Friday, January 31, 2020

Italy | Venice | Ca’ Rezzonico

Wandered by the Ca’ Rezzonico on the Grand Canal. The palazzo dates back to the 1660s, although it did not achieve its present look until the 1750s. The original owner went bankrupt trying to complete it. After changing hands several times it was bought in the 1880s by Robert “Pen” Barrett Browning, son of Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with money from his American heiress wife Fannie Coddington, who was said to be enthralled by the elder Brownings, famous poets that they were, but by Pen not so much. He won her hand and dollars only after a fourteen-year courtship. Pen cut a somewhat ambiguous figure. According to one recent author, “Pen Browning was destined to spend his adult life watching people register the thought, ‘That’s what those two poetic geniuses produced?’ but his parents considered him a marvel of aesthetic discernment and religious piety.” The American author and Venetomaniac Henry James, who knew Pen and his father personally and attended poetry reading at the palazzo, weighted in with this:
[The palazzo is]  altogether royal and imperial—but ‘Pen’ isn’t kingly and the train de vie remains to be seen. Gondoliers ushering in friends from pensions won’t fill it out . . . There seems but one way to be sane in this queer world—but there are so many ways of being mad. And a Palazzo-madness is almost as alarming—or as convulsive—as an earthquake—which indeed it essentially resembles.”
Pen’s famous father died here on December 12, 1889. Later Pen was accused of having an affair with a blonde Italian bombshell by the name of Minerva who he had introduced into the household as a housekeeper-cum-model (he dabbled in painting and sculpture). He also installed a menagerie of birds, snakes, and other wildlife. The palazzo had turned into a zoo, both literally and figuratively. Fanny finally got fed up and fled with her dollars, but the two never divorced. Pen sold the Ca’ Rezzonico in 1206 and retired to Asolo, the famous hill town on the mainland, where he died on July 8, 1912. 

The new owners let out the palazzo to, among others, the American composer and entertainer Cole Porter, who rented it in the mid-1920s for $4000 a month, $58,500 a month in today’s money. It was here that he held his notorious bacchanalias that shocked locals and bedazzled the ex-pat community. One frequent guest at his parties was Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, a.k.a “Bricktop”(due to her red hair), a half-black-half-Irish jazz singer, dancer, and nightclub owner born in a small town in West Virginia who had washed up in Paris, where Porter met her in a nightclub and invited her to the Ca’ Rezzonico to teach his other guests the  Charleston, the latest dance craze from them States.  The palazzo is now a museum and the visitants are much more sedate.
Ca’ Rezzonico (click on photos for enlargements)
Plaque commemorating Robert Browning’s death at Ca’ Rezzonico. It includes the famous line from one of his poems: Open my heart and you will see graved inside of it ‘Italy’.
Ca’ Rezzonico
The Grand Canal from the front of Ca’ Rezzonico
On the top floor of the palazzo is a gallery full of titillating paintings by Venetian artists. No museum in Venice can match it for the sheer amount of mammaries on display. This is just a sampling:

Nightmare date?
The word “louche” springs to mind
What’s going on with the asp?
Some guys have all the luck . . .
You can’t help but envy the little fella
Redheads. What can you say?
Sweet Dreams
Call SVU!
Nice bellybutton!
The guy on the right is obviously a satyr, but what’s with the little cherub on the left?
Aphrodite (a.k.a. Venus) emerging from her clam shell. I was especially intrigued by this painting, since I have visited Aphrodite’s birthplace on Cyprus Island.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Italy | Venice | Origins of the Dandolo Family


For the centuries the Goths, a Germanic people possibly originating in Sweden, had been fighting their way south towards the Mediterranean Sea. Prior to the beginning of the Christian era they had crossed the Baltic Sea into what is now Germany and by the second century the tall, light-skinned, largely blonde-haired marauders, notoriously for their ferocity, were causing havoc all along the northern borders of the Roman Empire. They eventually broke into two groups, the Ostrogoths and Visigoths. In the 390s the first Visigoth ruler, Alaric I, even dared advance on Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine, or East Roman, Empire. His attack on the capital having been thwarted by the Byzantines, he turned his army to the southwest, into Greece, where he sacked Corinth, Sparta, Piraeus (the port of Athens), and other cities. He then set his sights on the western half of the Roman empire and the city of Rome. Utilizing the superb Roman-built roads he and his army soon founded themselves in the ancient region of Veneto, positioned on the broad strip of land between the Adriatic Sea and the Dolomites and other mountains of the Alps to the north. Blessed with numerous rivers, plentiful rainfall, fertile soil, and bountiful forests, its famously industrious people had made this was one of the richest regions in the Roman Empire, dotted with prosperous cities like, Vicenza, Asolo, Patavium (modern-day Padau), Concordia, Altinum (Altino), and Montagnana. The largest city of the region, Aquileia, with a population of 100,000 (200,000 by some estimates), was deemed by the fourth-century Roman poet and scholar Ausonius (c. 310—c. 395) to be one of the nine great cities in the world, mentioned in the same breath as Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and other storied metropolises.
Click on photos for enlargement
Ancient Veneto
In 401 Alaric and his rampaging Goths pillaged Aquileia, but the next year they were defeated by Roman armies and forced to retreat eastward to the Balkans. In 408 they returned and again plundered Aquileia, sending shockwaves of panic throughout Veneto and beyond. Those with the means to do so fled in advance of the Goth onslaughts. Some sought refuge on the islands of the Laguna Veneta, the Venetian Lagoon, where it was hoped the Goths had neither the desire nor means to pursue them. Alaric was indeed focused on Rome, which he finally ransacked in 410. He moved south to Calabria, the toe of the Italian peninsula, planning from there to cross the Mediterranean and invade Africa, but he died the same year, 410, before this plan could be carried out. Meanwhile, some of the people who had fled to the islands of the Venetian Lagoon decided to stay there, perhaps surmising, correctly as it turned out, that Alaric would not be the last barbarian to rampage through their former abodes on the mainland to the north.

