Beyond the Book: Background information when reading The City of Falling Angels

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The City of Falling Angels

by John Berendt

The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2006, 320 pages

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A Short History of Venice

Venice was founded in the River Po estuary by refugees escaping Attila the Hun in the 5th century. The city is built on more than 100 islands forming the archipelago of the Venetian Lagoon. All transport within the city of Venice is either on foot or by water. Around the 8th century Venice became a city state, like Genoa and Pisa; and with its strategic position at the head of the Adriatic its naval and commercial power were almost invulnerable.

In the late 12th century, the Republic of Venice seized areas of the mainland surrounding Venice - its possessions (known as 'Terrafirma') provided a buffer against belligerent neighbors and guaranteed essential trade routes. It also controlled most of the islands in the Aegean including Cyprus and Crete and became a major power-broker in the Near East. Venice continued to gain power during the 13th Century, especially after the Fourth Crusade, as only Venetian ships could efficiently transport the men, supplies and war horses.

Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Venice in 1797, ending 1070 years of independence. During the next 20 years it passed by treaty to Austria, then back to Napoleon, before being returned to Austria following Napoleon's defeat in 1814. In 1866 it became part of Italy. By this time the city was in serious decline with many of the old buildings abandoned and falling into disrepair. Fortunately, the advent of mass tourism in the 19th century provided a turning point for the city.

Today, the Italian government, UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) and the charity Venice in Peril are funding repairs to protect Venice from the flooding and pollution that have badly damaged the canals, buildings and monuments, but the city is still in danger of sinking below sea level.

Interesting Links:
Venice's official website
The Fenice's website (when the page opens, click on the tiny British flag to the right just below the menu area).

Did you know?
Two of the most infamous womanizers of all time are Don Juan and Casanova. Although Don Juan is fictitious, Casanova is an historical figure who lived in Venice in the 18th century.

This article was originally published in November 2005, and has been updated for the October 2006 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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