Venice is a fascinating city with an equally fascinating history. In these historical fiction books that take place in Venice, you’ll learn about Venice’s history from convents to courtesans and the city’s historic workshops and traditional arts.
These are my favorite novels about Venice:
Gondolas and Glass
Two of the things for which Venice is famous are gondolas and Murano glass. The Gondola Maker by Laura Morelli, an art historian who writes non-fiction books about traditional arts and crafts, takes us to the world of 16th century Venice with a story set in the gondola workshops.
The Glassblower of Murano by Marina Fiorato takes us to 17th century Venice and the island of Murano where glassblowers had to work and live. This mystery takes place both in the present and the past and gives an insight into the development of glassblowing.
16th Century Medicine and Midwives
Also by Marina Fiorato, The Venetian Bargain is set in 1576 during the time of the plague in Venice. A harem doctor who stowed away on a ship sneaks into Venice at the same time the plague arrives. The story tells of her quest, and that of plague doctor Annibale Cason, to save the people of Venice. Palladio, who was commissioned by the Doge to build a church to end the plague, is also in the book.
The Midwife of Venice by tells the story of a Jewish midwife who uses unusual birthing methods to save babies at difficult births. Although Jews are forbidden from treating Christians, she’s summoned by a count who offers her a large sum of money to save his baby. This book gives a good look at Jews, especially women, and their lives in 16th century Venice.
In the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant also takes place in 16th century Venice and illustrates the importance of the courtesan in Venetian life. The story is about a courtesan who escapes the pillage of Rome and starts a new life in Venice in 1527.
Convent Orphanages and Vivaldi
Set during the 18th century, both Vivaldi’s Virgins by Barbara Quick and The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona take us inside the Ospedale della Pieta, a convent orphanage where selected young girls were trained as musicians. During part of the time Vivaldi, known as the Red Priest, was composing his music in Venice, he was the music master at this convent. Although fiction, both books give good insight into the musical convent orphanages, the life of Vivaldi and 18th century Venice.
The Secret Service, the Grand Tour, and 18th Century Venice
Set in the 18th century, during the period that the European Grand Tour was popular with the English, Ascension by Gregory Dowling is a mystery that takes the reader into the Ducal Palace, the Venetian secret service, and the Ascension Day Festival. Alvise Marangon, the main character, grew up in England and works as a guide for British arriving in Venice as part of the Grand Tour but is eventually forced into the Secret Service as a spy. The second book in the series, the Four Horsemen, follows Alvise as he solves another political mystery. Read my review of Gregory Dowling’s books.
18th Century Books Based on Love Letters
A Venetian Affair: A True Tale of Forbidden Love in the 18th Century by Andrea di Robilant is based on a packet of love letters from the 18th century that were in the attic of his family’s Venetian palazzo. This book tells the story of a secret love affair that lasted for 7 years and takes you to masked balls and courtly life and even includes the famous lover Casanova.
Lucia: A Venetian Life in the Age of Napoleon tells the story of Lucia who is married through an arranged marriage to Alvise Mocenigo, of one of the most powerful Venetian families of the time, and her life when Venice falls to Napoleon. This book by Andrea di Robilant also starts with a packet of letters found in the attic of di Robilant’s palazzo written by Lucia when she was 16 and continues with letters he found in the archives of Venice from the rest of her life.
Venice Guide Books
- National Geographic Walking Venice
- Rick Steves Pocket Venice
- Top 10 Venice (Eyewitness Travel Guide)