The citizens of Veneto at the time of the Goth incursions were a mixed lot. The belt of land between the Adriatic Sea and the mountains to the north served as a bridge between western Europe and the land to the east—the Balkan Peninsula, Greece, Asia Minor, and beyond, and for centuries people from both the Occident and Orient had been traveling through the region. Excellent roads, including the ancient Via Pustumia (built c. 148 b.c. by Roman consul consul Spurius Postumius Albinus Magnus), which began in Aquileia, the capital of Veneto, and continued the whole way across the top of the boot of Italy to Genoa on the western coast of the peninsula, facilitated travel and the relatively easy movement of trade goods. The ports of Veneto at the northern end of the Adriatic Sea attracted travelers and trade from the entire Mediterranean, linking the province with the ports of western Europe, northern Africa, and the Levant. With all the people passing through Veneto it was inevitable that some, attracted by its fertile countryside and rich cities, would decide to stay. Over the centuries this immigration resulted in a rich bouillabaisse of cultures. In addition to the ancient local stock, there were Romans and others from the Italian Peninsula, other Europeans from further west, Greeks, Levantines, north Africans, Arabs, and probably even Mesopotamians and Persians, backwash from the Roman Empires’s many wars in the Mid-East. These were the people who fled Veneto for the relative safely of the islands in the Venetian Lagoon. 

By the mid-fifth century Veneto was threatened once again by invaders. Around 445 Attila became the sole ruler of a confederation of tribes known as the Huns. Like Alaric, he set his sights on Constantinople, but he and his assembled army were unable to breach the formidable Theodosian Land Walls that protected the city. 
Theodosian Land Walls of Constantinople
They did plunder and burn hundreds of cities and towns in Thrace, the region west of Constantinople, before advancing further westward into what is now Germany and France. By the early 450s Attila had turned eastward and crossed the Alps in Veneto. Padua, Altinum, Aquileia, and many other cities and towns were sacked and burned. Aquileia, the capital of Veneto, offered the strongest resistance. According to one tale, Attila was about to abandon his siege when he noticed that the storks that nested in the city had picked up their young in their beaks and flown away to the south. Interpreting this as a portent that the city was doomed, Attila launched another attack. The city was plundered and completely leveled. The residents who had not fled in advance to the safely of the islands in the Lagoon were either slaughtered or enslaved. It was said that for decades later it was hard to find even traces of the once flourished trade center. 
Restored Roman-era columns. The city was completely leveled by Attila the Hun.
Remains of stone wharfs from ancient Aquileia. Canals connected it to the Adriatic Sea,  now 6.5 miles away. 
The Mosaic Floor of the current-day Cathedral of Aquileia dates to the third and fourth century. The original church was destroyed by the Goths and Huns and the floor was apparently buried beneath rubble. It was not rediscovered until the early twentieth century.
The current Cathedral of Aquileia, which dates to the eleventh century, was built on the site of the church destroyed by the Goths and Huns. 
Roman-era mosaics that survived the attacks of Attila and others and have now been restored.
Roman-era mosaics that survived the attacks of Attila and others and have now been restored. 
According to legend, the city of Venice was founded at the stroke of noon on Friday, March 25, a.d. 421. According to the Catholic calendar, it was the Feast of the Annunciation, celebrating the day when the angel Gabriel announced to the Virgin Mary that she would be the mother of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The story goes that around this time three Roman consuls from the city of Padua on the mainland came to a group of islands three miles from the coast known as the Rivoalto, or “high bank”. On slighter higher ground on both sides of a deep channel running through the area a small community had taken root. There were probably some long-time residents, including fishermen, hunters, salt gatherers, and other who eked out a living from the water and marshes of the Lagoon. Some may have been criminals, hiding out from the authorities on the mainland. Most, however, were refugees. In 421 they would have been those who fled from the deprecations of Alaric and the Goths. The area where they settled eventually became known as the Rialto, a corruption of rivoalto. The three consuls had supposedly come to the Rivoalto to set up a trading post and found a church dedicated to St. Giacomo (James), thus sanctioning the small settlement. The church was built just west of the narrowest part of the deep channel separating the islands. The channel became known as the Grand Canal, and eventually the Rialto Bridge was built here. 

