Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Book Review: Venice: Pure City

by David Blake, Fiction Department, Central Library

Venice: Pure City
Peter Ackroyd

Peter Ackroyd is a literary historian with a gift for evoking long gone places and societies, very often different scenes from London’s past. But with Venice, the physical historical places are all still there. The whole city is almost all still there. A Renaissance era workman could walk from one end of today’s city to the other, a two-hour walk, on familiar calle (streets) past familiar buildings. The city that Venetians began building more than one thousand years ago is the city we see today, nearly untouched by war or automobiles. Peter Ackroyd populates the glorious architectural marvel that is Venice, with the generations of Venetians who made it so—their domestic life, their pageants, their conquests, and their industry.

Ackroyd’s Venice: Pure City, is a loose chronological series of essays on essential topics in the city’s thousand-year history. Venetians' struggle against natural elements, the difficulty of building a major city in the middle of a lagoon, these topics are addressed in early essays, whereas essays about the city’s musical traditions are among other seventeenth century topics because of the prominence of Vivaldi. Along the way we meet the beggars and the admirals, the tradesmen and the pets that shared these urban spaces one after another, century after century.

During its long zenith, Venice was an imperial city, controlling all the commerce between Europe and the east, as rich a city as the country of France. While other European powers pillaged one another’s cities, Venetians, secure in their lagoon, fought their wars at a distance and decorated their city with the great art and architecture we see there today. Ackroyd evokes the polyglot of peoples from all over the world, each with their own traditions, living side by side, lives closely regulated by church bells and the strict rules of Venice’s oligarchical republic.

Ackroyd’s essays can be read individually. The reader can pick and choose from a discussion of the Venetian attitude on death, or color and light in Venetian painting, or gang warfare during the Renaissance. Regardless of the topic, Ackroyd’s descriptive powers will captivate the reader.

Check it out.

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