How was Venice in the 19th Century? Which characteristics attracted foreign travellers by that time?
I believe that even today curious tourists might be seriously inspired by a person like Byron.
As a member of the Association BestVeniceGuides I feel a certain curiosity in front of a giant of culture like Lord George. Venice was a fairy city of the heart since he was a little child aged 8, raising from the sea like water columns as he wrote in Canto IV related to the poem Child Harold. He knew Venice from Mrs Radcliffe’s narration and generally through Gothic novels and Schiller’s prose. One of the first places who literally involved him so much was the Armenian monastery of San Lazzaro, where you can still find many memorabilia from those times related also to other important visitors: for instance the chair where Byron composed the first Armenian – English dictionary.
He was also very disappointed to find that the wonderful Wedding at Cana painted by Paolo Veronese for the refectory in the Benedictine Monastery of Saint George’s island was not visible any more in situ and instead it had been taken to the Louvre by Napoleon.
Another great source of inspiration was Shakespeare and his Othello and the Merchant of Venice and he also extremely liked a work named Venice preserved by Thomas Otway, based on a failed conspiracy from 1618 which aimed to overthrow the Doge and the Republic to let Venice become a province of Spain. Pierre, the hero of this story was a Radical exactly like Byron. The English poet admired the secret association named Carbonari as well as the Greek Liberation front.
Love poems and ballads from the Gerusalemme Liberata by Torquato Tasso – a poet originally born in Sorrento in the year 1544 – were very famous also among the gondoliers still in the XIX Century. His verses were fitted to the barcarole and adapted into the local Venetian dialect and the gondoliers used them to keep a steady rhythm when rowing. They were very famous among all cultured visitors: it was part of the natural ambience in Venice! In Tasso Byron recognized a fellow sufferer.
Another interesting description given by Byron is the one about St. Mark’s Square immediately after the end of the Venetian Independence: there is an open critical attitude towards the new Napoleonic wing, while instead he had a special feeling for the Florian Cafè. He also extremely appreciated balls at la Fenice. Byron gave also the original definition of the Bridge of Sighs:
I stood in Venice on the Bridge of Sighs
A palace and a prison at each end.
In his opinion prisoners felt their nostalgic feelings on their way to prison, without any referring to death executions on the bridge itself, as they were abolished more than a century before. Would you like to see special places where Byron felt at home? Come and join us, please!