Venice: History of the Floating City

Joanne M Ferraro, Author
Joanne M. Ferraro. Cambridge Univ., $27.99 (300p) ISBN 978-0-521-88359-7
Reviewed on: 10/08/2012
Release date: 07/01/2012
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From its beginnings in the sixth century when fisherman built raised huts above the mud flats, Venice was linked to the powerful Byzantine Empire both politically and culturally. With the Crusades came Venice's tourist industry as foreigners flocked to the city, which increased cultural diversity and allowed Venice to become a major maritime power in the Mediterranean. During the Renaissance, upper-class men were bachelors while women were married off by wealthy widows empowered by their dowries, whose values had greatly inflated in the 16th century. Since the 14th century, Jews had been a crucial part of the Venetian economy while working as pawnbrokers and textile and used goods vendors. In the beginning of the 15th century Venice was both a sea power and an international marketplace, and it quickly became a cultural hub as visitors took notice of its impressive architecture, theater, music, and art by the likes of Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese. Venice's star began to fade, though, and by the 17th century it was no longer an important maritime power or commercial force. Ordinary people, affected significantly by Venice's decreasing power, were forced to live on only the essentials, while wealthy Venetians continued to consume goods and materials at an impressive rate. Venice's decline coincided with the rise of opera, journalism, and tourism, which thrived in the two decades before the Republic fell to Napoleon in 1797. Although the book is marred by awkward writing and the author's attempt to sweep too many centuries into one small space, San Diego State history chair Ferraro (Marriage in Late Renaissance Venice) offers a rich and alluring account of "the floating city." Illus., maps. (Aug.)
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