Venice from the Ground Upby James H. S. McGregor
Venice came to life on spongy mudflats at the edge of the habitable world. Protected in a tidal estuary from barbarian invaders and Byzantine overlords, the fishermen, salt gatherers, and traders who settled there crafted an amphibious way of life unlike anything the Roman Empire had ever known. In an astonishing feat of narrative history, James H. S. McGregor
Venice came to life on spongy mudflats at the edge of the habitable world. Protected in a tidal estuary from barbarian invaders and Byzantine overlords, the fishermen, salt gatherers, and traders who settled there crafted an amphibious way of life unlike anything the Roman Empire had ever known. In an astonishing feat of narrative history, James H. S. McGregor recreates this world-turned-upside-down, with its waterways rather than roads, its boats tethered alongside dwellings, and its livelihood harvested from the sea.
McGregor begins with the river currents that poured into the shallow Lagoon, carving channels in its bed and depositing islands of silt. He then describes the imaginative responses of Venetians to the demands and opportunities of this harsh environmenttransforming the channels into canals, reclaiming salt marshes for the construction of massive churches, erecting a thriving marketplace and stately palaces along the Grand Canal. Through McGregor’s eyes, we witness the flowering of Venice’s restless creativity in the elaborate mosaics of St. Mark’s soaring basilica, the expressive paintings in smaller neighborhood churches, and the colorful religious festivalsbut also in theatrical productions, gambling casinos, and masked revelry, which reveal the city’s less pious and orderly face.
McGregor tells his unique history of Venice by drawing on a crumbling, tide-threatened cityscape and a treasure-trove of art that can still be seen in place today. The narrative follows both a chronological and geographical organization, so that readers can trace the city’s evolution chapter by chapter and visitors can explore it district by district on foot and by boat.
Whether an armchair traveler or a gondola aficionado, the romantic will enjoy James H.S. McGregor's Venice from the Ground Up. This handsomely produced and always entertaining narrative history of the city of canals is full of useful information for tourists, lovely color photos and detailed maps.
Jay Strafford and Sue Harris
More than a travel guide, this scholarly yet readable volume by James H.S. McGregor weaves the story of how art and architecture were used to create one of the world's most enduring cities. For the armchair reader and those planning to visit Venice, this second-in-a-series guide (Rome was published in 2005) to the Queen of the Adriatic connects the city's incredible history with daily life.
James H. S. McGregor marches us through the city, stopping off at his favourite sites, and offering along the way extended discussions of the main features of the medieval and subsequent periods of Venetian history. Moreover, he gives a much fuller account of the city's political structure, its distinctive social patterns, and its cultural commitments than a guide normally allows...This may well be the best short account of the structure of [St. Mark's Basilica] and the programme of its mosaics now in print. It is full of fascinating detail and acute observation...As a sourcebook of fascinating detail about Venice, laced with a splendid invective against Napoleon, this is a work that will profit even long-time visitors.
Theodore K. Rabb
This well written portrait is superbly produced. Color photographs and maps of great quality are included.
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James H. S. McGregor is Emeritus Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Georgia.
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