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Mobility, cohabitation and cultural exchange in the lodging houses of early modern Venice


This article examines the thriving lodging house sector in early modern Venice, arguing that such spaces of temporary accommodation offer a valuable key to understanding how mobility and migration shaped the daily lived experience of the city. Lodging houses were important both to the many Venetian residents who profited from renting out rooms, and to the people who stayed in them, and found there companionship, conversation and access to social and professional networks. Considering the kinds of encounters, conflicts and exchanges that unfolded in these shared spaces, the article offers new insight into the functioning of a pre-modern multicultural metropolis.

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In transcriptions from early modern sources, I have modernized spelling and expanded abbreviations. All translations are my own. The Venetian calendar began on 1 March. I have adapted more veneto dates to the modern style. The research for this article was funded in part by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 702296. I would also like to thank Claire Judde de Larivière, Paul Nelles, Massimo Rospocher and Saundra Weddle for their feedback and suggestions on earlier drafts.

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1 ‘Grechi fanno alla greca, e turchi alla turchescha, in modo che i turchi mangiano carne il venerdì e i grechi il sabbato.’ Archivio di Stato, Venice (ASV), Sant'Uffizio (SU), b. 47, fasc. 2, fol. 15v. The Inquisition investigated several denunciations of Paolina between 1581 and 1588, but never seem to have punished her.

2 For the bigger picture, see Moatti, C. and Kaiser, W., ‘Mobilità umana e circolazione culturale nel Mediterraneo dall'età classica all'età moderna’, in Corti, P. and Sanfilippo, M. (eds.), Storia d'Italia. Annali 24: Migrazioni (Turin, 2009), 520; Lucassen, J. and Lucassen, L., ‘The mobility transition revisited, 1500–1900: what the case of Europe can offer to global history’, Journal of Global History, 4 (2009), 347–77.

3 For an overview of this extensive literature, see Ravid, B., ‘Venice and its minorities’, in Dursteler, E.R. (ed.), A Companion to Venetian History, 1400–1797 (Leiden and Boston, MA, 2013), 449–85. A few important recent works have argued for the more fluid nature of identities across the Venetian empire. See in particular Rothman, E.N., Brokering Empire: Trans-Imperial Subjects between Venice and Istanbul (Ithaca and London, 2012); Minchella, G., Frontiere aperte: Musulmani, ebrei e cristiani nella Repubblica di Venezia (Rome, 2014). In this article, according to the usage current at the time, I consider foreigners to be anyone coming from outside the city of Venice.

4 On the often neglected importance of temporary migration in urban history, see De Munck, B. and Winter, A., ‘Regulating migration in early modern cities: an introduction’, in De Munck, B. and Winter, A. (eds.), Gated Communities? Regulating Migration in Early Modern Cities (Farnham, 2012), 122.

5 For an overview, see Urry, J., Mobilities (Cambridge, 2007); see also Cresswell, T., ‘Towards a politics of mobility’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28 (2010), 1731.

6 See, in particular, Regnard, C., ‘Stopgap territories. Inns, hotels and boarding houses in Marseille at the beginning of the 1870s’, Quaderni storici, 151 (2016), 197220; and, in the same journal issue, E. Canepari and C. Regnard, ‘Premessa: Abitare la città. Residenza e precarietà in età moderna e contemporanea’, 103–12. On other important centres in later periods, see Canepari, E., ‘Cohabitations, household structures and gender identities in seventeenth-century Rome’, Villa I Tatti Studies, 17 (2014), 131–54; Capp, B., ‘The poet and the bawdy court: Michael Drayton and the lodging-house world in early Stuart London’, The Seventeenth Century, 11 (1995), 2737; Roche, D. (ed.), La ville promise. Mobilités et accueil à Paris fin xviie–début xixe siècle (Paris, 2000); Hamadeh, S., ‘Invisible city: Istanbul's migrants and the politics of space’, Eighteenth-Century Studies, 50 (2017), 173–93; Kay, A.C., ‘A little enterprise of her own: lodging-house keeping and the accommodation business in nineteenth-century London’, London Journal, 28 (2003), 4153.

