When searching for places to visit in Venice, St Mark’s Square, the Doge’s palace and the Rialto Bridge are always firm favourites but what about Venice’s hidden gems after all the city is a maze of tiny streets linked by bridges and waterways, there must be a thing of two worth seeing that isn’t listed in every single guidebook.
One such place, located slightly off the beaten track on what could be called a secret corner of Venice far away from the maddening crowds, is Libreria Acqua Alta Bookshop which some have aptly called the most interesting bookshop in the world.
Today it is not just one of the most famous bookshops in Venice or even Italy but is widely known across the world, perhaps because of its eccentric interior. In fact, the acqua alta bookshop in Venice is home to what many would describe as an eclectic mix of old household items crammed full to the brim with books about almost anything. From atlases and dictionaries to the Classics and history books, this little treasure trove, of mainly second hand books, is a haven for all book lovers wanting to escape the overcrowded narrow streets and the bustling piazzas.
Luigi Frizzo, the ever-so unconventional owner of the libreria bookshop, however prefers to call it the ‘most beautiful bookshop in the world’, and I happen to agree.
Is Libreria Acqua Alta really the most beautiful bookshop in the whole world?
Not just for book geeks, this peculiar, yet inviting retreat will captivate all that enter. You will be drawn inside after passing by and seeing the bizarre scene that confronts you. Never before have I stumbled across a bookshop happy to display novels in an ancient, rusting wheel-barrow that you first gaze upon because of the striking cherry-red colour of its wheel against the ashen stone floor. At this point you begin to question whether you should sit down on the rocking chair, that has clearly seen better days, to peruse through the untold gems yellowing in the open air or take a leap of faith and head inside to explore the cluttered, bespoke bookshop.
The bookshelves are bulging with a mixture of musty antique finds, new releases and maps – both new and old. Add bookmarks, postcards, an odd collection of prints and a section devoted to Casanova and you begin to realise that this is not just another Italian bookshop but a hoarder’s paradise.
Libreria Acqua Alta in Venice isn’t just about books.
Can this Little Acqua Alta Bookstore get any Better?
Not only are books stacked on shelves, creaking under the pressure, but wander further inside and you will see that every nook and cranny has been crammed full and aisles are narrow to allow for the ever-growing collection. The inventive and ingenious use of bathtubs, canoes, boats has to be commended, but for me it is the centre piece that grabs everyone’s undying attention – for inside is Venice’s very own bookshop gondola.
While this may add to its slightly off-the-wall design, there is a very good reason for having everything stored away in this unique manner. Each year, during the winter months, the city floods meaning that the high waters of Venice can cause unspeakable amounts of damage to all who live and work there. These high waters, also known as Acqua Alta in Venice, are unpredictable and even though the city has developed a way of coping with the rising tides, it is with some alarm that on occasion even these predictions are widely off course. Imagine waking up one day thinking that waters will rise about 1 metre only to realise that the authorities got it wrong and it actually rose 1.5 metres overnight. I can’t even begin to envisage how Venice bookshop owner might feel if they were to lose their prize possessions, hence the gondola, bathtubs and kayak. At least this way, the biggest concern Luigi Frizzo has is whether he might see a collection of his books float off down the Grand Canal rather than being completely destroyed. Libreria Acqua Alta is therefore quite a fitting name for his beloved bookshop as it translates to mean ‘Library of High Waters’.
“In Venice, things not always as they first appear…” (Laura Morelli, The Gondola Maker)
The bizarre nature of this fascinating place continues as you browse further into its depths. With a reading corner on the steps of the canal and an outdoor staircase made entirely out of books stacked high allowing you to venture up to see over the wall into the adjourning waterway; it really is the most creative use of books I have ever seen.
This is a bookshop in Venice that is always evolving. Since our late visit, a further gondola has been tied up just beside one of the many reading nooks on a small side canal which allows the bookshop’s visitors to relax on the water and sample one of the many reading titles found just inside.
Since opening its doors in 2004, Libreria Acqua Alta, has grown in popularity with both Venetians and tourists alike, becoming a stop-off for all book lovers, cartographers and anyone with an intrigue for something different. Whether you are looking to purchase books about Venice, old world books that will no doubt only increase in value over time or simply purchase any other of the 100,000 odd used books in stock, walking away empty handed will be difficult for any serious bookworm. However, even if you don’t purchase anything, which in truth will be difficult when surrounded by such a vast amount of literature, the owner is happy for people to simply wander around, explore and snap away with their cameras.
If, when you visit this aging city, you find yourself in the Castello area, take a moment to seek out this unique bookshop and see for yourself the quirky insides of one of Venice’s hidden wonders.
How to find Libreria Acqua Alta Venice
Libreria bookstore is open from 9am – 8pm
Address: Calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa (Corte Senza Nome) | 5176/B – Castello, 30122 Venice, Italy. It’s very close to Piazza San Giovanni e Paolo.
Have you visited possibly the most unique bookshop in the world? Perhaps you believe that there is another bookshop that challenges for this title. If so, we would love to hear about it.
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