Apparently nothing remains of this early church, according to most accounts the first ever in what is now Venice. The current church of St. Giacomo di Rialto, which supposedly stands on the site of the original church founded in 421, was built in the early 1170s and consecrated in 1177. This church was damaged in a fire which ravaged the area in 1514 and was remodeled in 1531 and again in 1599. Perhaps the most notable figure of the church now is the huge clock on the bell tower, supposedly dating to the fifteen century. If you visit the small square in front of the church, however, you can be reasonably sure you are standing in one of the very oldest parts of what eventually became the city of Venice. This early settlement on the Rivoalto islands was not the only community in the Venetian Lagoon, however, and in the years that followed it was nowhere near the most important. Not until 400 years later would it become the Venice that we know today.
The current church of St. Giacomo di Rialto
Later, when they were one of the most prominent families in Venice, the Dandolos would promote the notion that their ancestors were among the leaders of these refugees who had fled the deprecations of the Goths and the Huns in the fifth century and that thus they were one of the founding families of Venice. This was a common claim among the families of Venice who wanted to assert that they did indeed belong to the aristocracy, much like Americans who place great stock in the claim that their ancestors come to the New World on the Mayflower and landed at Plymouth Rock. According to the legend favored by the Dandolos themselves, they were prominent Roman residents of Padua, a city on the mainland twenty-two miles east of the Rivoalto islands, before moving to the islands in the Venetian Lagoon, where they took their rightful place among the elite. This assertion would have put them in the same league with the recognized founders of the first Venetian Lagoon communities, including families like the Contarinis, who by tradition traced their lineage back to Gaius Aurelius Cotta, consul, or chief magistrate of the Roman Republic from 252 b.c and 248 b.c.

The truth is less clear. There is no mention of the Dandolos in the earliest histories of Venice, written in the first half of the eleventh century. A history known as the Venetiarum Historia, dating to the 1360s, does aver that the Dandolos were among a later wave of immigrants who had fled the town of Altinum, on the mainland, in advance of an invasion of yet another band of marauders from the North, the Lombards. Altinum, now the tiny village of Altino, about five miles east of Marco Polo Airport, was once one of the major cities of Veneto. It was linked with the nearby Adriatic Sea by a canal that ran through the center of the city and with the important Veneto city of Aquileia by the Roman road known as the Via Anna. It was also the southern terminus of the Via Claudia Augusta, which ran northeast past Lake Constance in what is now Switzerland to the Danube River, a distance of some 300 miles. Thus Altinum became an important entrepôt for trade between the interior of Europe and the cities of Byzantium, including Constantinople. In the 450s Attila the Hun, following in the wake of the Visigoths, rampaged through Veneto. He razed Aquileia, completing the destruction of began by Alaric, and in 452 sacked the city of Altinum. Many residents fled to the safety of the nearby islands in the Lagoon before the arrival of Attila, but some stayed behind and resumed their lives as best and they could after the Huns had moved on. Some who had fled apparently returned to Altinum once the Hunnish threat had subsided. 

In the wake of the Huns, however, came another people seeking to plunder the rich land of Veneto—the Lombards. Originally from southern Scandinavia, by the first century a.d. they had settled in northern Germany. In the following centuries they drifted southward and by the fifth century occupied the Danube Valley. In the 568 the Lombards crossed the Alps into northern Italy, and for next five decades they would battle the Byzantines for control of Veneto. The Lombard king Rotari, who assumed the throne in 636, completed the conquest of the region by sacking Altinum in 638. 

Watching as the Lombards rampaged through the rest of the region, the residents must have realized that their city was doomed. A legend relates that upon learning of the approach of the Lombards the residents of Altinum held a prayer meeting in the city’s central square. While praying for guidance on how to deal with the threat of the Lombards they saw a flock of birds carrying newborn chicks in their beaks take off and fly south, towards the Lagoon. This was interpreted as a portent. Two leaders of the city, Ario and Aratore, along with several priests, followed the birds to an island about three miles offshore, and the rest of the residents of Altinum soon followed. The legend also relates that when they arrived on the island God appeared in a cloud and told them to build a church where the flock of birds had landed. One of the city gates of Altinum, the city they had just abandoned, was called Turicellum, so they decided to rename the island Torcello. 

There may have been a Roman colony on the island of Torcello—then apparently known by a different name—in the pre-Christian era. The residents were probably fisherman, duck hunters, and others who eked out a living from the sea and the nearby marches. The settlement was probably quite small and may not even been inhabited year-round. Recently uncovered remnants of a Roman pathway dating to the second century a.d. indicate that by then a more substantial settlement may have existed. As we have seen, some refugees from Altinum and other cities of Veneto had fled here during the earlier invasion of the Huns. The latest wave of immigrants fleeing the Lombards included the Dandolo family, ancestors of Enrico Dandolo, at least if we are to believe the Venetiarum Historia. 

The Bishop of Altinum, among the new arrivals on the island, transferred the headquarters of the bishopric from Altinum to Torcello and a year later, in 639, the new church, which according to legend, God had ordered the refugees to build, was dedicated. It was named the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Before leaving Altinum the residents had stripped the city of building materials that might come in handy in their new home, including Roman columns from churches and pagan fanes and other stonework, including even paving stones from the Roman roads that passed by the city. Some of these columns and other stonework may have been included in the new church. The immigrants from Altinum had also brought the relics of their local saint, St Eliodoro, and these were placed in Santa Maria Assunta.

