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Francesco's Venice : Complete BBC Series [DVD]
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A breathtaking journey through the ages, telling the story of one of the world's most famous and beautiful cities. This lavish, landmark series explores how a place with no firm ground, no crops, no indigenous riches and no land army came to snatch success from the jaws of failure time and time again - right up to the present day. Step back in time to early Venice, recreated by the magic of CGI. See wooden houses on stilts replaced by the daring rebuild in stone and brick.
Witness the sacking of Constantinople and the Venice of Casanova, Napoleon, Byron and Mussolini. The stunning recreations and dramatisations in each episode are enriched by insights from charismatic aristocrat, architect and historian Francesco da Mosto. His family has lived in Venice for over a thousand years and, far from having that sinking feeling, he believes passionately in the future of this miraculous city...
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This DVD series (on 2 discs) is devoted to Venice, Francesco's birthplace and the city where he still lives. Apart from stunning photographic coverage of places and interiors, this series attempts to explain what it is like to be a Venetian, a world citizen, but forever bound to this gorgeous, unique sinking masterpiece. A fascinating visual presentation of history and art in a very friendly, companionable way. Francesco acts like a virtual friend taking us round to see the sights. I love these programs and have bought others featuring the same host.
With four hour-long episodes, Da Mosto charts the long and winding course Venice's history. In "Blood", he describes how a little known swamp of a malaria-infested lagoon became a secret hideaway from attackers - the birthplace of Venice. The role of the Doge (leader) of Venice is described in detail, and Da Mosto visits the stunning Doge's Palace. He tells the bloody and gruesome story of probably the most famous Doge - Enrico Dandolo - who was blinded when he went to Constantinople for peace talks, but returned to Venice and continued even stronger in his role.
In "Beauty", Da Mosto describes the arrival of the golden age of art and architecture - when small wooden houses transformed into glittering stone and marble palaces that lined the Grand Canal. Almost overnight, fishermen became successful trading merchants. This was the age of Venice producing the world's most famous artists and most stunning buildings as Titian and Palladio transformed the landscape and image of the city. But problems kept occurring - the killer plague virtually destroyed the city, and the emergence of a new trade route to the east round the Cape of Good Hope cut out Venice from key business relationships. Their response - to let in Jews to improve business - the world's first Jewish "ghetto".
"Sex" was the age of the fabled Casanova, the age of the courtesan - when Venice was the bright red-light district of Europe, attracting men from across the continent. These hopefuls pretended to come in search of art - Vivaldi, Canaletto and Canova worked in the city. But Venice had grown decadent and lazy - for a thousand years the hidden sandbanks of the lagoon had given them security and protection from invaders - now the new military technologies of Napoleon gave him an easy victory over Venice - their independence was over.
In "Death", Da Mosto puts some of the blame for Venice's decline at the door of the British. From the moment that Byron put Venice on the tourist map of "The Grand Tour", the city has been literally overflowing with visitors, and locals have been leaving. Da Mosto also shares his personal story, describing the devastating flood of 1966 that nearly washed the city away, and introducing his father and children as the past and future generations of his Venetian family. Also, he describes bizarre ideas to modernise Venice, including destroying old churches and converting the Grand Canal into a motorway. Da Mosto says the rail and road bridges to mainland Italy have destroyed Venice, and the factories opposite the city have upset the ecosystem of the lagoons.
However good Da Mosto is, he is prone to hypocrisy. He critisizes Napoleon and others for stealing a lot of Venice's art and treasures - such as the Paolo Veronese painting "The Wedding At Cana" which still hangs in The Louvre - but he thinks it is fine for Venice to have "The Horses Of Saint Mark" as it's emblem, even although they were stolen by Venetians during the sack of Constantinople in 1204. So Venetians can steal treasures, but nobody else can?
And, Da Mosto seems very negative about modern Venice as it is overflowing with tourists. There are only about 50,000 Venetians left as a permanent population. But Da Mosto fails to accept that the Venetians have brought this on themselves. He himself described how many wealthy Venetian families gambled away their fortunes in the casinos, and he detailed the incredible poverty of Venice in the early part of the twentieth century. If anything, tourism has saved Venice, not destroyed it.
For anyone who has been to Venice or is planning to go in the future, it is very worthwhile and informative to watch this series. Da Mosto is a wonderful host.
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