With all its sinful doings I must say,
’s a pleasant place to me. Italy
And so every August – usually around August 15th, Ferragosto or August holiday - signs like this appear in the windows of local shops and bars:
Chiuso per ferie: Shut for the holidays; as Venetians abandon their city to the heat, the mosquitoes and the tourists and head for the beach or the mountains, coming home to send the children back to school in the (hopefully) fresher weather of September.
This isn’t a modern phenomenon by any means; for hundreds of years all Venetians who could afford it have headed out of the city from July onwards: the rich to their summer villas on the mainland (the dismissive Venetian way of referring to anywhere that isn’t lucky enough to be Venice), the rest to a rented place, or to stay with family.
When Byron lived in
he enthusiastically joined in the villegatura,
or heading to one’s summer villa. When he first arrived in Venice
he rented a villa at Este, up in the Euganean hills bear Padua, from his friend Charles Hoppner, the
British Consul. He never stayed at Este, however, lending it to the Shelleys
instead. It was here that Shelley composed Lines
Written Amongst the Euganean Hills and worked on Prometheus.
The place where Byron preferred to go to escape the summer heat was the little town of
Mira, midway between
Venice and Padua
on the . Brenta Canal
Today Mira is a rather depressing commuter town with the usual array of supermarkets and bars, but in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it was the place to be: many wealthy Venetians had their summer residences here. The canal meant that the journey from
Venice directly by boat, loaded with family,
furniture and servants, was relatively straightforward. The beautiful villas,
many designed by Palladio, overlooking the water or surrounded by cool
greenery, are still a popular tourist attraction today.
Byron leased the Villa Foscarini, on the banks of the
no grand Palladian porticoes here, since from the outside it’s a rather
functional building. A plaque above the main entrance informs you that Byron
stayed here in 1817 (he was actually here in 1818 and 1819 as well) Brenta Canal
Today, the ground floor is the home of The Dubliner Irish Bar, but the first floor has been converted into flats. And here fate (or Byron?) takes a hand.
Sad stalker that I am, I’ve visited Mira, searched out Byron’s summer villa and photographed it, but I always believed there was no chance of having a look inside. Then a new colleague arrived at work, a girl from
recently moved with her partner to (you guessed) Mira. I invited her to the
launch event for my book on Byron and Venice.
“Oh,” she said, “We live in Byron’s house. You must come to dinner.”
And so it was that, on a summer evening, I was able to climb the stairs that Byron must have climbed so many times, into the rooms where he spent a happy summer with Marianna Segati, and where Marianna’s husband told a story over dinner, swearing all the time it was true, of a Venetian sailor lost at sea who came home after many years dressed as a Turk. The story planted a seed in Byron’s brain that grew into Beppo.
I have eaten spaghetti with seafood in the house where Byron and Teresa Guiccioli stayed together, where Tom Moore came to visit and saw his friend for the last time, riding away with the manuscript Memoirs in his luggage.
As we left at almost midnight, the Irish Bar was in full swing: love and laughter and happiness still present after 200 years.
As I turned to take a final photograph, the end wall revealed a final secret, the bricked-up outline of an archway, the old entrance to the central courtyard of Villa Foscarini, out of which Byron liked
… on Autumn evenings to ride out,
Without being forced to bid my groom be sure
My cloak is round his middle strapp’d about,
Because the skies are not the most secure;
I know to that, if stopp’d upon my route,
Where the green alleys windingly allure,
Reeling with grapes red wagons choke the way, -
‘twould be dung, dust, or a dray.