Torcello, now inhabited by industrious former citizens of Altinum, flourished. Although founded 217 years after the quasi-official date of the founding of Venice on, it soon began the largest commercial center in the Lagoon, far surpassing the settlements on the Rivoalto islands in size and importance. Indeed, some consider it “the cradle of Venice” which would help populace the later much larger city. By the the twelfth century the island was home to probably 20,000 to 30,000 people, even 50,000 according to some estimates. By the thirteenth century, however, silt from nearby rivers entering the Lagoon began building up around the island. Trading ships were unable to land and eventually commerce dwindled. Also, some of the silt banks turned into marshland that became infested with malaria-bearing mosquitoes. Torcello became a very unhealthy place to live. By the beginning of the fifteen century many residents had fled to other, more salubrious islands in the Lagoon, including Burano, Murano, and Venice. In 1689 the Bishopric, after 1051 years in Torcello, was transferred to Murano. By the beginning of the nineteen century only some 300 people remained. Less than one hundred people (ten, according to one source) currently reside on the island full-time.

The island of Torcello is located 5.13 miles, as the tern flies, northeast of the water bus stops at the Fondamente Nuova, on the north side of Venice. Several water buses a day go directly to Torcello; more go to the nearby island of Burano, where other water buses can be taken for the short hop to Torcello. From the dock a pathway, most of it brick-paved, along side a canal to the right extends 2050 feet to the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. On the left is deserted brush land. Closer to the church are a few restaurants and cafes, including the charmingly named “Throne of Attila” and the famous Locanda Cipriani, which also rents rooms. Just beyond the Locanda Cipriani soars the bulk of the Santa Maria Assunta. The original church that the Altinum refugees built was revised and enlarged in 864 and again around 1008. Apparently the basic outline of the church is unchanged since then. Several elements dating to time when the Dandolos lived here—assuming again that the Venetiarum Historia is correct about the origins for the family—remain, however, most notably the circular baptistery in front of later, larger church. A remnant of the original church, the baptistery is said to date from 639. Possibly members of the Dandolo family were baptized here. 
Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta as seen from Burano

Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta
Baptistery in front of later, larger church said to date from seventh century
The Locanda Cipriani. Queen Elizabeth II, Edward Duke of Windsor and his wife Wallis Simpson, Queen Alexandria of Yugoslavia, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, and a host of other Royals have visited here. Other notable guests included Winston Churchill, Ernest Hemingway (he stayed here when he came to Torcello on duck hunting expeditions; reportedly he himself drained six bottles of wine a night while in residence), John Dos Passos, Igor Stravinsky, Maria Callas, Somerset Maugham, Max Ernst, Nancy Mitford, Margaret Thatcher, and a host of others. 
Inside the church the roof is held up two rows of slender marble columns, nine to each row. Two of the columns, (the second and third on the south side) are said to date from the sixth century and were probably brought from Altinum by the original settlers on the island, perhaps including the Dandolos, along with numerous other smaller columns and capitals in the interior for the church. Behind the high altar is a Roman sarcophagus dating from the second or third century a.d said to contain the relics of St. Eliodoro, also brought from Altinum by the refugees. To the left of the altar, inset in the wall, is the stone tablet recording the consecration of the church in 639. This may be the oldest dated document of Venetian history. In the courtyard in front of the church can be seen the stone chair said to be the throne of Attila the Hun, although its provenance is almost certainly apocryphal. 

Throne of Attila the Hun?
Of course most visitors to Torcello today come not to ponder the historical remnants of Altinum but instead to gape at the magnificent mosaic entitled “The Last Judgement” that covers almost the entire west wall of the interior of the church. Although one of the crowning achievements of Byzantine art, it dates to the late eleventh century, long after the Dandolos would have left Torcello, and thus need not concern us here. 

Friday, January 24, 2020

Italy | Venice | Palazzo Mocenigo

Wandered by the Museum of Palazzo Mocenigo, just behind the Church of San Stae on the Grand Canal. The museum also hosts the Study Centre of the History of Textiles, Costumes and Perfume. The museum and study center is housed in the former palazzo of the Mocenigos, one of the most prominent families in Venice for a period of several hundred years. Seven Mocenigos became doges: Tommaso (1414–23), Pietro (1474–76), Giovanni (1478–85), Alvise I (1570–77, Alvise II (1700-1709), Alvise III (1722-32), and Alvise IV (1763). There were two branches of family, one located here at San Stae and another further on down the Grand Canal at San Samuele. A member of the San Samuele branch, Giovanni Mocenigo, was notorious for denouncing irrepressibly hard-core pantheist and unapologetic Hermetic occultist Giordano Bruno to the Catholic Inquisition, which resulted in Bruno being burned at the stake in Paris on Ash Wednesday, February 17th, 1600.
Church of San Stae
Entrance to Palazzo Mocenigo
Costume Exhibit (click on photos for enlargements)
Costume Exhibit
Costume Exhibit

Costume Exhibit
Costume Exhibit
Book of perfume recipes plus raw ingredients for making Perfume. I was of course in Seventh Heaven here. 

