Who was Casanova?

Casanova is today most well-known as one of history’s most famous lovers. The Venetian was much more than a womanizer. He was a scofflaw and scam artist, an alchemist and spy, and a church cleric. He wrote humor, fought duels and escaped prison multiple times.

Giacomo Casanova. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

And? Casanova was simply amazing. We present… Casanova the real deal as a tribute to Valentine’s Day. Continue reading and be prepared to be stunned!

From music to the military, to churches to womenizing

Casanova was born in Venice 1725. He was a bright child. At the age of 12, he entered University of Padua. He took up vices after he graduated and would be a household name throughout Europe. Gambling is one example. Women are another. They loved him for his wit, charm, style, or hairstyle (or perhaps just his hair which he scented, powdered and curled). It is said that he found his passion for them when he had an affair with a 16-year old girl and her 14-yearold sister. As if that wasn’t enough, Casanova ended up with one of his sisters years later–and his daughter…

Casanova was a church cleric at the time. The relationship didn’t last very long. He was sentenced to prison for gambling debts. After a few other missteps in the Church, he had no choice but to start again. His new career? He was a soldier. Casanova wrote in his memoirs that he bought a long sword and carried a handsome cane with him. He also had a black cockade and a trim hat. “I set out to impress the entire city with my long, straight hair,” Casanova said. Casanova decided to quit the military after finding it boring and due to gambling yet more.

Casanova, now 21 years old is a violinist. He was there when he met a senator. Being in the right spot at the right moment and saving his life definitely helped. Casanova was invited to his home and he became his patron. But Casanova ran into trouble again. He fled Venice and escaped to Parma. He fell in love with a woman, but was then forced to leave. He embarked on a Grand Tour, and he sex with dozens of women. He was made a Freemason and wrote a play. Finally, he returned to Venice on 1753.

Things were only just beginning.

Escapes and imprisonment


Casanova was held in the Doge’s Palace. Imagine trying to get through that roof!

The news about Casanova’s escapades, including his scandalous affairs with married women, nuns and virgins, his gambling, and his association with Freemasonry, had reached him. Casanova, aged 30, was taken into custody by the Venice Tribunal “primarily” for “public outrages towards the holy religion.”

He was sentenced to five years in prison for being in “The Leads.”

Because of the lead roof plates, the cell was deemed to be inexplicable. It was almost pitch dark and had a very low ceiling that Casanova couldn’t stand straight up. It was on the fifth floor of the Doge’s Palace. It was closely guarded like all other prisons. It was impossible to escape. It was impossible to escape from the famous Venice building. Or not be seen while you clatter down the lead tiles. Even more.

Casanova remained with “The Leads”, for thirteen months. His patron, Count Bragadin convinced his keepers that he should be moved. Casanova was devastated.

Why? He was so close to breaking free. He was so close to breaking out that he took a short walk to exercise in the prison attic. One day he found a piece black marble and an iron rod. He shaped the iron bar into a sharp chisel and began to dig under his bed. He knew that his cell was directly above the chamber of Inquisitor, an issue he would deal with once he had escaped. He never had the chance.

He was instead moved to his larger, brighter cell three days earlier than he had planned to flee. He didn’t stay in despair long. It was time to plan B.

Casanova’s daring escape

Casanova was home to a priest. The priest enjoyed reading, so the jailers allowed the two educated prisoners to exchange books. Casanova made a note using mulberry juice as ink and stuck it to the spine of the book. They began writing back and forth. Casanova informed the priest that he was planning to flee and asked for his assistance. He told the priest that all he needed to do was smash through Casanova’s floor and get into Casanova’s cell. Casanova would then whisk them away.

Balbi, the priest, agreed. Casanova gave him the spike that he had made. It was hidden under a Bible and was then carried underneath a large plate of pasta. After many weeks of hard work, the priest finally succeeded. But, there was a problem. Casanova was now living with …., his cellmate. He was a spy for Doge’s Council of 10. This he told Casanova immediately. Casanova, ever the trickster played on his cellmate’s extreme faith. Casanova had told him that an angel would come to rescue him from prison. Casanova claimed that the angel appeared to them when they heard the priest digging away.

He believed him.

Balbi’s cell was located under the palace’s roof. So, the two of them pryed their way through the lead plates. They used the sheets and blankets Casanova had made to create “rope” and hoisted themselves onto it. It was too far to jump. Casanova looked everywhere. Nothing. After an hour, he finally saw a dormer windows, about two-thirds of the roof’s slope. He used his pick to pry open the window grate. After a difficult attempt, which saw Casanova almost fall over the roof, he was finally able to bring the priest and him inside.

After some rest, they broke a lock and walked into a corridor of palaces. At sunrise, they escaped in a gondola. Casanova wrote that God provided them with everything they needed to escape. It is something I am proud to admit.

You can visit the exact cell Casanova fled from and learn more about him on our exclusive VIP Access Secret Passages tour. ).

Casanova’s scams

Casanova did not take his imprisonment as a sign that it was a close call.

Instead, he fled to Paris and pretended to become an alchemist. Every patrician wanted to own a piece Casanova. He explained to them that he was 300 and could make diamonds from scratch. A count saw Casanova’s story and thought he would make a good spy.

He was tasked with selling Amsterdam state bonds. He was a successful man, but he lost all of his wealth to his many lovers. He was again on the run due to his debts and his many enemies.

Casanova was completely broke in 1760 and his schemes got wilder by the day. He created a new persona: He was the “Chevalier De Seingalt”. He returned to Paris and convinced a noblewoman that he could make her young man using occult methods… provided she paid enough. He scammed his way to King George III’s England. He tried to sell Catherine the Great the idea of a Russian lottery. He fought a Warsaw colonel over an Italian actress.


Casanova in 1788

Casanova was granted the right to return home to Venice in 1774 after an 18-year exile. Nine years later, Casanova wrote a vicious satire on Venetian nobility which got him expelled again.

Casanova’s later years were a time when he slowed down – albeit only a little. Casanova was appointed as the Bohemia librarian to Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein. He found this job so boring and lonely that he contemplated suicide. He refused to succumb to the temptation but only for his memoirs.

Napoleon Bonaparte captured Venice in 1797. Casanova died in the next year. He was 73 years of age.

Casanova’s memoirs and Judith Summers’ salacious Casanova’s Women book are available. You can also visit our “Secret Passages” tour.

Continue reading: Venice decoded: Uncovering Venice’s Signs & Symbols

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