Who Let the Doge Out?

Aside from being the home of Marco Polo, Venice was also the birthplace of a couple of other history greats.

Giacomo Casanova, one of the most famous lovers in history – in fact so famous that his name is now defined in urban dictionary as ‘a smooth-talking charmer who has mastered the art of finding, meeting, attracting and seducing beautiful women into the bedroom’ – was born in Venice in 1725.

He was a clever fellow, despite his poor childhood and ‘theatre parents’ and under the watchful gaze of his grandmother he entered the University of Padua at the age of 12, graduating with a law degree.

Not long after he began his career of debauchery, among other things.  He found his passion in life when he had an affair with a 16 year old girl and her 14 year old sister…ahem….at the same time.  Years later he was to meet one of the sisters again (in the bedroom) along with her daughter, who just happened to be his daughter…confused?

He was a womanizer, a scam artist, alchemist, spy, church cleric, a prisoner…..the list goes on.  But that’s what makes his story so intriguing.

Whilst working as a church cleric, his gambling debts landed him in prison.  After this, he tried his hand at military life, which was short lived when he discovered it be incredibly boring.  No worries, he became a violinist.  He started tawdry affairs with everyone from married women to nuns and virgins.  After escaping from prison once more, he fled to Paris where he pretended to be a 300 year alchemist who could create diamonds from scratch.  Given his ability to lie with a straight face, he was pegged for a short lived career as a spy.  He became a wealthy man for selling state bonds in Amsterdam, but lost it all spending his fortune on his lovers.

Casanova’s schemes worsened and worse they got, the broker he got.  He ended up duelling with a colonel in Warsaw over an Italian actress.  He returned to Venice in 1774, but after writing a vicious satire of Venetian nobility, he got kicked out once more.  Casanova died aged 73, after being seized by Napoleon Bonaparte.

And one place you could be almost sure to run into Cassanova back in the day was Caffe Florian.  Caffe Florian jointly holds the title of the world’s oldest café with a cafe in Paris.  It was the only café that admitted women at the time, so it’s no surprise to find out that Casanova spent a fair bit of time hanging around here.

It’s sprinkling on and off today, so we head for an inside activity by visiting the Doge’s Palace in San Marco.  A doge was the most senior elected official of Venice and his palace was not only his home, but housed many of the various government offices.  We weren’t really expecting this visit to be very exciting – the building from the outside is quite lovely, and the grounds inside have nice architecture (in particular there were some wonderful old columns that used to feature at the front of the palace)….

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…but it’s not until you go up the stairs and inside the actual palace buildings that you begin to wonder where the hell you are and how you got transported back to this brilliant period in time…

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There was also the Prison and the Bridge of Sighs – not named as I thought because of its astonishing beauty, but because it was a bridge through which prisoners saw their last glimpse of freedom.  We ended up really, really enjoying our visit to the Doge’s Palace and thought it was well worth the €18 entrance fee.


They say that wet, rainy cities spawn great musicians.  Like Andy Wood was to Seattle, so was Vivaldi to the Venetian classical music scene.  A true showman, but with loads of pure talent, he loved nothing better than to show off his fiddling (so to speak).  It’s surprising then, that there’s not a single statue to commemorate Vivaldi in Venice.  There is one way to celebrate the life and times of Vivaldi whilst in Venice though, and that’s to see a classical concert.

There are several on at any one time.  Tonight, we venture up the stairs of the Scuola Grande di San Teodoro to hear a performance of Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons’, as well as Pachelbel’s Canone.  Performed by I Musici Veneziani complete with period costumes, it’s a nice way to spend a few hours in this city, which becomes so much quieter once the day trippers and cruise boat groups leave.  We had a wonderful evening listening to some incredible music.


Did I mention how exciting it is to visit these places where such amazing historical figures blazed their trails and wrote their fortunes?  So exciting.

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