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The Venetian Empire – by Jan Morris

The Venetian Castle dominates the modern village and capital of Naxos.The Venetian Empire
by Jan Morris

Reviewed by Rick Price, Ph.D.

Reading for your Greece, Bike, Walk, and Cruise Trip

I enjoy popular history books by good travel writers and Jan Morris qualifies.  His short paperback volume on the Venetian Empire is one of the best books about Venice away from Venice that you can find.  And it is excellent reading to take on the airplane and a bike, walk and cruise of the Greek islands.

A prolific writer, Morris is fascinated by places and the process whereby places evolve.  This sounds like history, and it is, but it is very much the stuff of geography.  What made the Greek Islands the way they are?  How do you explain monolithic buildings in the middle of nowhere on the island of Naxos; buildings that look like they belong on a “campo” (Venetian for “Piazza”) in Venice?  The explanation, of course, is that the Venetians occupied Naxos for almost 360 years, beginning shortly after the fourth crusade in 1204.

I was so interested in the history of Venice in the Eastern Mediterranean and in the Cyclades Island, Naxos, that I found a Greek phonebook (my adventures with telephones in Greece – and in Greek – are a story for another time!) on Naxos and began studying it.  There are still (700 years after the Venetian occupation began) Venetian family names in the phonebook (De Rossi is one that comes to mind). 

You’ll find Venetian heritage throughout the Greek Islands including Crete.  Venice took over the role of ancient Athens and Byzantium as the dominant trading partner in the region after sacking Byzantium (ancient Constantinople; modern Istanbul).  If you get hooked by Morris, you’ll have to plan further trips in the area, including the coast of Dalmatia in Croatia, Crete, and Turkey.