Artists ranging from Goldoni to Casanova, Herman Hesse, John Ruskin, Thomas Mann, Goethe and Jean Giono could not resist the spell of Venice. The lagoon city left its mark of unique charm, a mix of vitality and decadence, on generations of writers and renowned travellers.
“Venice is an extraordinary city and it is not possible to understand it without seeing it. Maps, plans, models, descriptions are not enough: you have to actually see it. All cities of the world are, more or less, similar to one another: Venice is unlike any other”. Words written in the Memories of one of the favorite sons of the lagoon city, Carlo Goldoni (1707-1793), who was mostly known for his comedies. These and other quotes are also collected in the book “Venice in the great pages of literature”, written by the mayor of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, and Riccardo Calimani, a write and expert in the history of the lagoon city.
Even the German writer and essayist, Thomas Mann (1875 – 1955), Nobel prize winner in literature, was fascinated by Venice and used it as a setting for one of his most famous novels. He writes the following in 1912 in “Death in Venice”: “Yes, this was Venice, this the fair frailty that fawned and that betrayed, half fairy-tale, half snare; the city in whose stagnating air the art of painting once put forth so lusty a growth, and where musicians were moved to accords so weirdly lulling and lascivious.”
Another son of Venice is Giacomo Casanova, an adventurer and writer who was born in Calle della Commedia (now Calle Malipiero), near the church of San Samuele. In 1755, the Venetian authorities, suspecting that he was a free-mason, ordered his arrest. Incarcerated in the “Piombi” prison in the Ducal Palace, he organized an escape which became famous and which he narrated in “The Story of my Flight” (1788). He left his beloved Venice with these words: “I made the decision to leave my homeland as one abandons a home that one loves but which has become uninhabitable due to bad neighbor that is bothersome and which can not be removed”.
John Ruskin (1819–1900) was a British writer, painter and poet. His first trip to Italy was in 1840 which, following the classic stops of the Grand Tour, included Venice. “Since first the dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands: the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the First of these great powers only the memory remains; of the Second, the ruin; the Third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led through prouder eminence to less pitied destruction”.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe writes his “Italian journey” and, on 28 September 1786, finally arrives in Venice for the crowning moment of a dream. He will remain in the Serenissima until October 14th; it is during this Venetian that Goethe sees the sea for the first time: “Just a few words on the trip from Padua to here: the navigation on the Brenta on a public boat in the company of well-educated people (since the Italians are respectful of one another) was comfortable and pleasant. The shores are embellished with gardens and pavilions, small villages face the bank, and the animated main road sometimes winds alongside”.
A few centuries before the Arsenal of Venice ended up in the XXIth canto of Dante’s “Inferno” where the hellish pit of the jobbers is found (verses 1-21): “In this way we traversed one bridge to another, discussing topics which my poem does not aim to take into consideration; and we found ourselves on the summit of the bridge, and there stopped to see the other hollow of Malebolge and other useless laments; and what I saw was extraordinary dark. Just as in the arsenal of the Venetians during the winter, there is boiling pitch which sticks and glues and helps to mend their damaged ships”.
Even Peggy Guggenheim remembers the city on the lagoon: “One always takes for granted that Venice is the ideal city for a honeymoon, but this is a serious error. Living in Venice, or simply visiting it, means to fall in love with it, and there is no space left in the heart for anything else”.
“The black, sleek gondola, and the way in which it moves, light, without any sound, retains a strange character, a dream-like beauty, and is an integral part of the city of idleness, love and music – describes the German writer and poet, Hermann Hesse – In no other city like Venice have I found such a unity between contemporary life and the life which speaks to us of the works of art of its golden age, and in which sun and sea are more essential than all of history”.
In Venice, the French writer Jean Giono discovers that the “customs are those of a southern country where, moreover, everything is provisional, never definitive”. “There is nothing more exhilarating – he writes again – than going at will, in an autumn evening, to the Malibran theater in San Marco. The rain of Venice is a delight. Only the foreigners hope for the sun”.
And finally Friedrich Nietzsche, in his “Ecce Homo” in 1888: “If I had to find a word which replaces “music”, I could only think of the word Venice”.

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