Peter Ackroyd’s sumptuous book Venice: Pure City is both evocative and mesmerising. It is a masterpiece of intellectual writing that manages to entertain and inform at the same time and is a wonderful read for anyone interested in the history of the iconic lagoon city.
Starting from its very origins when Venice was nothing more than a desolate marsh, Ackroyd paints a brilliant picture of the city from its earliest settlement, its rise in prosperity to its heydays as an empire of trade that dominated the surrounding seas as far as Constantinople, up until its current state of decline and status as a tourist’s haven and mecca. It is not a dry history book that bombards the reader with dates and facts and the names of political leaders, but rather the loving memoir of a city that fills the imagination with wonder and a nostalgia for times gone by.
Venice was never a paradise on the water, though, and Ackroyd delves deeply into the details of its more sordid, and colourful, past, too. He explores the city of masks and the psychology of its inhabitants with their penchant for keeping secrets, mostly their own, and their tendency to spy on their neighbours. He leads us down into the duke’s dungeons and out again hot on the heels of Venice’s most famous son, Casanova.
We explore Venice as a living city, a city of art and language and learning and faith. A city that gave us renowned explorer Marco Polo, artists Titian and Tintoretto, and composer Vivaldi. A sacred city that draws pilgrims to its hallowed halls from all over the world.
I was in love with Venice before I read this book, but now I feel intimately acquainted, as if it is a part of my own history. It is a magical, thoughtful, read and one that will stay with me for a very long time.
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