1840 | Venice

Tourist Destination

Hans Christian Andersen pays homage to Venice.

“I have spoken to you of Pompeii,” said the Moon, “that corpse of a city, exposed in the view of living towns. I know another sight still more strange, and this is not the corpse but the specter of a city. Whenever the jetty fountains splash into the marble basins, they seem to me to be telling the story of the floating city.

Yes, the spouting water may tell of her, the waves of the sea may sing of her fame! On the surface of the ocean a mist often rests, and that is her widow’s veil. The bridegroom of the sea is dead, his palace and his city are his mausoleum! Do you know this city? She has never heard the rolling of wheels or the hoof tread of horses in her streets, through which the fish swim, while the black gondola glides spectrally over the green water. I will show you the place,” continued the Moon, “the largest square in it, and you will fancy yourself transported into the city of a fairy tale. The grass grows rank among the broad flagstones, and in the morning twilight, thousands of tame pigeons flutter around the solitary lofty tower. On three sides you find yourself surrounded by cloistered walks. In these the silent Turk sits smoking his long pipe, the handsome Greek leans against the pillar and gazes at the upraised trophies and lofty masts, memorials of power gone. The flags hang down like mourning scarves. A girl rests there—she has put down her heavy pails filled with water; the yoke with which she has carried them rests on one of her shoulders, and she leans against the mast of victory. That is not a fairy palace you see before you yonder, but a church: the gilded domes and shining orbs flash back my beams. The glorious bronze horses up yonder have made journeys, like the bronze horse in the fairy tale—they have come hither, and gone hence, and have returned again. Do you notice the variegated splendor of the walls and windows? It looks as if genius had followed the caprices of a child in the adornment of these singular temples. Do you see the winged lion on the pillar? The gold glitters still, but his wings are tied—the lion is dead, for the king of the sea is dead; the great halls stand desolate, and where gorgeous paintings hung of yore, the naked wall now peers through. The lazzarone sleeps under the arcade whose pavement in old times was to be trodden only by the feet of high nobility. From the deep wells, and perhaps from the prisons by the Bridge of Sighs, rise the accents of woe, as at the time when the tambourine was heard in the gay gondolas, and the golden ring was cast from the galley ship Bucentaur to Adria, the queen of the seas. Adria! Shroud yourself in mists; let the veil of thy widowhood shroud your form, and clothe in the weeds of woe the mausoleum of your bridegroom—the marble, spectral Venice.”

From What the Moon Saw. Born in a slum in 1805, Andersen as a boy attended the Royal Theater in Copenhagen in the hopes of becoming an actor. Already a successful novelist in 1835, he published to unfavorable reviews his first installment of fairy tales, among them “The Princess and the Pea” and “The Tinderbox.” Two years later he published “The Little Mermaid” and “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”