7 Davis, R.C. and Marvin, G.R., Venice, the Tourist Maze: A Cultural Critique of the World's Most Touristed City (Berkeley, 2004).

8 Cf. D. Roche, ‘Logeurs et hôteliers’, in Roche (ed.), La ville promise, 295, on the ‘economie souteraine’ of lodging in Paris. Although very little studied, there is some mention of Venetian albergarie in the important survey article: Costantini, M., ‘Le strutture dell'ospitalità’, in Tenenti, A. and Tucci, U. (eds.), Storia di Venezia dalle origini alla caduta della Serenissima, vol. V: Il Rinascimento: società ed economia (Rome, 1996), 881911; and in Chojnacka, M., Working Women of Early Modern Venice (Baltimore and London, 2001), 97100.

9 On the 20 or so osterie, see Costantini, ‘Le strutture’, which also discusses the case di comunità: inns meant to host eminent visitors from particular communities in the Venetian state.

10 For a recent overview, see Braunstein, P., Les allemands à Venise (1380–1520) (Rome, 2016). On the spread of the Fondaco model more generally, see Constable, O., Housing the Stranger in the Mediterranean World: Lodging, Trade, and Travel in Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages (Cambridge, 2003; repr. 2006), esp. ch. 9.

11 Ravid, B., ‘The religious, economic and social background and context of the establishment of the ghetti of Venice’, in Cozzi, G. (ed.), Gli ebrei e Venezia, secoli xiv–xvii (Milan, 1987), 211–60; Pedani, M.P., Venezia, porta d'oriente (Bologna, 2010), ch. 8; Concina, E., Fondaci. Architettura, arte e mercatura tra Levante, Venezia e Alemagna (Venice, 1997), 220–40. Muslim merchants were meant to lodge in a former inn at Rialto from the late 1570s, before the institution of the Fondaco dei Turchi in 1621 although, as the aforementioned example of Paolina Briani's house shows, not all did. From 1528, because of fears of the spread of Protestantism, the government also sought to limit German merchants to staying, if not in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, then in a couple of inns and lodging houses run by fellow northerners located nearby. Braunstein, Les allemands, 146.

12 Biblioteca del Museo Correr, Venice, manuscript PD 396c-II, vol. II, no. 524. The document, promulgated by the Council of Ten, is undated but is stored with other laws from around the mid-sixteenth century and other references within the text point to this dating.

13 Beltrami, D., Storia della popolazione di Venezia dalla fine del secolo xvi alla caduta della Repubblica (Padua, 1954), 59.

14 For more details, see Salzberg, R., ‘Controlling and documenting migration via urban “spaces of arrival” in early modern Venice’, in Greefs, H. and Winter, A. (eds.), The Regulation of Migration and the Materiality of Identification in European Cities, 1500–2000 (London and New York, forthcoming 2018).

15 See the laws collected in ASV, Compilazione delle leggi (CL), b. 12, fasc. ‘albergarie’.

16 ASV, Giustizia Nuova (GN), b. 5, reg. 12. 272 permissions for housekeepers to accept tenants were granted between 14 Feb. 1530 and 6 Mar. 1532. 30 or so housekeepers obtained two or more licences to lodge different groups of guests, however, because of the non-uniform recording of names, it is not always possible to confirm with certainty when the same individual appears more than once.

17 In theory, only certain categories of more favoured arrivals (including diplomats, clergy, scholars and military officers in the employ of the Republic) were to be given permission to move into private lodgings. Nonetheless, there were continuous complaints that many others received permits, or simply found accommodation without permission. What were probably the largest categories of mobile people moving through Venice, galley sailors and artisans seeking work, could lodge where they liked, and so left few documentary traces. ASV/CL, b. 299, ‘osterie’ (27 Sep. 1505).

18 Doni, A.F., Lo stufaiolo (Lucca, 1861), Act 5, Scene 2.

19 In contrast, innkeepers (osti) were incorporated in a guild from the fourteenth century.

20 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fols. 159v, 203v.

21 Rothman, Brokering Empire, esp. ch. 2; Burke, E., ‘Francesco di Demetri Litino, the Inquisition and the Fondaco dei Turchi’, Thesaurismata, 36 (2006), 7996.

