Giacomo Casanova’s Venice
In the 18th century, Venice gradually sees the crack in its political and military power. It is no longer the marine power that dominated the Mediterranean and the lands on its border, now Austria and Spain rule the roost around Europe. In this situation Venice chooses the path of isolation and neutrality, closing in on itself, remembering the good old days. And what could be better in a moment of decadence than whooping it up, abandoning to the rites of mystery, of games, of frivolous and mundane things?
The Carnival of Venice, in itself already a time of variation and transgression, is therefore projected the whole year round: the Dionysian rites become the way in which all nobles, burghers and common people lead their daily lives. The work and care of moral values are obligations to be fulfilled, but not overestimated.
What to do to get the most out of this life of frivolity and licentiousness (which, as is often the case, coincides with a great cultural and artistic fervor) without being victims of people’s opinions?
Simple: we put on a mask, hide our identity behind the Bauta. And so, in late afternoon, in the evenings and in particular in the Venetian nights, streets and fields are crossed by unknown people, long black cloaks, hats and veils on perfectly white masks, the Bauta, which allowed to eat and drink without discovering the face. Everyone wears a mask: the nobles to go into the brothels, youngsters to look like women, the poor to enter the courts of the nobles, the ladies to venture into the dark alleys, priests and nuns to enjoy the precepts they were deprived of.
This is the 18th-century Venice, that of Giacomo Casanova and his host Giorgio Baffo, erotic poet who introduced the young Casanova to the art of seduction and magic. It is the Venice of the casinos, of the 17 theaters for 140 000 residents, of the Commedia dell’Arte and therefore of the apotheosis of the mask.
The erotic itinerary of Venice, Casanova’s itinerary, the journey through the places of perdition, it is therefore a way to discover a very intimate Venice, as frivolous as it is intriguing, as carefree as devoted to the most sinister subterfuge.
Giacomo Casanova was born inside Palazzo Merati, in Fondamenta Nove, certainly son of Zanetta Farussi, an actress called The Buranella, and maybe of Gaetano Casanova, dancer and actor. But some say that the natural father was the noble Michele Grimani.
Giorgio Baffo instead lived in Campo San Maurizio. The erotic poet had a great influence in Casanova’s sentimental education also thanks to the fact that he was a frequent visitor and admirer of his mother Zanetta.
The erotic tour of Venice cannot exclude the Rialto area and in particular the Sotoportego dei Do Mori where in the tavern of the same name Casanova liked giving the first appointment to his ladies. Who showed up strictly masked.
In the fish market area, in Campo delle Beccarie, there is instead Poste Vecie restaurant open since 1500, where Casanova used to hide away with friends and especially girl friends to enjoy luxurious banquets. The whole area of St. Mark’s Square and especially the old premises, starting from Caffè Florian, have been hunting grounds of the great seducer.
Calle Vallaresso is host to a building that was once a famous Ridotto, a gambling house where Casanova spent a lot of time in the company of Venetian noblewomen.
In the Piombi, the prisons of the Doge’s Palace, Casanova was imprisoned for adultery, but he made a daring escape from the prison, then making his way to Paris.
Finally, we must take a “vaporetto” and go to the Island of Murano where Casanova had a long and passionate love affair with a powerful nun whose story has only referred the initials: M.M.