Every trip I take, whether brief or long, always includes a stop to stick my nose in a few books in an attempt to expand the travel section of my home library. At the beginning of September, I was in Venice for the first time (which I actually found, disappointing) and, before leaving, I googled the phrase “bookshop in Venice” only to realize that one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world is right there, in an uncrowded little alley near Piazza San Marco and overlooking one of the many canals that characterize the city. You can not get there with the typical “gondoeta” but you can reach it easily. It is called “Acqua Alta” and is an amazing and unusual place for its history, its owner, its appearance and its contents.
The bookshop was founded in 2004 by Luigi Frizzo, a Vicenza native but Venetian by adoption, who with his creativity and genius, or perhaps the result of a life spent traveling the world, manages to show Venice in a very unique and authentic way. The city could in fact be said to be enclosed in this very microcosm of books, strange furnishings, cats and of course, high water (“Acqua Alta”). You begin to understand very well. To protect the many volumes from the water that gradually enters the shop, there are no shelving, but gondolas, canoes, boats and barrels. There is not even a digital catalog to find more easily the book you’d like, but you can rely on the sweet Luigi who likely knows all the inventory by heart.
In addition to being the casanova of eclectic books, Mr. Frizzo is indeed a valuable guide for those who venture into his shop. He is always willing to respond to people’s curiosities with a smile and Venetian pride. He shows tourists and customers what he defines as the goodies of the bookshop: a staircase of books, the emergency exit, and the gondola.
The staircase of books was actually originally intended as a device to allow customers to enjoy the view on the Venetian canals and the palace where Hugo Pratt set one of the stories of Corto Maltese. But as Luigi reveals in an interview, what strikes is the staircase itself rather than the panorama. I assure you that you will be amazed. But don’t worry, no book has been mistreated in the making. It’s only a matter of creative recycling, composed of ruined books destined to be thrown away. Even the emergency exit is a display to be admired: a window on the canals with chairs and sofa to watch the spectacle of the rising tide or greet the gondolas passing by.
In order to orient yourself among the high rows of books, you only have simple hand-written signs. There are so many titles available: a lot of used, ancient and unobtainable volumes that would amaze the most pretentious of readers but also best-sellers and original versions of classics like the Little Prince in the Venetian dialect. With a little patience and a bit of luck, you can find books you may have been searching for for a long time. And if you do not find anything interesting, don’t worry because at the very least, you visited one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.
You must be wondering: how can a bookstore like that, totally unrelated to the logic of the publishing market, survive? The confusion reigns, attracts, and yields success because there is no crisis for this bookshop described above. Perhaps you will lose yourself in the foreign literature section, walk around this maze of books, or take an abundance of photographs, attempting to capture and remember each corner of its rarity. In any case, this will be a piece of Venice you will never forget, especially if you’re a book-lover like us.
This more authentic face of this submerged city, far from the classic tourist stereotypes, can be explored on the official tourist website of the city of Venice in the Detourism section. You may also find alternative sustainable tourist itineraries.
The “Acqua Alta” bookshop is located on Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa (also known as Castello Sestiere 5176/B) and is open every day from 9 AM to 8 PM.