this engagement, though it provided a temporary boost to flagging Western morale, had had little long-term result; and the fall of Crete in 1669, after a siege lasting twenty-two years, had effectively put an end to Venice's imperial ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean. True, the Venetians had fought back and, in the century's last quarter, had even managed briefly to regain a few of their former possessions (scoring, as they did so, a direct hit on the Parthenon); but by 1718, when their frontiers were drawn for the last time, they found themselves--apart from their provinces on the Italian terra firma--with only Istria and Dalmatia, northern Albania and the Ionian islands, and finally, south of the Peloponnese, the little island of Cythera.
Then, in the early eighteenth century--whether by accident or design remains uncertain--the Most Serene Republic set itself upon a completely different course. It assumed the mantle of the pleasure capital of Europe--and in doing so, during the final decades of its existence, set in train a dramatic revival of financial prosperity. This, fortunately, was the age of the Grand Tour. From all over northern and western Europe--but above all from England--young noblemen descended on Italy with the ostensible purpose of completing their education. Rome, inevitably, was their principal objective, with all the opportunities it offered for the study of the great monuments of antiquity; but there were few indeed who did not return by way of Venice, where Carnival lasted longer, the gambling was for higher stakes, and the courtesans were more obliging and highly skilled than anywhere else on the continent. For those visitors of more intellectual tastes, there were books, pictures, and sculptures to be bought, and churches and palaces to be admired, to say nothing of the music and opera for which Venice was famous throughout the civilized world. The city was the most comfortable in Italy, and by far the most beautiful; and by a further lucky coincidence it boasted a number of hugely talented men who in the past fifty years had brought the art of townscape painting to a point of excellence never achieved before or since.