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An extraordinary chronicle of Venice, its people, and its grandeur
Thomas Madden’s majestic, sprawling history of Venice is the first full portrait of the city in English in almost thirty years. Using long-buried archival material and a wealth of newly translated documents, Madden weaves a spellbinding story of a place and its people, tracing an arc from the city’s humble origins as a lagoon refuge to its apex as a vast maritime empire and Renaissance epicenter to its rebirth as a modern tourist hub.
Madden explores all aspects of Venice’s breathtaking achievements: the construction of its unparalleled navy, its role as an economic powerhouse and birthplace of capitalism, its popularization of opera, the stunning architecture of its watery environs, and more. He sets these in the context of the rise and fall of the Byzantine Empire, the endless waves of Crusades to the Holy Land, and the awesome power of Turkish sultans. And perhaps most critically, Madden corrects the stereotype of Shakespeare’s money-lending Shylock that has distorted the Venetian character, uncovering instead a much more complex and fascinating story, peopled by men and women whose ingenuity and deep faith profoundly altered the course of civilization.
This is a savory, tantalizing, but not-so-serene history of La Serenessima a tale of invasion, plunder, and ultimate elevation to one of the leading merchant cities in Europe. As Madden relates, the earliest Venetians were former citizens of the crumbling Roman empire and desperate survivors of Attila the Hun's 452 devastation of such cities as wealthy Aquileia and Patavium. In 697, the scattered lagoon dwellers elected their first "doge" to unify the region. By 810, fledgling Venice was able to repel an invasion by the most powerful force in Europe the Frankish king Charlemagne's son Pepin. and in the 11th century, the Norman invasion of Byzantium disrupted Venetian shipping in the Adriatic. But a Venetian war fleet reestablished dominance in the area, and Venice was the second-largest city in western Europe. Its economy damaged by the Fourth Crusade, its population decimated by the bubonic plague, by 1490 Venice had nevertheless reached the pinnacle of its power and with wealth, symbolized by the stunning family palazzi towering over the Grand Canal (although Madden also contends that medieval and Renaissance Venetians are often portrayed unfairly in modern histories as conniving and greedy). St. Louis Univ. history professor Madden's (Empires of Trust) makes use of thousands of Venetians' personal documents from the Middle Ages to present an authoritative history.