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Italy | Venice | Early Life of Enrico Dandolo #2


In the first decade of the twelfth century, probably in 1107, although this date is disputed, a son was born to Vitali Dandolo, brother of Pietro, Bono, and Uncle Enrico. The boy was named Enrico, like his uncle. At the time the entire clan, including Vitale and his three sons, were living in the family compounds clustered around the Parish Church of San Luca. Given that this Enrico Dandolo eventually became a doge, played a leading role in the Fourth Crusade and expulsion of the Byzantines from Constantinople, and, with the possible exception of Marco Polo, was the best-known Venetian of the Middle Ages, it is surprising that almost nothing is known about his life prior to 1171, when he was sixty-four years old. In June of 1164 his signature was affixed to a loan agreement but other than that his name is entirely absent from the historical record until seven years later. We do know he married a woman named Contessa (née Minotto?) and had children, one of whom, Ranieri, would serve as vice-doge while his father was accompanying the Fourth Crusade. A second wife named Felicita, daughter of Pietro Bembo, a procurator of San Marco in 1143, is mentioned, but only in a dubious genealogy which most modern historians have discounted. 

Lacking any real evidence about Enrico’s life prior to 1171, the assumption has been made that he spent the early decades of his life engaged in commercial ventures overseas, perhaps working with his brother Giovanni in Constantinople, Acre, Alexandria and elsewhere in the East, and thus was absent from the historical record in Venice. Trade, however, produces a prodigious paper trail, and no documentary evidence of Enrico’s early commercial activities—if there were any—has survived. Enrico’s absent from the historical record prior to 1171 may be attributed to the fact that his formidable father Vitale did not die until 1174, when Enrico was sixty-seven years old. According the Venetian law a father could emancipate his children by giving them their share of the patrimonial inheritance before he died. This severed the legal relationship between father and son, leaving the son free to act entirely on his own, as a separate legal entity as it were. Vitale Dandolo emancipated none of his sons, meaning that they lived very much in his shadow until near the end of his life. Three years before Vitale’s death in 1174 Enrico Dandolo does enter the historical record as an advisor to Doge Michele on an ill-fated military campaign against the Byzantines and a year later in 1172 he was sent to Constantinople as an envoy to the court of the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Komnenos. 

Venetian relations with the Byzantine Empire had been deteriorating over the years and had reached their nadir by 1172. Back on December 10, 1167 Byzantine envoys arrived in Venice to seek the aid of the Venetians in a military campaign against the Normans, who from their base in Sicily sought to control the southern Italian Peninsula and Dalmatia, east of the the Adriatic Sea (the coastline of modern-day Croatia). Emperor Manuel I Komnenos cherished the dream of reasserting Byzantine control over these areas and he hoped the Venetians would offer their support. After all, Venice had sided with the Byzantines against the Normans before, most notably in 1081, when a Venetian fleet attacked and nearly destroyed an armada of Norman ships led by Robert Guiscard (“the Crafty”) in the southern Adriatic, off the coast from Durazzo (current-day Durrës, in Albania). A century later, however, the political landscape had changed. Venice had entered into a peace treaty with Norman King William II and it was not willing to abrogate this agreement and wage war against the Normans just to accommodate the Byzantines. Doge Doge Michele had to advise the Byzantine envoys that Venetian aid in any planned war against the Normans would not be forthcoming. 

Emperor Manuel I Komnenos was furious that his ambitions had been thwarted by the perfidous—in his eyes—Venetians. Such was his wrath that Doge Michele advised Venetian merchants to avoid Byzantine ports least they suffer from retaliation at the hands of Byzantine authorities. Venetian envoys were eventually dispatched to Constantinople in an effort to smooth over Manuel’s ruffled feathers, and by 1170 business relations were pretty much back to normal. However, that same year Manuel allowed Pisan and Genoese merchants back in the city. Eight years earlier Manuel had ejected them from the city for internecine brawling and disturbing the peace. Venetians in their own quarter had enjoyed a near monopoly on all west-bound trade in the city since the expulsion of the Pisans and Genoese and were now disgruntled by the competition.

Having established themselves in their own quarter, Venetians, never lacking in a sense of their own importance, had managed to antagonize a good portion of the Constantinople populace, especially those who did not directly profit from trade with them. The Venetian Quarter had become a virtual mini-state where they could do pretty much whatever they pleased. We have already seen how Bono Dandolo and his brother Pietro, while living the Quarter, had translated (stolen) the purported relics of St. Stephen and placed them in a church within the Venetian Quarter, where Byzantine authorities apparently had no legal authority to take them back, and how, despite the stern objections of the Byzantines, the relics were eventually taken back to Venice, probably on a Dandolo-owned ship. Theft of precious relics, although justified by the Venetians on the grounds of furta sacra, (sacred theft), would not have been forgotten or forgiven in a city obsessed with such sacred remains. Also, many Venetians in Constantinople had become very wealthy and they did not hesitate to flaunt their wealth and self-proclaimed superiority before the native inhabitants of the city, who in turn viewed the Venetians as boorish, arrogant, and condescending.

