Today marks the birthday of the great Romantic poet, writer and lover Lord Byron, who was born on 22nd January 1788, and who lived for a period of his life in Venice – which he described as “the greenest isle of my imagination”. Of the city, he also wrote “I loved her from my boyhood – she to me / Was as a fairy city of the heart / Rising like water-columns from the sea”. Here we’ve chosen a few of the places in Venice related to him:
Palazzo Mocenigo: From 1816-1819 Byron lived in this Grand Canal palazzo, together with fourteen servants and a menagerie of animals including two monkeys, several cats and dogs, a wolf, a fox, a crow and an eagle. It was here that he conducted many of his notorious affairs with lovers that included women of every social class; in a letter to his London editor John Murray, he wrote “some are countesses, others wives of shoemakers, some from the nobility, other vile beings, all of them on the make.” No doubt inspired by some of these dalliances, it was at Palazzo Mocenigo that he wrote the first songs of Don Juan.
San Lazzaro degli Armeni: During his stay in Venice, Byron felt the need for some intellectual stimulation to supplement the pleasures of the flesh; it was for this reason that he began frequenting the Armenian monastery on the lagoon island of San Lazzaro degli Armeni. In a letter dated 5th December 1816, he wrote “By way of divertissement, I am studying daily, at an Armenian monastery, the Armenian language. I found that my mind wanted something craggy to break upon; and this – as the most difficult thing I could discover here for an amusement – I have chosen, to torture me into attention.”
The Bridge of Sighs: Connecting the Doge’s Palace with Venice’s notorious prisons, this imposing stone bridge was given its now world-famous nickname by Byron. Inspired by the plaintive sighs that would have been uttered by prisoners as they crossed the bridge and took their last glimpse of the lagoon city through the windows, he wrote “I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs / A palace and a prison on each hand”.
Lido: Whilst in Venice, Byron frequently visited the Lido – sometimes to ride along the sands with companions such as Percy Shelley, and at other times to visit sites including the old Jewish cemetery, which greatly appealed to his Romantic sensibilities. A fine athlete, he would also regularly swim between the islands; in a letter dated 21st February 1821, he boasted that he had swum from the Lido, across the lagoon and all the way up the Grand Canal in four hours and twenty minutes, “without help or rest, and never touching ground or boat”.