The places that built his myth
From the church he served in to the diner where he charmed his conquests and to his inevitable incarceration in the Doge’s Palace, Casanova has written history around the lagoon.
We all know a bit about the story of Casanova in Venice. Mainly a writer, although his career path took him through a curious selection of jobs, he is known as the prototype of the modern womanizer. A very intelligent and curious man, he made Venice his playground – or should I say ‘playhouse’, as the notorious Venetian came from a family of actors.
Nonetheless, while he was making his way through the high society of Venice (and their wives’ beds), he also left his mark over several landmarks of the city and painted an insightful picture of Europe in the 18th century. So join us on a tour of Casanova’s life in Venice.
Find it at: Campo San Samuele, 30124
First thing first – Giacomo Casanova was born in 1725 in a building on Calle Malipiero (previously Calle della Commedia), close to the Palazzo. A plaque marks the exact location, on the narrow brickwork street. While he was still a teenager, he became the confidant of Senator Alvise II Gasparo Malipiero and therefore moved to his palace, the place where he would start his first conquests. Eventually he would be sent away, from the palace and Venice as well, after the Senator caught him with one of his own desired conquests.
San Samuele Church
Find it at: Salizada Malipiero, 3188 | Photo: in-venice.com
Quite near to Palazzo Malipiero, was written another brief chapter from Casanova’s life story. After going to school in Padua, Giacomo returned to Venice as a youngster, to serve as an apprentice priest at San Samuele Church. What started quite well, with praise, donations and even love letters, continued less so, when the second service was more of a drunken slur. This prompted a series of career changes, from violinist to spy. Sadly, the church and its beautiful frescos are closed to the public, but the building can be admired from San Samuele Square or from the Grand Canal.
Il Ridotto | Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal | Calle Vallaresso
This very narrow street near Piazza San Marco is nowadays full with designer fashion and popular bars, but back in the day, this was Giacomo’s favourite destination for a bit of gambling. I say a bit, but it was actually one of his favourite pastimes. He loved getting money and spending money, but the salons here were also a great opportunity to meet people from the high society and flirt his way to ladies’ beds.
The most important hotspot that you can visit here is Il Ridotto, a former public casino that would open during the Carnival, and clients were forced to wear masks. This was a favourite with Casanova in Venice, even though it was closed on various occasions. Meanwhile, it was turned into a cinema, a theatre and today it belongs to Hotel Monaco and Grand Canal. It is used as an events venue and breakfast room, but the staff will let you take a look around at any time.
Ponte delle Tette
Find it at: Via San Cassiano, Rio Marle
The times spent by Casanova in Venice were less than glamorous and prostitution was a regular part of society. This small bridge was the center of the red-lights district, with courtesans walking around topless. You can see why Casanova was frequently seen around these parts, looking for his next conquest. With an estimate of over 10,000 such ladies at the time, the Serenissima wasn’t even complaining, as they saw it as a way to convert homosexuality and then use the taxes they charged to finance various works around town. Today it is a fairly innocuous and quiet part of Venice.
Find it at: Giudecca, 10
The Belmond Hotel Cipriani on Giudecca Island is the home of this fairy tale wellness centre that lets you enjoy relaxing and rejuvenating treatments in a garden oasis. The story goes that the same grounds were once used by Casanova to woo his lovers, and now any couple can enjoy a supreme experience. Of course Hotel Cipriani is a recent addition to the Island, so Casanova this exactly use this spa, it’s a welcome break after walking along on Giacomo’s footsteps all day.
Find it at: San Marco 1
The Doge’s Palace was the home of the lowest and highest moments of Casanova in Venice. The first came when he was incarcerated in 1755 and spent over a year in a small cell atop the building. The second when he plotted his escape, twice, once by digging under his armchair but getting caught and the second successful one, climbing on the roof then back into an attic and down the golden staircase, walking out like any other distinguished guest. The tiny cell can be visited and is included in the Secret Itinerary tour of the palace.
Find it at: Piazza San Marco
Casanova didn’t exactly run as soon as he saw freedom out the doors of the palace. The legend says that he stopped at the famous Caffè Florian, in Piazza San Marco, where he enjoyed a coffee before taking to the seas in a gondola, on his way to Paris. This beautiful café still manages to capture the spirit of the times, with vintage decorations and red velvets contrasting with the golden detailing and artwork on the walls. It’s a big attraction, especially during the Carnival, and its history is included in the price of the coffee I’m afraid.
Find it at: San Polo, 859 | Photo: 2venice.it
If you were wondering where Giacomo took his ladies to dinner, you should know that this restaurant near Rialto was a favourite of Casanova in Venice. Opened almost 600 years ago, this is the oldest osteria in the lagoon, serving the beloved traditional cicchetti and local specialties, mainly seafood but not only. If you drop by for dinner, try to get a table in the back room, where Casanova would sit. It had a backdoor, in case he got into trouble. The décor is a little more modern these days but the food and the atmosphere are still great. So is the wine.
If you did follow this tour all along, we’ll leave you in the company of the people at Do Spade, who will share fantastic stories about the adventures of Casanova in Venice. But knowing his story, it’s not difficult to imagine him walking the old streets, getting kicked out of churches and palazzos, or having a drink with a lovely lady in any old caffè. However you feel about his action, the story of Giacomo Casanova does have its charm and his works have given us great insight in to the European society of the 18th century.