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Venice - Pure City
(Chatto & Windus) ISBN 978-0701172855 0701172851

For people planning Venice vacations, this comprehensive history book is required reading. In Venice - Pure City, Peter Ackroyd helps you understand the Italian city's people, politics, religion, architecture, art, watery environment, industry, music and festivals, in their historical context.

The 403-page Venice travel book transports you, as if you were on a gondola, deeper and deeper into the history of the city.

Venetian history

In 11 chapters, Peter Ackroyd introduces you to the earliest inhabitants, the Veneti, craftsmen, such as the Murano glass-makers, Venetian painters, like Bellini and Tintoretto, Venetian playwrights, including Carlo Goldoni, Venice Doges (e.g., Leonardo Loredan) and merchants.

Interspersed with their stories are the histories of Venice landmarks, such as Saint Mark's Square, the Ducal Palace and the Bridge of Sighs.

City maps

Color and black & white historic illustrations and photographs depict maps, art, landmarks, bridges, canals and people.

At the back of the book, a Venetian Chronology summarizes the history of Venice, Italy, from the fourth century to the 20th century AD.

A bibliography of books about Venice, with authors and publishers, is an excellent reading list for travelers planning Venice vacations.

Venice - Pure City mixes interesting facts with history. For example, you learn the number of islands in Venice (117) and how many pigeons there are in Saint Mark's Square (40,000), despite many failed attempts to decrease their numbers. According to Peter Ackroyd, vendors who sell corn to tourists to feed the 'doves of Saint Mark' support 19 Venetian families.

Venice Pure City by Peter Ackroyd

Information about gondolas

One chapter describes the history of Venice gondolas from the 11th century, who rode gondolas (wealthy patricians) and how the style of gondolas evolved (to longer and painted black) to the gondola ride enjoyed by tourists today.

Peter Ackroyd notes that there were 10,000 Venetian gondolas in the 16th century, but there are just 400 working gondolas in Venice today. Only four gondolas are built annually. After 20 years, when they wear out, the wood from old gondolas fuels the fires used by Murano craftsmen to make Venetian glass.

Readers also learn that the system of Venice house numbers is very confusing, because they reach into the thousands without reference to streets, squares or maps.


1 City from the Sea
  1. Origins
  2. Water, water everywhere
  3. Mirror, mirror
2 The City of St. Mark
  1. The saint comes
  2. Refuge
  3. Against nature
  4. Stones of Venice
3 Ship of State
  1. 'Let it be everlasting'
  2. The chosen people
  3. The prison house
  4. Secrets
  5. Chronicles
4 Republic of Commerce
  1. The merchants of Venice
  2. The endless drama
  3. Wheels within wheels
5 Empire of trade
  1. The Lion City
  2. Cities in collision
  3. A call to arms
6 Timeless City
  1. Bells and gondolas
  2. Iustitia
  3. Against the Turks
7 The Living City
  1. The body and the building
  2. Learning and language
  3. Colour and light
  4. Pilgrims and tourists
8 The Art of Life
  1. Hurrah for Carnival
  2. A divine art
  3. The eternal feminine
  4. What to eat?
9 Sacred City
  1. Divine and infernal
  2. Of belief
10 The Shadows of History
  1. Decline and fall?
  2. Death in Venice
11 City of Myth
  1. The map unrolls
  2. The huddled family
  3. Moon and night
  4. While the music lasts
  • A Venetian chronology
  • Bibliography
  • Index


Peter Ackroyd is a broadcaster, biographer, poet, historian and award-winning novelist. This history of Venice, Italy, is his 30th book.

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