A guide to the places of mystery in Venice
A journey into a fantastic, dark and magic Venice, through a myriad of Venetian facts and curiosities that are perhaps too soon forgotten. This and much more may be found in “Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories”, forty horror stories set in the streets of the historical city centre, divided into four itineraries to discover the darkest and most fascinating nature of Venice; delving into streets, squares and labyrinths that were once – in a past that is not always so distant – the venues of inexplicable events, bloody crimes, horrible curses, macabre revenge and mysterious apparitions.
An unusual guide, that offers a new way to visit the city, a compelling and suggestive tour along a narrative thread that brings ghosts, demons, treacherous witches, good fairies, evil creatures and monsters to life there where reality and imagination cross paths, in the history of Venice, and in the language of myth: from the fairy who gave the gift of beauty, to the mermaid who was caught one night; from the skeleton of the bell-ringer condemned by his greed to wander, to the sad ghost of the nun against her will.
Between one story and another, notes on the history and the life of Venice, to satisfy even the most curious visitors. The book, illustrated by the photographs of Vito Vecellio and the maps of the itineraries, includes the names of so many of the personalities that have contributed to the history of the Serenissima: doges, warriors, philosophers, musicians, writers, painters…the spirits of some of them, Enrico Dandolo, Giacomo Casanova, Giordano Bruno, Antonio Vivaldi, continue to drift over the lagoon…
Published by Arsenale in 2000 and by Elzeviro in 2002 (and reprinted many times over) the book is 216 pages long. With its smaller format, “Venetian Legends and Ghost Stories” is a classic paperback size. It has twice been on the best-seller list.
Here are two excerpts from the book:
The Beggar and the Levantine
Cesco Pizzigani was one of the most talented Venetian stonecutters of his time. He contributed to the façade, for which his splendid hands created some of the precious perspective effects that quickly became famous throughout Europe. A few year later, in 1501, the artist’s young wife Florinda suddenly fell ill. The patient nursing with which her husband lovingly tried to save her life proved useless. He even sold his shop so that she might have every possible cure. Completely ruined, and totally overwhelmed by the loss of his beloved, Cesco ended up begging for several years at the foot of the portal of the Scuola Grande which he himself had helped to build. Every once in a while, he would secretly take an old nail and amuse himself at exercising his old profession on the sides of the portal, engraving the profiles of the ships which loaded and unloaded their wares on the great steps of the campo every day.
At that time, there lived close by a woman who had had a son by a Levantine, a Jew who had become a Turikish subject and who, as an international merchant enjoyed the rights bestowed upon foreign residents. Like his peers, he lived on the island of the Giudecca.
Now the son – who lived with his father and like him dressed in Turkish fashion – often came to visit his mother. But he used to beat her violently, taking out on her the inner conflict he felt: being half Venetian and half Levantine, he was not well accepted by either community. The woman, who lived alone and had never been married, woefully accepted her son’s violent outbursts, since she loved him more than her own self. But one night the situation got out of hand. In a fit of rage such as he had never felt before, the young man stabbed his mother and literally tore her heart out of her chest.
Blinded by his anger and terrified by what he had done, he dropped the knife and fled, holding the poor martyred heart in his hand.
He ran towards the bridge in front of the Scuola,, but tripped on the first step and fell, losing his grip. The heart rolled to the ground, stopped and from it a voice cried: “My son, did you hurt yourself?”
The crazed son ran to the edge of the lagoon facing the cemetery, threw himself into the waters and let himself drown. You can still hear his gloomy moaning in the silence of the campo, as he searches for his mother’s heart to feel the warmth of her love in the freezing winter nights. And Cesco? Cesco, like every night, had been asleep under the portal. He witnessed the scene and decided to immortalize it in his own way, by scratching it into the marble. Today on the portal, beside the profiles of the ships, you can still see a figure with a large turban on his head, holding a human heart in one hand. The heart of a mother.
The Girl Who Was Never Buried
It all happened one foggy evening on November 29 1904. At sunset Francesco Quintavalle, captain of the vaporetto “Pellestrina” leaving the Fondamenta Nuove for Burano, decided to sail despite the fact that visibility was practically zero, because of the insistence of the arsenal workers from Burano who desperately wanted to return home after a long day’s work. Behind him, the two gondolas rowed by Anotnio Rosso “Frana” and Andeto Coamozzo, loaded with inhabitants of Murano on their way back from Venice, gave him ten minutes to round the tip of San Michele then left to ferry their passengers home. The chronicles narrate that after passing the cemetery, Quintavalle decided to turn back and gave the order to proceed “Slowly backward”. But the gondolas were right behind him and by the time he realized it , it was too late. Rosso’s gondola was split in two, and sank with all its human cargo: four people were pulled right up onto the vaporetto, but the other five passengers – all women - disappeared within seconds. Despite the heavy fog, the rescue efforts began immediately and continued through the night.
Several hours after the accident Maria Toso Bullo was sighted by vaporetto number 6, clinging to a post. She was taken straight to Murano, but died within minutes. The lifeless bodies of Lia Toso Borella and Amalia Padovan Vistosi were found the next morning in the stern of the gondola. No trace was found of Teresa Sandon or Giuseppina Gabriel Carmelo, a little girl, swallowed up by the waters.
In September 1905, ten months after the tragedy, Teresa Sandon appeared to her sister in a dream: “Pray for me, for my soul – she told her – because my body is still imprisoned, but if you pray it will be freed from the bindings that hold it to the bottom of the canal, and I can rest in blessed ground”. Ten days after that shocking dream, a battered body was spotted by two fishermen floating in the canal of the “Bissa” towards the islands of the Vignole. The scarf around her neck allowed her to be identified: it was the body of Teresa Sandon. Little Giuseppina Gabriel Carmelo was never found. Her bones rest at the bottom of the lagoon, but her spirit has found peace in the floating casket which can be seen on foggy nights, lit by candles so that the ferry boats don’t crash into it.