The most romantic places in Venice - Citimarks

Dreamy and mysterious


“In the moonlight, her fourteen centuries of greatness fling their glories about her, and once more is she the princeliest among the nations of the earth.”
Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad, American Publishing Company, 1869
chapter 1

Murder by command

Venice, May 18, 1819

Dear Sir – 

Yesterday I wrote to Mr . Hobhouse and returned the proof undercover to you. […] — I write to you in haste and at two in the morning – having, besides, had an accident. — In going about an hour and a half ago to a rendezvous with a Venetian girl (unmarried and daughter of one of their nobles) I tumbled into the Grand Canal – and not choosing to miss my appointment by the delays of changing – I have been perched in a balcony with my wet clothes on ever since – till this minute that, on my return, I have slipped into my dressing gown. — My foot slipped while getting into my Gondola to set out (owing to the cursed slippery steps of their palaces) and I flounced like a Carp – and went dripping like a Triton to my Seanymph and had to scramble up to a grated window.  

“Fenced with iron within and without” – “Let the Lover [get] in,  or the Lady [get] out.” 

She is a very dear friend of mine – and I have undergone some trouble on her account – for last winter the truculent tyrant, her flinty-hearted father – having been informed of our meetings by an infernal German Countess called Vorsperg (their next neighbour) – -they sent a priest to me – and a Commissary of police – and they locked the Girl up and gave her prayers and bread and water – and our connection was cut off for some time – but the father hath lately been laid up – and the brother is at Milan – and the mother falls asleep – and the Servants are naturally on the wrong side of the question – and there is no Moon at Midnight, so that we have lately been able to recommence; 

The fair one is eighteen, her name Angelina – the family name of course I don’t tell you. — She proposed to me to divorce my mathematical wife – and I told her that in England we can’t divorce except for female infidelity – “and pray, (said she), how do you know what she may have been doing these last three years?” – I answered that I could not tell – but that the status of Cuckoldom was not quite so flourishing in Great Britain as with us here. 

But – she said – “can’t you get rid of her?” – “not more than is done already,” (I answered)

– “… you would not have me poison her?” 

Would you believe it? She made me no answer – is not that a true and odd national trait? 

It spoke more than a thousand words – and yet this is a little, pretty, sweet-tempered, quiet, feminine being as ever you saw – but the passions of a sunny soil are paramount to all other considerations; – an unmarried girl naturally wishes to be married – if she can marry & love at the same time it is well – but at any rate she must love. I am not sure that my pretty paramour was herself fully aware of the inference to be drawn from her dead silence – but even the unconsciousness of the latent idea was striking to an Observer of the Passions – and I never {strike out} a thought of another’s or of my own – without trying to trace it to its source. […]

Very truly yrs. ever  

Lord Byron
in The Letters of John Murray to Lord Byron, Ed. Andrew Nicholson, Liverpool University Press, 2007


chapter 2

Arabian nights

After dinner, I went out by myself, into the heart of the enchanted city where I found myself wandering in strange regions like a character in the Arabian Nights. It was very seldom that I did not, in the course of my wanderings, hit upon some strange and spacious piazza of which no guidebook, no tourist had ever told me.

I had plunged into a network of little alleys, calli dissecting in all directions. by their ramifications the quarter of Venice isolated between a canal and the lagoon, as if it had crystallised along these innumerable, slender, capillary lines. All of a sudden, at the end of one of these little streets, it seemed as though a bubble had occurred in the crystallised matter. A vast and splendid campo of which I could certainly never, in this network of little streets, have guessed the importance, or even found room for it, spread out before me flanked with charming palaces silvery in the moonlight. It was one of those architectural wholes towards which, in any other town, the streets converge, lead you and point the way.

Here it seemed to be deliberately concealed in a labyrinth of alleys, like those palaces in oriental tales to which mysterious agents convey by night a person who, taken home again before daybreak, can never again find his way back to the magic dwelling which he ends by supposing that he visited only in a dream. 

On the following day I set out in quest of my beautiful nocturnal piazza, I followed calli which were exactly alike one another and refused to give me any information, except such as would lead me farther astray. Sometimes a vague landmark which I seemed to recognise led me to suppose that I was about to see appear, in its seclusion, solitude and silence, the beautiful exiled piazza. At that moment, some evil genie which had assumed the form of a fresh calle made me turn unconsciously from my course, and I found myself suddenly brought back to the Grand Canal. And as there is no great difference between the memory of a dream and the memory of a reality, I ended by asking myself whether it was not during my sleep that there had occurred in a dark patch of Venetian crystallisation that strange interruption which offered a vast piazza flanked by romantic palaces, to the meditative eye of the moon. 