22 Calò, L., Giulio Gherlandi, ‘heretico ostinatissimo’. Un predicatore eterodosso del Cinquecento tra il Veneto e la Moravia (Venice, 1996), 62, 179. Cf. Ronchi, O., ‘Alloggi di scolari a Padova nei secoli xiii–xviii’, Bollettino del Museo Civico di Padova, 56 (1967), 293319, on Padua, where priests and professors, among them Galileo Galilei, were among those who rented rooms to scholars.

23 Cf., for example, Canepari, ‘Cohabitations’, 141–2; Kay, ‘A little enterprise’.

24 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fols. 13v (Chiara pelizera), 17v (Menega carbonera), 129r (Franceschina vantera).

25 ASV/SU, b. 21, fasc. 4, fol. 23r.

26 ASV, Inquisitori di stato, b. 1213, fasc. 49 (1618). See also the case of a poor widow with three daughters who declared to the authorities in Padua in 1561 that she rented rooms to scholars since ‘I don't know how to live if I don't do this.’ Cited in Ronchi, ‘Alloggi di scolari’, 300.

27 Kay, ‘A little enterprise’.

28 See, for example, ASV/GN, b. 1, fol. 109r (1524): courtesans prohibited from accepting paying lodgers who they claimed were merely (non-paying) friends or lovers. See also concerns about Muslim visitors lodging with Christian prostitutes, cited in Concina, Fondaci, 220.

29 It is very difficult to give precise numbers as licence-seekers were identified in different ways throughout the records: sometimes with a nickname that suggests, but does not confirm, where they were born (for example, furlana, greca, todesco), and only on occasion with a more explicit reference to provenance (for example, da Corfu, da Peschiera).

30 ASV, Consiglio dei dieci, Parte comuni, reg. 29, fol. 64r–v (22 Sep. 1569); ASV, Esecutori contro la bestemmia (ECB), b. 54, fols. 63v–64r (14 Mar. 1589).

31 Chojnacka, Working Women, 96–7.

32 ASV, Collegio, Suppliche di dentro (CS), f. 6, no. 85. On renting and sub-letting, see P. Fortini Brown, Private Lives in Renaissance Venice (New Haven, 2004), ch. 7.

33 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 13, fol. 4v. See also ASV/ECB, b. 54, fol. 65r (1590): on female housekeepers who, ‘being mostly miserable and poor’, knew that they would not be punished harshly for failing to report their tenants.

34 ASV/SU, b. 67, fasc. ‘Ali Celebin’. The boy also reported that he had learnt some Catholic rituals (prayers and the sign of the cross) in Camilla's house. Disturbed by the boy's plight, Camilla sought the intervention of a neighbour and also reported the case to a local priest. Housekeepers likely also sought medical treatment for lodgers. See, for example, the case of a lodger from Friuli, ill and needing medical care, who moved from an inn to the house of Margarita Veronese. ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fol. 273r.

35 See Ravid, ‘Venice’.

36 However, for a few examples of longer-term stays, see ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fols. 31v (Genoese cloth merchants, ‘già molti anni in questa terra’), 104v (Flemish mercers and jewellers given permission to ‘stare e habitare come fanno gli altri che lavorano il suo mestiere in questa terra’).

37 Although it can be difficult to distinguish servants from travelling companions, at least 160 of the 272 lodging licences explicitly mentioned the presence of servants of one kind or another (servidor, garzon, ragazzo, cuogo, nena etc.).

38 For example, ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fols. 95r (licence to lodge the Polish orator), 114v (ambassadors from Friuli), 139r (Brescia), 266r (Kotor in Montenegro). For Ottoman envoys staying in lodging houses as well as inns, see Pedani, M.P., In nome del Gran Signore: Inviati ottomani a Venezia dalla caduta di Costantinopoli alla Guerra di Candia (Venice, 1994).

39 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fols. 205v, 292r.

