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4.7 out of 5 stars234
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on 3 November 2008
One the surface, Venice is supremely beautiful and romantic city- the gondolas, the masked balls and, of course, the canals at sunset. But Venice is really a city created out of adversity, hard trading with the East and naval battles. Thankfully, the balance in this DVD is beautifully trod by our native guide, Count Franceso da Mosta. As you have probably guessed by now, he leaves the tourist trail behind to give an insiders view of the city. From Casanova to Napoleon; the Jewish Getto to the stealing of St Mark's body from Alexandria; the story is enticing and enthralling. And, of course, it makes you want to visit (or return to) Venice.

Whether you just want to enjoy the touristy bits of the city, or find out more about the history, this DVD is perfect capturing of Venice on film.
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The lushest and most elegant of Francesco da Mosto's series to date (see also Francesco's Italy - Top To Toe and Francesco's Mediterranean Voyage) this is written and presented by someone who is passionate about his home town and his trading ancestry. It's a history, it's a guide to the architecture, it's a social commentary on modern life in a tourist town. The historical reconstructions are nicely appropriate- generally silent appearances of Italians in the appropriate costume. The direction is superb and there are achingly beautiful zoom shots of the city from on high- setting this unusual city in its context in the Venetian Lagoon. It provides you with a guide to well known and not so well known areas of the city. There are 4 hour long programmes featured on 2 DVDS with English subtitles, but no extras.

Episode 1, Blood, tells of the founding of the initial settlement by people fleeing the incursions of Atilla the Hun. The intricate pattern of islands and underwater sandbanks protected them from invading fleets. The Basilica of Torcello contains magnificent early frescos in the Byzantine style. More settlements were made on the main island by sinking wooden piles into the marsh to act as foundations. We visit the Doge's palace (the elected ruler of the Venetian Republic) and the Palazzo Cadamosto- Francesco's family's original home, now fallen into ruin. As Venice grew in wealth and power as a trading city a sly bit of saint rustling brought St Mark's remains to the city, which adopted his emblem of the winged lion as its own. In 1202, under Doge Enrico Dandolo, a crusade was deflected to attack the Christian city of Venice's trading rival, Constantinople, resulting in the expansion of Venice's empire.

Episode 2, Beauty, explains how the city grew in wealth after the plundering of Constantinople (including the famous Classical bronze horses and some very pleasing stone carvings). Further trade routes opened up after the return of Marco Polo from China (although no one quite believed him to start with). Venice's architectural style developed as a unique fusion between Gothic and the eastern arch. Although the Ottomans seized Constantinople in 1453, Venice courted the new rulers and became viewed as dangerously unchristian by the Papacy. We visit the Fondaco dei Turchi (a lodging and warehouse for foreign traders), the Scalo de Bovalo (a fantastic spiral staircase at the back of one of the merchant's palaces) and the Ca' d'Oro (a palace which was once coated in gold leaf). In order to protect the city's power a vast boatyard was built- the Arsenale. The influence of the new classical architectural style was initially limited to the land gate for the Arsenale. However following the great fire of 1514 it was necessary to undertake a rebuilding programme. Initially the more conservative style of the architect Sansovino was favoured (Library of St Mark). However when part of the library collapsed, Sansovino lost out to the more radical Palladio, who was responsible for the church of San Francesco della Vigna (exterior) and the monastery and church of San Georgio Maggiore. Around this time Jewish people were relocated to a foundry area (the Ghetto). Sadly the flowering of wealth, and the daring of Venice's artists such as Titian and Veronese, was brought to a halt by the plague of 1575, which killed half the population. We see the old plague hospital of Lazzareto Vecchio and the Island of Santalliano, where rich plague victims were buried.

Episode 3, Sex, explains how Venice metamorphosed into the pleasure capital of Europe, despite further plagues and the rise of Venereal disease.Indulgence in gambling and the rise of ladies of negotiable affection was rife, especially at the time of Carnivale. Baroque architecture started to take hold with the construction of Santa Maria della Salute (after another wave of plague). We see the famous Florian's cafe, which originally had an upstairs Bordello. Art became a commodity for the rich indulgent visitors. Canaletto sold his postcard like paintings, and Vivaldi churned out mass tunes so he could sell the dedications to rich patrons. Casanova got about a bit! However although the authorities might have turned a blind eye to tourists, they started to clamp down on the indulgences of their own citizens. We glimpse the Bridge of Sighs, the Ridotto (the gambling house)and the area of San Barnaba (where self-impoverished Venetian nobles ended up). The hospital for rotting syphilis suffers, the Incurabile, was built and the sculptor, Canova, started a line in idealised funeral monuments. Napoleon Bonaparte despised the self indulgent city and invaded and sacked the city after the unwise Venetian commander of the fort of Sant' Andrea sank some French ships. We see the painting of the vision of hell whichthe French army failed to carry away from the church of Madonna de Lorto. The Doge was deposed and the Republic ended and given away to Austria.