Byzantine court official and historian Nicetas Choniates (c.1155–1217), in his monumental history O City of Byzantium, Annals of Niketas Choniates, presents what may have been the viewpoint of the Byzantine elite. Condescending in tone, his description of the Venetians makes it sound as if they were some obscure tribe from the fringes of the Byzantine Empire that had somehow managed to insinuate itself into Constantinople and then proceeded to commit mischief:
Having reached this point in my history, I shall include the following. There is a gulf in the western sea called the Adriatic which recedes from the Sicilian sea and, separating itself as an effluence of the Ionian, flows a long way in the direction of the north wind. The northernmost recesses are inhabited by the Enetoi, who, in their own dialect, call themselves Venetikoi; nourished by the sea, they are vagabonds like the Phoenicians and cunning of mind. Adopted by the Romans [Byzantines] when there had been need for naval forces, they had left their homeland for Constantinople in swarms and by clans. From there they dispersed throughout the Roman [Byzantine] empire; retaining only their family names and looked upon as natives and genuine Romans, they increased and flocked together. They amassed great wealth and became so arrogant and impudent that not only did they behave belligerently to the Romans but they also ignored imperial threats and commands.
Emperor Manuel I Komnenos could not have been pleased by the increasingly impudent behavior of the Venetians. Also, the recent refusal of the Venetians to ally themselves with him against the Normans must have still rankled. Then there was the curious incident back in 1148 when the Venetians and the Byzantines were ostensibly allied against the Normans, who had seized the island of Corfu. As we have seen, the brother and son of the recently deceased Doge Pietro Polani were in charge of the Venetian fleet sent to aid the Byzantines in dislodging the Normans from the island. But there was considerable ill-will among the nominal allies and at times they even attacked each other. At one point, according to one historian:
They ([the Venetians] captured the Imperial [Byzantine] galley, dressed a negro slave in the Imperial ensigns, placed him under a canopy, and paraded him before the Greek [Byzantine] camp at Corfu, making mock obeisance to him in scorn and insult . . . Emperor Manuel did not forget the insult he had received in the person of the negro slave, nor did he lay aside his hostility. . . He was presently enabled to satisfy his desire for revenge . . .
All of the Emperor’s various grudges against the Venetians were no doubt festering in his mind when Venetians supposedly attacked the Genoese Quarter in Constantinople, even after he had given stern warning to all the various foreign trading quarters to refrain from in-fighting and maintain peace among themselves.  It has been suggested that the attack was the work of agents provocateur in the pay of the Byzantines themselves; in any case, the blame fell squarely on the Venetians. The time had come to rein in the obstreperous people from the Lagoon. Nicetas Choniates continues:
Buffeted by a series of villainies, one worse than the other, the emperor now recalled their offensive behavior . . . and turned the scales against them, spewing forth his anger like the tempestuous and stormy spray blown up by a northeaster or north wind. The misdeeds of the Venetians were deemed to be excessive, and letters were dispatched to every Roman province ordering their arrest, together with the confiscation of their communal properties, and designating the day this was to take place.
On March 12, 1171 every Venetian man, woman, and child on Byzantine territory was arrested and imprisoned and all their property confiscated. Over 10,000 Venetians in Constantinople alone were thrown into prison, and when the prisons overflowed monasteries were turned to temporary jails. Another 10,000 or more were arrested and imprisoned in other cities of the empire. 

As John Julius Norwich points out, the mass arrests all over the empire would  have called for considerable planning and coordination and thus must have been contemplated long before the attack by the Venetians on the Genoese traders in Constantinople, the ostensible reason for the emperor’s actions. Indeed, rumors of possible repercussions against Venetian traders had been afloat for the past several years. Reacting to these rumors, in 1169 or 1170 Doge Michele had seen fit to send two envoys, Sebastiano Ziani and Orio Mastropiero (both of them future doges) to Constantinople to seek assurances that Venetians in the Byzantine Empire were in fact safe and free to carry on business. The emperor not only gave his assurances that Venetians were under no threat but also encouraged more Venetian traders to enter his empire. Following the crackdown of March 12, 1172, the insinuation was made that the emperor had purposely lured additional Venetians into his empire just so he could seize them and their property. In the eyes of the Venetians this was just more more indication of Byzantine perfidy. 

Meanwhile, news of the disastrous events in Constantinople filtered back to Venice via traders and ship captains who had managed to escape the general dragnet and sail back home. As word spread outraged Venetians, many of whom had relatives and business interests in the Byzantine Empire, assembled in front of the Ducal Palace to demand that the government take military action to free their countrymen from Byzantine prisons and restore Venetian property that had been confiscated. This throng qualified as an arengo, or assembly of the general populace, which at least theoretically was still the ultimate political authority in Venice. Now the people were baying for Byzantine blood.

Doge Michele, it would appear from the historical record, favored diplomatic overtures to the Byzantines. Surely they would see the benefits of restoring favorable relations with Venice and the entire affair could be resolved without bloodshed. Business was the business of Venice, he believed, and the most important concern was to secure the release of the prisoners, seek compensation for Venetian financial loses, and resume commercial relations without resorting to warfare. He suggested that envoys be send immediately to Constantinople to begin negotiations with the Byzantines. Apparently his three chief advisors, Orio Mastropiero, Sebastiano Ziani, and Vitale Dandolo, father of the future Doge Enrico Dandolo, felt the same way.