Marcel Proust
Albertine disparue, Gallimard, 1925, trad. C. K. Scott Moncrieff

chapter 3

Crime most serene

Meanwhile, the cafés lit a giorno are full to bursting with the finest minds, adventurers, spies, swindlers, laughing, chattering, and listening, three-cornered hats on their heads, masks pushed sideways over the ear. People call on one another until midnight; people play in the gambling dens. 

Concealed beneath the bauta, the masks meander and bow to one another in the murky red light, removing a hand from a sleeve only at the tables, 

where the tricksters stand rooted for hours at a time, at scopa, at piquet, at dice, at faro, bassetta, baccarat, paroli, biri-bi, while the candles weep yellow wax onto their hats. Milling with the crowd, the women selling biscotti, the flower girls in their short skirts, the courtesans half-hidden beneath their veils, are masked too. The air is thick and dreadfully hot in this hellish cavern, a blend of every perfume, every stench, their greasy deposits coating the mirrors. 

People stay until the hour when the Canal Grande turns the color of lead, then disappears beneath the vegetable-sellers’ boats. All the while, beside secret gardens drowsy with white-bellied flies, at the corners of palaces flanked by mangy lions, the inky water slops and oozes. No reeds or willows for this Styx. Perhaps the city will sink in an instant. 

There is always something afoot, when night falls and the mirrors drink the darkness. Lanterns move swiftly, crossing a bridge. Dismal, obscene singing rises from who knows where. An extended scream rings out. 

A ship’s lantern burns in a palace courtyard. People meet in secret at the Uomo Selvaggio, a tavern of ill repute where the serving girls sit with the clientele, selling the cheap, bad wine they call Alfabeto, five soldi a cup. A treacherous brew that pours vitriol into the blood and coats the tongue with saltpeter; a filthy, acid potion that can make a man talk. 

She and he are there, masked. With her index finger, she traces signs on the table, in the spilled wine. Here, now, the thing we cannot date; the timeless discovery, the gradual, nameless realization, the formless quarrels, the allusions, but a greater reticence, too, because henceforward nothing will be inconsequential. Someone has seen something. Someone has heard something. Greater restraint is required; rites and rituals of even greater subtlety, shot through with bittersweet feints, half smiles, gentle deeds, and treachery. 

They face each other in the drawing room, tall and straight, of equal height, similar in a way. Perhaps he prefers the gnawing pain of anxiety to the keen flesh-wound of escape. She knows he has understood. A pale, viscous cord, a bloodied spiral connects them still. A chance look, sharp as steel, draws a dark tide, rising from the depths; monsters come forth, then disappear suddenly, with the brusque absurdity of a dream. And as in a dream, there is a change of light, a change of décor, while orchestras sob and roar out of sight, echoing through empty rooms.

Gabrielle Wittkop
Murder most serene, Wakefield Press, 2015

subscribe to our newsletter
chapter 4

The men of Inquisition

The next day, in the evening, we found ourselves at St. Mark’s Square earlier than usual. A light rain forced us to retire to a cafe where we were playing. The prince sat behind the chair of a Spaniard and watched him play. As for me, I walked into an adjoining room, where I began reading a newspaper. A moment later, I heard a noise. Before the arrival of the prince, the Spaniard was losing, and now he was winning on all cards. The whole game had turned around, and the bank was in danger of being ruined by the rich man whose lucky hand had made him bolder. A Venetian, who was observing them, turned to the prince and said: “It is he who troubles the fortune; he has to leave the table!” The prince looked at him coldly without moving. He kept the same posture when the Venetian repeated the same speech in French. Thinking that the prince did not understand any of the two languages, the Venetian turned to the assistants with a smile of disdain: “Tell me, gentlemen, how will I make myself clear to this oaf?”

At the same time, he got up and took the prince by the arm; but, the latter lost patience: he seized the Venetian and lifted him up with force. Immediately the whole house was in uproar;

I ran to the noise and, unwittingly, called the prince by his title “Take care…prince,” I added, thoughtlessly, “we are in Venice.” The name of the prince produced a general silence, soon followed by whispers that seemed to announce some peril.

All Italians who were there reunited in a group apart, then left the room one after another, until we were left alone with the Spaniard and some Frenchmen.