40 Ibid., fols. 242v–243r.

41 Ibid., fol. 117r.

42 Ibid., fols. 289v–290v. Marieta also obtained at least two other licences to lodge Ottoman subjects, one group from Vallona in Albania and another also from Kanine (fols. 125r, 283v). On the clustering of eastern Mediterranean migrants in this area, see Pedani, Venezia, 213, 223; Burke, E., The Greeks of Venice, 1498–1600: Immigration, Settlement and Integration (Turnhout, 2017). For examples of Levantine Jews lodging at various houses in the Ghetto, see ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fols. 43r, 151v, 178v–179r, 187r, 241v. As noted above, there were efforts to segregate Muslim merchants in a proto-Fondaco from the 1570s, although some continued to stay in lodging houses. For more on the factors influencing choice of accommodation, see below.

43 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fols. 284r, 285r. On the significant role of lodging houses (and their keepers) in the language learning of educational travellers in this period, see Gallagher, John, Learning Languages in Early Modern England (Oxford, forthcoming 2019), ch. 4. I am grateful to John for sharing a copy of his work with me prior to its publication.

44 Only a few travelled with female family members or servants, and there were no women accommodated by themselves. For reasons of decorum, men who travelled with women were likely to stay in lodging houses rather than the more public and rowdy inns. See, for example, the licence to lodge a male citizen from Trogir in Dalmatia with his wife, his female cousin and her infant daughter, plus a wetnurse. ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fol. 11v.

45 Chojnacka, Working Women, ch. 4.

46 Marchini, N.-E. Vanzan (ed.), Le leggi di sanità della Repubblica di Venezia, 4 vols. (Vicenza, 1995–2003), vol. II, 415 (16 Sep. 1539): decree that prostitutes or female pimps who ran lodging houses could not employ young female servants, and that newly arrived servant girls seeking work could only lodge in the houses of reputable women, one of whom was to be designated for each parish. However, for repeated flouting of these rules, see Lorenzi, G., Leggi e memorie venete sulla prostituzione fino alla caduta della Republica, 2 vols. (Venice, 1870–2), vol. II, 274, 276, 278–9, 281.

47 ASV/CS, filza 6, fasc. 93, cited in Chojnacka, Working Women, 87.

48 Archivio storico del patriarcato, Venice, Examinum matrimoniorum, b. 1 (26 Jun. 1592).

49 For repeated prohibitions and deportation orders, see Vanzan Marchini (ed.), Le leggi, vol. I, 143–4.

50 ASV, Provveditori alla sanità, b. 730, fols. 2v, 3r.

51 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 13, fols. 84v–94r. On the prevalence elsewhere of lodging houses for bachelors, or at least male migrants who had left their families at home, see Canepari, ‘Cohabitations’; Hamadeh, ‘Invisible city’.

52 For a sociological approach to these questions, see Boccagni, P., Migration and the Search for Home (London, 2017). Cf. Arbel, B., ‘Daily life on board Venetian ships: the evidence of Renaissance travelogues and diaries’, in Ortalli, G. and Sopracasa, A. (eds.), Rapporti mediterranei, pratiche documentarie, presenze veneziane: Le reti economiche e culturali (xiv – xvi secolo) (Venice, 2017), 183220, on the even more intense co-existence aboard ships.

53 See, for example, ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fols. 13v, 47r, 55v, 98v, 206r.

54 ASV, Podestà di Murano, b. 61 (5 Mar. 1556).

55 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fol. 262v.

56 Ibid., fols. 30r, 152r.

57 Regnard, ‘Stopgap territories’, 211.

58 For example, see n. 42, above.

59 Fortini Brown, Private Lives, 202.

60 ASV/SU, b. 35, fasc. 12.

61 On the Fondaco and Ghetto, see above, n. 11. However, see Ravid, B., ‘Curfew time in the Ghetto of Venice’, in Studies on the Jews of Venice, 1382–1797 (Aldershot, 2003), 237–75, showing that even the supposedly fortress-like Jewish Ghetto was somewhat permeable to traffic in and out.

