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The Venice Lido by Robin Saikia


Chapter I, Ah, the Lido! the Lido! is an overview of the Lido from its early days as the home of the first Venetian settlers, over a millennium ago, to its 20th and 21st century heyday as a glamorous beach resort and the home of the Venice Film Festival. There are varying perceptions of the Lido down the ages, as witnessed by the reactions of Lido lovers (Byron, Goethe, Thomas Mann, Wagner)  and Lido loathers (D H Lawrence, Robert Byron and Israel Zangwill). 

Chapter II, We wed thee, O Sea, tells the story of the Lido’s central role in the Venetian ceremony of the sposalizio, the ceremonial marriage of the Doge to the sea, a key event in Venice’s festive calendar attended by councillors and courtesans alike. The ceremony served to strengthen the Lido’s role as the formal boundary of the Serenissima, protecting Venice not only against the onslaught of the sea but also against succeeding waves of foreign aggressors.

Chapter III, Colonies and Crusades, explains how, over time, the Lido was called on to fulfil several roles: as a garrison, an embarkation point for the Venetian fleet and as a venue for the reception of important foreign visitors down the ages - from the disastrous events of the Fourth Crusade to the fall of the Venetian Republic to Napoleon.

Chapter IV, A Spanking Gallop, is an account of the escapades of the Lido’s first celebrity foreign tourist, Lord Byron, who adopted the Lido as a perfect retreat from the rigours of his chaotic and excessive social life at the Palazzo Mocenigo in Venice.

Chapter V, The Cockney Village, charts the developments of the nineteenth century, which saw the Lido transformed into an international bathing resort. There was fierce disapproval in many quarters, notably from Henry James, John Ruskin and Ouida, who all see the new developments as barbaric and exploitative. Effie Ruskin, on honeymoon in Venice, enjoys bathing on the Lido and recalls her experiences in her entertaining diaries.

Chapter VI, A Gentleman Sauntering By… describes how prominent gay authors and artists began to adopt the Lido as an ideal spot for discreet and civilized cruising, among them Lord Ronald Gower (the model for Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray), John Addington Symonds (one of the first radical campaigners for gay rights) and Horatio Brown. Put out of work by the advent of the steam launches, more than a few desperate gondoliers turn to prostitution in order to supplement their income. The notorious gay English novelist Frederick Rolfe (‘Baron Corvo’) briefly, and unsuccessfully, becomes a gondolier himself.

Chapter VI, Venal Moonshine, refers to the phrase coined by the Futurist artist Marinetti to describe the decadent and luxurious pull that Venice continued to exert on its foreign visitors, disapproved of by Marinetti but roundly and imaginatively exploited by Nicolo Spada, the founder of the CIGA hotel consortium, and Count Giuseppe di Volpi Misurata, the dynamic statesman-tytcoon. By the 1920’s and 30’s, thanks to Spada and Volpi, the luxury hotels of the Lido, the Excelsior and the Des Bains, were the favoured retreats of all manner of celebrities including Serge Diaghilev (ballet impresario), Coco Chanel (designer and close friend of Diaghilev) and Thomas Mann, the author of Death in Venice. Mann’s classic novella, made into a hugely successful film by the Italian director Visconti, tells of an ageing composer’s increasing obsession with a beautiful Polish boy he encounters on the Lido. 

Chapter VII, Harder, Faster... describes how, sadly but inevitably, the graceful culture of the Belle Epoque on the Lido gave way to the colourful social whirl of the mid-twentieth century. After the rigours of the First World War, in which the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio distinguished himself as an airman stationed at the Lido, Venice once again became the favoured destination of rich foreign tourists. Now, however, there was a new breed of visitor: aeroplane and motor-boat races and wild parties were the order of the day. Celebrities on the Lido included Oswald Mosley (the British Fascist leader), his future wife Diana, Elsa Maxwell the gossip columnist - and Cole Porter. The inauguration of the Venice Film Festival added an extra layer of glamour to life on the Lido and scandal too, as witnessed by the furore caused by the orgasm scene in the Hungarian film Extase, starring Hedy Lamarr.

Chapter VIII,  A Führer on the Fairway, is an account of Hitler’s visit to the Lido in the early 1930’s, during which he and Mussolini met at the Lido golf club, a tranquil spot that thrioves to this day at Alberoni. Mussolini, already at the height of his career, succeeded in humiliating Hitler, who arrived in Venice looking shabby, nervous and underdressed. The official lunch held at the golf club was notably embarrassing.

Chapter IX,  Houses of the Living, begins with a brief account of bleak conditions under the Nazi occupation of Venice - and a summary of the troubled history of Venice’s Jewish community. There are descriptions of the two beautiful Jewish cemeteries at the northern end of the Lido. The ancient Jewish Cemetery was founded in the late fourteenth century. The ‘modern’ extension, in nearby Via Cipro, contains memorials dating from the seventeenth century onwards.

Chapter X, Elephants and Eco Systems, looks at the absorbing and at times bizarre reputation of the Lido as a haven for flora and fauna, a micro-ecology in its own right. The pine forests at Alberoni are a protected nature reserve, for the most part as idyllic and deserted as they were in Byron’s day.

Finally, an APPENDIX contains notes on the principal places of interest on or near the Lido, with useful practical information on:

The Principal Sights on the Lido
Gran Viale Santa Maria Elisabetta
Santa Maria della Vittoria, Il Tempio Votivo Della Pace di Venezia
San Nicoló al Lido and associated buildings
The Benedictine monastery at San Nicolò
Palazzetto del Consiglio dei Dieci
Other churches on the Lido
Sant’ Antonio
Santa Maria Elisabetta
Santa Maria Nascente
Santa Maria Assunta
The Jewish Cemeteries
The Catholic Cemetery
Aeroporto Nicelli
20th Century Architecture on Lido – the ‘Liberty’ villas
Circolo Golf Venezia – the Alberoni Golf Club
Pineta degli Alberoni
The Blue Moon
The Lions Bar
Biblioteca Hugo Pratt
The Planetarium
The Museum of Malamocco
The Teatrino Liberty

The Sights of Interest near the Lido
The Museum of Pellestrina
Forte di Sant’Andrea
San Lazzaro degli Armeni

Services and Facilities on the Lido