I’ve always been fascinated by old buildings and what could be a more romantic setting for a story than a palazzo on the Grand Canal? I found the allure of Venice impossible to resist and it provides a wonderful setting for The Lost Daughter of Venice, my latest historical novel.
This famously beautiful canal is two and a half miles long and follows the course of an ancient river bed. There are around two hundred buildings lining the canal and many still bear the names of Venice’s oldest and most powerful families. The palazzi were frequently built for rich merchants and provided not only a luxurious home to demonstrate their wealth but also served as a place of business.
The layout of a typical merchant’s palazzo frequently had a warehouse or storerooms and an office on the ground floor. Courtyards were often the only outdoor space for the family. The piano nobile was extravagantly decorated for entertaining visitors and the family lived on the upper floor. Servants occupied the attics. Kitchens were either on the ground floor to give easy access to the water or in the attics to dispel cooking smells.
Since access to the palazzo was primarily from the canal, the façade of the building was imposing while the rear, accessible from an alleyway or square, was less ornate. The large number of windows reduced the weight of a property built on a raft resting on timber piles driven into the mud bank beneath.
Palazzi built in the 12th and 13th centuries reflect the architectural influences of the Byzantine world. The façades frequently have arcades to the ground floor and arched open galleries at the first floor level. Decorative embellishments often take the form of palm trees or leaves. Palazzo Loredan has an elegant ground floor arcade and a first floor gallery typical of a 13th century Byzantine palace.
Elaborate Gothic-style palazzi are more numerous than any other in Venice. Built in the 13th to mid-fifteenth centuries, the most famous is the Doge’s Palace. Called Ca’ Foscari, it was built for Doge Francesco Foscari in 1437. The pointed ogee arches and curved window heads with a trefoil design to the canal façade are decorated with delicate stone tracery.
In the Renaissance period palazzi were often constructed of sandstone rather than traditional Venetian brick. Classical in style, the façades were symmetrical and used Greek or Roman motifs, often incorporating fluted columns, semi-circular arches and Corinthian capitals. Palazzo Grimani, built in 1556 has extravagant stone carvings to demonstrate the owner’s wealth and required massive foundations to bear the weight.
The design of a Venetian Baroque palazzo is founded on the Renaissance style but has additional exuberant ornamentation in the form of carved swags, cherubs, garlands, rosettes and masks to every possible surface. Ca’ Pesaro is a stately Baroque palazzo built in marble for Leonardo Pesaro, a Procurator of San Marco. Cherubs and plumed heads are carved into the stone of the window heads. Today Ca’ Pesaro houses the International Gallery of Modern Art in Venice.
The buildings lining the smaller waterways of Venice may not be as magnificent as those bordering the Grand Canal but many are very handsome. The Palazzo degli Angeli that features in The Lost Daughter of Venice was summoned up from my imagination after many hours of happy research into real buildings. It will continue to live on in my imagination.
The best way to see the palazzi along the Grand Canal is from the water. Take the vaporetto (boat number 1) and go early in the morning when it’s less crowded. Be sure to take an outside seat at the front of the boat to have the best view of these historical treasures.
Read about the imaginary Palazzo degli Angeli in my latest book, The Lost Daughter of Venice. This is available now in ebook and audio. The paperback will be available on 13th July 2023.
Come to Venice. Please, Phoebe, do not fail me.
Seventeen years ago, the grand Venetian Palazzo degli Angeli was Phoebe Wyndham’s home; now, the neglected walls of the palazzo are just a haunting reminder of all she has lost.
Arriving back in Italy after a plea from her estranged relative, the Contessa di Sebastiano, the recently widowed Phoebe is shocked to discover her aunt is dead and the palazzo now belongs to her.
All she wants to do is sell the property and return home. However, when a dark family secret is exposed, the shocking deception rocks Phoebe to her very core, and she vows not to leave the City of Water without first unravelling the truth from the lies.
As Phoebe searches for answers, she finds herself growing closer to two very different men. But, when her camera catches something more sinister than the faded grandeur of Venice, Phoebe begins to question who she can really trust and whether her aunt’s death was truly an accident after all . . .
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