Venice: La Serenissima
Venice’s great wealth was acquired almost by accident when the blind Doge, the old ‘but rascally’ Dandolo, persuaded the Fourth Crusade to divert to Byzantium in 1204. From the Sack of Constantinople precious relics and statues were carried back to Venice, but the Republic also seized greater spoils: an empire. For almost six centuries, Venice would rule a chain of islands, including the mighty Crete and Corfu as well as ports, harbours and coastal fortresses. An empire to protect her shipping, it formed the foundation for Venice’s immense wealth and power.
'We ... enjoy her human generosity, her lightness of touch ... and the surprisingly vigorous but gorgeous prose with which she recreates Venice’s imperial past'
Jan Morris has long had a passion for Venice. Here she traces the ebb and flow of Venetian power overseas, not only as a historian but also as a traveller. By ship, dhow and ferry, Morris visits the modern day cities and islands of Venice’s former empire to immerse us in its sights and sounds. She sees Venetian frivolity in the decorated dovecotes of Tinos, hears echoes of Latin chants in Catholic monasteries on an Orthodox island, and among the coffee-smells and rumbling trucks of modern Istanbul senses a lingering trace of Venice. Mingling past and present, Morris introduces us to the flamboyant admiral Francesco Morosini who went into action accompanied by his cat, and to a modern scholar in Istanbul who visits Dandolo’s grave daily - to spit upon it. The edition is introduced by Stella Tillyard, who delights in the company of Morris, calling it ‘enchanting - incantevole, as the Italians say, which means singable as well as spellbinding and better captures the feel of her writing’.