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  • Writer's pictureLucy Walker

A Brief History of the Palazzi Mocenigo in Venice

What is the Palazzi Mocenigo?

The Palazzi Mocenigo is a complex of four palaces that once belonged to the influential Mocenigo family.

Palazzo Mocenigo

Abxbay, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Palazzi Mocenigo History

One cold November evening in 1816, the disgraced Lord Byron arrived in Venice. He had always wanted to visit the beautiful lagoon city, but he was not here for a holiday – he was in exile. By the age of 28, the poet had racked up ruinous debts and myriad sex scandals in England, including a marital separation, numerous affairs and a rumoured incestuous relationship with his half-sister. Byron never returned to England, and he certainly didn’t attempt to mend his licentious ways while living in Italy.

The faded grandeur of post-Napoleonic Venice suited Byron’s eccentric and debauched character. He rented rooms in this very complex, the Palazzi Mocenigo, during his time in the city. He lived here in typically excessive style with his mistress, Margarita Cogni, and a cohort of servants, cats, two monkeys, a fox, a wolf, two mastiffs, and a sickly crow. Byron spent hours swimming the canals, and learned Armenian in a nearby monastery on San Lazzaro degli Armeni. Several of his most famous works originated in these rooms, including the opening of Don Juan.

The palazzi’s interior is a record of how wealthy Venetians once lived; it hasn’t changed much since Byron’s day. Back then, it was still owned by the wealthy Mocenigo family who had been a powerful Venetian dynasty from the 15th century onwards. Seven Mocenigos were elected doge between the 15th and 18th centuries.

One of the palazzi’s first guests was the philosopher Giordano Bruno, who lived here intermittently in the 1590s at the invitation of Giovanni Mocenigo. Bruno had ground-breaking but controversial ideas about cosmology. He said that stars were distant suns, orbited by their own planets; he also hypothesised that the universe was infinite, and that distant planets could have their own life forms. Mocenigo employed his guest as a tutor, but soon tired of Bruno’s company. When the pope requested Bruno’s extradition from Venice, on the grounds of heresy, Mocenigo callously handed his guest over to the Venetian Inquisition. Bruno spent the next seven years defending himself against the Vatican, but was eventually burned at the stake in Rome. It’s said that his ghost still haunts the house of his betrayer.

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