“You are lost, Monsignor,” they said, “if you do not don’t leave town right away. The Venetian that you assaulted is rich enough to pay a hit man: it will only cost him fifty sequins to get you out of this world. “

The Spaniard offered to fetch a guard for the safety of the prince, and to accompany us to our home. The Frenchmen made the same offer. We stayed there deliberating on what to do, when the door opened and we saw some officers of the Inquisition enter; they presented a regency order, summoning both of us to follow them at once. We were taken under a good escort to the canal. There, a gondola was waiting for us: before leaving, we got blindfolded. We were taken up to a long stone staircase and, from there, we were led through a very long vault, as I supposed by the multiplied echoes resounding under our feet. Finally, we arrived at another staircase, and went down twenty-six steps. A door opened up and they took away the blindfold covering our eyes. 

We found ourselves in the middle of a circle consisting of old and venerable men, all dressed in black; the room was dimly lit, and everything was drowned in the silence of death. One of these old men -presumably the Inquisitor of the State- approached the prince and said with a solemn air, presenting him with the Venetian:

“Do you recognize this man as the one who offended you in the cafe?”

 “Yes,” replied the prince.

Then, turning to the prisoner:

 “Is this the person whom you wanted to be murdered today?”

 The prisoner replied, “Yes.”

Instantly the circle opened, and we saw with horror the head of the Venetian falling from over his shoulders.

“Are you happy with this recompense?” asked the State Inquisitor.

The prince fell unconscious in the arm of his guide.

“Go now,” continued the inquisitor in a terrible voice, “and in future be less quick to pass judgment on the justice of Venice.”

Friedrich V. Schiller
Romans, Dessesart, 1838

chapter 5

Deadly emerald

(Corto):  Melchisedech…Do you know anything about the “Magic Emerald” also known as “Solomon’s Clavicle” which belonged to Simon the wizard? 

(Melchisedech): It’s an emerald stone, indeed […]. It was given to Lilith, the first wife of Adam, before she became Cain’s wife. Cain took it from her, when he wanted to reconquer the lost paradise from his parents. It is a dangerous stone. […] Simon the wizard lost it to Apostle Simon Peter who gave it to Saint Mark the Evangelist, Venice’s patron saint. Do you follow? 

(Corto):  You bet I do!

(Melchisedech): The Evangelist was unaware that this emerald had been given by Salomon to his architect Iram as a reward for building the temple of God. It is for this reason that the emerald was magic and that is why there were mysterious characters engraved on it: a secret message for the insiders. Watch out Corto, this is only a legend!

(Corto): I love legends!

(Melchisedech): Hmmm…Good….These characters engraved like magic formulas actually gave indications to find one of the treasures of Salomon and the Queen of Sheba. Unaware of all this, Saint Mark went to Egypt to found the Church of Alexandria. But he was strangled by two killers from a Gnostic sect related to Simon the wizard [..] then we lost the traces of the clavicle of Salomon, and therefore of the magic emerald too… This is the story of this precious stone. […] 

Meanwhile two other Venetians are also on the trail of the precious emerald…

(Stevani): Here’s a letter by Baron Corvo addressed to Stevani, my father: [..] Timeline: “In 828 A.D., Buono da Malamocco and Rustico da Torcello steal the emerald hiding it under the body of the Evangelist Mark and under pork meat. In 830, Ibn Farid, the first Arab agent sent to retrieve the emerald, is strangled. In 856, Ben Wasil of Cairo dies in prison in Venice. In 893, Ibrahim Abu, Sicilian Buckwheat is found dead near the Rialto… In 904, Saud Khalula of Palermo with the help of his black guards, manages to take back Salomon’s emerald and hides somewhere in Venice. […] The traces of Salomon’s clavicle are lost. It’s probably still in Venice.”

Meanwhile Corto arrives at Stevani’s house. 

(Corto Maltese): This is Stevani’s house.  Maybe he’ll let me take a look at the diaries of Baron Corvo. […]

(firing sounds) BANG! BANG!

(Corto enters Stevani’s room): Damn it…Stevani!  

(Corto finds Stevani lying on the ground).  Two nasty wounds! Who could have shot?

(Stevani): The Arabian emerald…the Arabs of Venice…Baron Corvo…The Court…


(Corto Maltese): Another gunshot… life in Venice becomes dangerous…

Hugo Pratt
Fable de Venise, Casterman, 1981

Fable of Venice: In this affectionate tribute to his hometown, Venice, Hugo Pratt offers a complex mystery thriller involving Freemasons, occultists, and esotericists set during the rise of Fascism in 1921.

Venice for nightwalkers

The most beautiful spots for a romantic night under the Venetian moon