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Notes on the Geography of Italy: Venice: the Lido

The Lido is Venice's recreational beach.  Shelley saw it before the tourists came, and he described it this way in Julian and Maddalo:

"a bare strand
Of hillocks, heaped from ever-shifting sand,
Matted with thistles and amphibious weeds,
Such as from earth's embrace the salt ooze breeds,
Is this; an uninhabited sea-side,
Which the lone fisher, when his nets are dried,
Abandons; and no other object breaks
The waste, but one dwarf tree and some few stakes
Broken and unrepaired, and the tide makes
A narrow space of level sand thereon...."

A century later, the Lido had become a serious real-estate proposition.  The first beach resort opened in 1857, but things picked up dramatically after a town plan in 1891 called for roads on the island.  By 1906 Baedeker called the Lido "now the most fashionable bathing-resort in Italy."  By 1912, when Thomas Mann published "Death in Venice," he set the novella in this bourgeois paradise.

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Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 1

Certainly it's a shock for anyone arriving after some time in Venice.  What's this?  Cars? Delivery trucks? Buses? Scooters?  Good Lord, I had forgotten about those things.

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 2

The Hotel Des Bains, designed by Francesco Marsich and opened in 1900. It's the setting for Mann's Death in Venice, and it's still fairly stifling.

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 3

The more flirtatious Hungaria Palace Hotel, opened in 1905 and tiled in 1914.

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 4

The grandest of them all, the eclectic Albergo Excelsior, designed by Giovanni Sardi, the Venetian architect who also did Venice's instant palazzo, the Bauer-Grunwald Hotel. The Excelsior opened in 1908 and continues in business as the Westin Excelsior.

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 5

It's big.  It's also the place where the Venice Film Festival began, in 1932.

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 6

Appropriately theatrical touches.

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 7

The Orientalist beach-side facade.

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 8

The beach itself.  Wonder about those huts?

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 9

Here's another view, with the Hotel Des Bains in the background.  Mann wrote, "a long row of capanne ran down the beach, with platforms, where people sat as on verandas, and there was social life, with bustle and indolent repose...."  Things haven't changed much.

Italy: Venice: the Lido picture 10

Ah, Nature!  A hut facing the beach rents for 80 Euros a day--one on this side costs 60.  What a bargain!  Venetians rent them for the summer, presumably at a discount. 


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