At these juncture ships arrived in Venice with still more tales of outrages inflicted on Venetians by the Byzantines. The arengo, or assembly of the populace, simmering since the first news from Constantinople had arrived, now broke into a boil. Its representatives ordered that a fleet of 120 to 130 vessels be constructed and sent to smite the nefarious Byzantines who had so cruelly abused their fellow Venetians. They also ordered that the Doge Michele personally take command of the fleet. Faced with the will of the people, as demonstrated by the arengo, the doge had no choice but comply. Venice’s famously efficient shipyards constructed an entire fleet of 120 new ships in 100 days. To pay for the campaign against the Byzantines the financial wizards of Venice came up with the novel idea of forcing the populace to buy bonds which paid four percent per year interest. “The bonds could be bequeathed, mortgaged, or sold,” says one historian, “and so we find in this forced loan the earliest instance of government stock, certainly in the history of Venice, perhaps in the history of Europe.”

In September of 1171 fleet sailed down the Adriatic under the command of Doge Michele. On the same ship as the doge, and apparently acting as one of his advisors, was our hero, Enrico Dandolo, the future doge. After leaving the Adriatic the fleet rounded the Peloponnese and entered the Aegean Sea, soon reaching the island of Negroponte (modern-day Euboea), off the eastern coast of Greece, where they invested Chalkis, the capital of the island. The Byzantine governor of Negroponte, anxious to avoid hostilities with the Venetians, suggested sending sending his own envoy to Constantinople in hopes of opening negotiations with Emperor Manuel I Komnenos. Accompanying the governor’s envoy were two Venetians, Manasse Badoer and Bishop Pasqualo of Jesolo.

Under the impression that war had been avoided for the moment, Doge Michele ordered the fleet to proceed to the island of Chios, ninety miles east of Negroponte and 235 miles southwest of Constantinople, where it would hole up for the winter. Here news reached Doge Michele that the emperor Manuel refused to negotiate with the Venetians as long as their fleet remained in Byzantine waters. The emperor did however send an envoy to Chios. This envoy claimed that the emperor might be amenable to negotiations if the Doge dispatched another envoy to Constantinople. The envoy to Chios was probably just a spy sent to sound out the Venetian fleet and the promise of negotiations nothing more than a delaying tactic while the Byzantines explored their options. Nevertheless, the doge, ever optimistic that a diplomatic solution could be reached, sent yet another embassy to Constantinople.

Meanwhile, all was not well with the fleet at Chios. “There, in idleness, discipline became relaxed; the crowded ships grew filthy and unhealthy; plague broke out, more probably the result of dirt than of poison; thousands died,” we are told. (The mention of poison refers to the rumor which spread throughout the fleet that the Byzantines had poisoned the wells used by the Venetians.) Hoping to escape the epidemic, the fleet sailed for the nearby island of Panagia. Here news reached the doge that the second embassy he had sent to Constantinople had been turned away by the emperor. But the returning envoys said, amazingly enough, that if a third delegation was sent the emperor might possibly meet with it. Clearly Emperor Manuel I Komnenos was stalling for still more time. Yet the doge had little choice but to make one last attempt at a negotiated settlement. The plague still raged through his fleet and the ability of the Venetians to actually wage war was lessening by the day.

The third delegation to the court of the Byzantines consisted of Enrico Dandolo and Filippo Greco. Enrico Dandolo was as we have seen on the doge’s ship and acting as one of his advisors. Almost certainly the influence of Enrico’s formidable father Vitale had something to do with Enrico being appointed as an advisor to the Doge on this expedition, but Enrico must also have had some experience in diplomatic matters that led the Doge to believe he was the right man for this last ditch effort at a negotiated peace with the Byzantines. What this experience might have been, however, it is impossible to say, because as noted we know almost nothing about his life up until this point. In any case, his first recorded foray into diplomacy was not a success. He and his fellow envoy were never granted an audience with the emperor and all their other entreaties came to nought. 

While Enrico was in Constantinople the plague continued to ravage the Venetian fleet. In a futile attempt to escape the disease the fleet sailed to the island of Lesbos and later to Skyros, but the sailors continued to die off. “At length the Venetians could endure no more,” intones one historian, who continues:
The crews mutinied, and set sail for Venice. So complete was the collapse of the Venetian armament, so sweeping the mortality, that, as legend declares, the whole Giustiniani family, with one exception, perished . . . The disaster was complete. The shattered remnants of this splendid Venetian armament, created by generous sacrifices and bearing the hopes of the Republic, returned to the Lido in the spring of 1172. Instead of booty, it brought the plague; in place of victory, death.
Meanwhile the 20,000 or more Venetians arrested in Constantinople and elsewhere in Byzantine territory languished in prisons. The Venetians had suffered an ignominious defeat and someone’s head had to roll as a consequence. Doge Michele, although he had opposed the military expedition from the beginning, was held responsible for the disaster and would end up paying the ultimate price.