Episode 4, Death, explains what happened up to the present day. The poverty and decay of the city was somewhat rallied by another wave of tourists, generally British. Romanticised by Byron, Turner, Ruskin and Dickens, tourists flocked to Venice, and eventually the uniqueness of its isolation was lost when a rail link was built in 1846. Although the British argued about restoration versus modernisation it seems they were more interested in the structure of the place, rather than the day to day lives of its inhabitants. Some iron bridges were introduced by Neville, but his largest structure, the Academia Bridge across the Grand Canal was dismantled and replaced by a "temporary" wooden structure which is still there. The Campanile of St Marks collapsed in 1902 (in the way of many Italian bell towers) and was reconstructed, despite protests from modernists. Mussolini toyed with paving the canals and built a new road bridge. Unwise industrial development of the Italian coast at Marghera and deep canal dredging, caused the great flood of 1966. Money flooded in to preserve the buildings. However Venice is once again a tourist town- only 10% of its inhabitants are Venetians - young people are leaving for the mainland.
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on 29 January 2011
I love this series, it's a must for anyone traveling to Venice or who enjoys Venice - and who doesn't...and yet...it is uneven. The beginning is wonderful. To see the little islands, and the lagoon, and to understand why the lagoon protected Venice is essential and usually not presented visually in other media.

Some things you learn seem accurate and others are too superficial. The episode on sex actually doesn't confine itself to this topic and the companion book is not presented in this same organization of topics. It seems an odd concession to TV audiences.

On the whole though, this is a beautiful and well done series. But less on Casanova and more on Titian for example would have been nice. I loved the historical recreations - very special. The woman poet was news to me and I liked learning about her (though we didn't really get enough). Palladio segment was helpful, but again, not enough. I didn't feel like I learned enough about Palladio's work in Venice to understand what made it so very, very different. There was some explanation, but it didn't get into the story of Palladio and classicism deeply enough.

Obviously a great deal of attention has been paid to the look of the film - the makers are to be commended for that. However, I found myself wishing the production team had gotten more out of their trip to Istanbul - these segments seem somewhat superficial, given all the history between the two cities.

I would also have liked to hear a lot more about the Venetian ships (why were they great, how did Venice command the seas, what made the empire so successful?), the Bucintero, and the Venetian Empire. Without more of these topics explained, it's a bit hard to figure out what made Venice stand out and why it dominated its peers.

PS Also I don't think it's accurate to state that Titian died of the plague, is it? I think that's a matter of some debate.
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on 8 February 2009
Watched before Christmas '08 on Sky TV knowing nothing about Venice. My impression was it looked old and taty. Once I watched I realised the buildings are so very old they are going to look shabby.
The presenter has the most wonderful way of telling a story I was mesmorised. I couldn't wait to watch the next week.
We have booked a four day trip in March to visit and, because of Francesco, I am so well informed about the place. Can't wait.
Wish they could get the same man to do 'guides' on Rome, Naples etc.
Watch it, you will love it
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on 16 May 2007
...travelling on a water bus on the Grand Canal we saw Francesco!!!!

The missus, who didn't pay particular attention to the documentaries says to me "Isn't that Francesco from your DVD?"

He was in the very same boat used in the series, how surreal, and what a great series it is. Very interesting and absorbing.

Cannot recommend enough.
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on 6 March 2010
The set could have benefited from a couple of additional episodes. Italy was a colonizer, and though Istria as a source of stone is mentioned, Venice's involvement with Istria, the Albanian coast, Crete, and Rhodes is completely missing. Likewise, Venice's conflict-ridden relationship with the Catholic Church and the other Italian city states, particularly Florence and Milan, and its involvement in the Veneto is mentioned, but not satisfactorily accounted for. Most disappointingly, Venice in the 19th and 20th centuries, both under the Austrians and in the modern Italian nation gets also gets short shrift in an account that seems mostly fueled by resentment at now being a part of Italy at all. Beyond that, there's a bit of dramatic fudging (there is no evidence, for example, that Paolo Veronese was tortured by the Inquisition, only reprimanded by a muscle-flexing church 20 years after the fact), but the set is generally very good and far better than one gets from the usual travel video productions.
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on 17 October 2009
This BBC mini-serie was a discovery for me. Francesco, a real Venetian noble with Doges in his family, makes you discover all the unknown parts of his city. This means that you see far more than the Piazza San Marco.

One regret for me, as a non English customer, no French subtitles. But the English subtitles for hearing impaired are enough for my understanding.

In this dvd you will find the usual quality of the BBC documentaries, and the magnicent view of the most beautiful city in the world.

, along the reconstitution of the monuments of the past.

Buying highly reommended.
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on 20 February 2009
Francesco's Venice. Excellent DVD and we enjoyed watching the film. This was especially interesting as we had just spent 5 days in Venice with superb weather, and found a number of very nice eating places.
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on 19 July 2010
The presenter is a member of one of the oldest families in Venice and plainly loves the place, so he is exactly the right person to give his insights into the history and psychology of this great city. It helps that he is such a natural in front of the camera; it seems as if he is acting as the ultimate tour guide for a group of his close friends. If you are going to go to Venice for the first time (or even the umpteenth time) then buy this set and watch it a couple of times (at least) and you will get so much more out of your visit.
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on 25 November 2010
Having bought Francesco's Top to Toe of Italy and loved watching him driving around to interesting places, I wanted more of the same.
Although, this DVD is focused on one place only -Venice Francesco's hometown- he is as charming as ever. His knowledge of the past and present of this beautiful city is captivating.

I love his personality and style (although I think he need to change his hairdresser who seems to cut and cut and it's still looks the same!).
Anyway, if you love Italy you will love this.
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