62 Braunstein, Les allemands, 866. On lodging house furnishings, which might also expose tenants to innovative forms of material culture, see D. Roche, ‘Dépenses, consommations et sociabilités’, in Roche (ed.), La ville promise, 325–52; Styles, J., ‘Lodging at the Old Bailey: lodgings and their furnishing in eighteenth-century London’, in Styles, J. and Vickery, A. (eds.), Gender, Taste and Material Culture in Britain and North America, 1700–1830 (London and New Haven, 2006), 6180.

63 Cf. Roche, ‘Dépenses’, 336–7. In some cases, lodgers had to provide their own beds, as rooms were unfurnished. For example, ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fol. 153r–v.

64 Montaigne, M. de, ‘Travel journal’, in The Complete Works, trans. D.M. Frame (New York, 2003), 1238–9.

65 See, for example, ASV/SU, b. 35, fasc. 12.

66 Ibid., fol. 16v.

67 Ibid., fol. 13r. See also above, n. 34: the Russian servant boy who appealed to a lodging housekeeper for help to flee his master. For the case of a converted Muslim teaching the children in the house where he lodged Turkish, see Minchella, Frontiere aperte, 27.

68 Cf. Dursteler, E.R., ‘Infidel foods: food and identity in early modern Ottoman travel literature’, Journal of Ottoman Studies, 39 (2012), 143–60.

69 One 1531 licence, for example, specified that the guest could agree to pay just for the room, by the month or year (‘spese al mese, al anno’), or a dozzina (with food and wine included in the cost). ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fol. 176v.

70 Moryson, F., An Itinerary. . .Containing his Ten Yeeres Travel. . ., 2 vols. (London, 1617), vol. II, 116.

71 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 13, fol. 56r: permission to host a wedding feast ‘juxta il consueto di loro tedeschi’.

72 ASV/SU, b. 47, fasc. 2, fol. 18r.

73 ASV/GN, b. 5, reg. 12, fol. 153r–v. Cf. also ASV/SU, b. 35, fasc. 12, fol. 14r, on Turkish merchants doing the same.

74 Cf. Diner, H., ‘Road food: Jewish peddlers during the great Jewish migration and their new world customers’, Quaderni storici, 151 (2016), 2349. Such exchanges surely contributed to the ‘melting pot’ nature of Venetian cuisine, on which see Faugeron, F., Nourrir la ville. Ravitaillement, marchés et métiers de l'alimentation à Venise dans les derniers siècles du Moyen Âge (Rome, 2014), 763.

75 ASV/SU, b. 33, fasc. ‘Prosperum Capellarium. . .’.

76 Ibid., b. 21, fasc. 4, fol. 24r. Massimi testified that he sometimes went with his tenants to help them procure such foods in the local markets.

77 Ibid. See also the example of a post-prandial ‘domestic conversation with heterodox implications’ between a landlady and her tenants in the 1680s, in Barbierato, F., The Inquisitor in the Hat Shop. Inquisition, Forbidden Books and Unbelief in Early Modern Venice (Farnham, 2012), 55–7; and the landlady Diana Palermitana eating, drinking and discussing the recent Bedmar conspiracy with a French captain and others residing in her house in 1618 in the case cited in n. 26 above. Gambling, as well as the playing of music, singing and dancing, provided other opportunities for sociable interactions in lodging houses. See, for example, Lorenzi, Leggi e memorie, vol. II, 349: ‘soni, balli strepitosi et scandalosi cantando canzoni infami et inhoneste contro l'uso del viver modesto’ in unlicensed lodgings run by two Flemish women (1651).

78 See above.

79 Roche, ‘Dépenses’, 326: the hôtel meublé as ‘le lieu d'apprentissage des habitudes citadines’.

80 See, for example, the Muslim merchants who persisted in residing in private lodging houses in other parts of the city even well after the establishment of the Fondaco dei Turchi. Pedani, Venezia, esp. ch. 8.

81 Cf. Regnard, ‘Stopgap territories’, 197.

* In transcriptions from early modern sources, I have modernized spelling and expanded abbreviations. All translations are my own. The Venetian calendar began on 1 March. I have adapted more veneto dates to the modern style. The research for this article was funded in part by the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 702296. I would also like to thank Claire Judde de Larivière, Paul Nelles, Massimo Rospocher and Saundra Weddle for their feedback and suggestions on earlier drafts.

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