Although Enrico Dandolo’s first appearance on the historical stage ended in failure, he no doubt learned a lot about the Byzantines and their preferred methods of dealing with outside threats. Manuel I Komnenos probably never intended to engage the Venetians in actual combat, nor was he amenable to a negotiated settlement that included any concessions to them. He had sent his first envoy to Chios ostensibly to negotiate a settlement but more likely he was there to assess the strength of the Venetian fleet (there is no proof Manuel had the wells of the island poisoned). The Byzantines soon learned that the plague out broken out among the Venetians forces wintered at Chios. They probably figured that if they could stall long enough the plague would defeat the Venetians for them. The two additional peace overtures had been a ruse to buy time The Venetians had been misled and manipulated by the duplicitous Byzantines and the result was a disaster. Enrico Dandolo experienced this humiliating defeat first hand. Thirty-two years later, upon his return to Constantinople, he would be given ample opportunities to exact his revenge against the Byzantines.

The badly battered Venetian Fleet limped back into Venice in late May of 1172. The people of Venice had given Doge Michele a mandate to smite the Byzantines and had provided him with a fleet to do so, but he had never even engaged the enemy in combat. The fleet, paid for by bonds extracted from the populace, had been decimated and still more than 20,000 Venetians remained in Byzantine prisons, their property expropriated. The survivors who had sailed back with the fleet let known their opinion: “‘We were poorly led, and if we had not been betrayed by the doge dragging out matters with legates, then all of these troubles would not have overtaken us!’” The citizens of Venice were likewise outraged: 
There was a considerable section of the community, probably bereaved and disconsolate families, which openly and loudly accused the Doge of being the author of their misfortunes . . . The animadversions of this party were bold, violent, and bitter. They soon wore a really formidable aspect. Their clamours and maledictions gradually arrested the public attention. The subject which formed their ground of complaint became the leading theme of conversation. It was canvassed on the Rialto. It was agitated in the parliament, where it gave rise to frequent and angry controversies, in which the speakers freely vituperated each other. The sitting of the 27th May was stormy and tumultuous beyond precedent. The debate turned on the affairs of the Republic and on the causes and consequences of the recent catastrophe; all sides spoke with great warmth and emotion: and high words were exchanged.
As one of the his most trusted advisors, Vitale Dandalo was in the presence of Doge Michele right up until the moment it became obvious that the assembled populace outside and its representatives within the palace were now baying for the Doge’s blood. Vitale and Michele’s other advisors then slipped away, leaving the Doge to his fate. Attempting to escape on foot from the Ducal Palace to the sanctuary of the Zaccaria Convent, 800 feet away, he crossed the Ponte della Paglia—the bridge now famous for its view of the Bridge of Sighs—and then turned left on Calle delle Rassa  where he was overtaken by an enraged mob, one of whom stabbed him repeatedly with a knife. 
Ponte della Paglia, with the current version of the Ducal Palace on the left (click on photos for enlargements)
Entrance to the Calle delle Rasse
Calle delle Rasse. The dwelling of Marco Casiolo, the assassin of Doge Michele, would have been on the left. The site is now occupied by the Danieli Royal Excelsior Hotel.
He managed to stagger to the gate of the convent compound, where he died in the arms of a priest. The assassin, one Marco Casiolo, was quickly identified and arrested. Found guilty, he was decapitated on front of his own dwelling on the Calle delle Rasse. The dwelling was then razed and the order given that no stone building should ever again stand on the site. This edict remained in effect for 776  years. Not until 1948 was the Danieli Royal Excelsior Hotel erected on the site of Marco Casiolo’s old dwelling. 
The entrance to the Zaccaria Convent, where Doge Michele died.
The Danieli Excelcior Hotel now stands of the site of the dwelling of Marco Casiolo. the assassin of Doge Michele.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Italy | Venice | Palazzo Rizzi


Spent the 2019 Winter Solstice in Skopje, Macedonia. Two weeks later I winged to Istanbul and hopped on a connecting flight to Venice. I am back in my usual digs in Venice, an old nunnery which has been converted into a hotel. The building, once the Palazzo Rizzi, is located on the Fondamenta Rizzi, about a five minute walk from the Piazzale Roma, where all buses from the mainland terminate. The hotel is still owned and operated by St. Joseph’s Daughters of Caburlotto, the religious order that occupied the nunnery. As befitting an old nunnery, the rooms are tiny and spartan, to say the least. My bed is about three feet wide—all that was needed by a nun—and my ankles hang over the end, but the room does have a desk and enough electrical outlets to keep all my devices topped up. What else does one need in a room? There is also a midnight to 6:00 a.m. curfew. You cannot enter or leave the building during those hours. This is of no importance to me. Venice is not a night-life city by any stretch of imagination, and I myself would never have any reason to stay out past midnight. The Fondamenta Rizzi, the walkway on which the hotel is located, does not even have a convenience store and is as quiet as a tomb after nine p.m. 
Fondamenta Rizzi on the right (click on photos for enlargements)
The old Palazzo Rizzi, later a nunnery and now a hotel
Venice
Venice. The leaning bell tower is not a photographic distortion. It actually does lean that way.
Canal of San Luca
The Piazzetta in Venice
The Piazzetta in Venice
Piazza and Church of San Marco
Grand Canal from the Rialto Bridge