Venice is renowned for its stunning beauties, but it is also known as a mysterious place full of conceited wonders and Libreria Acqua Alta is one of the city’s many hidden pearls. Situated in the Sestiere of Castello in Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, this curious bookshop is an unavoidable stop for book-lovers, adventurers, seekers of rarities and all those travellers who are not satisfied with the major sight-sees of the city.
At the entrance, hanging from a stand, a sign welcomes the visitors to “the Most Beautiful Bookshop in the World”, and once visitors are inside the shop they might find it hard to believe the opposite. The walls are literally stuffed with books and magazines: recent, new, less recent, old, literature, travel literature, cook books, art books, foreign books.. the list might go on forever. But this is only what happens all along the walls of the rooms of this enchanting place: in the middle of a room you can find a chair on which you can look for what you need in a pile of books, or you can look for it inside a wooden basin, or even in some tubs.

ilSolar | Acqua Alta

Acqua Alta | ilSolar

Yet, the most striking thing of Libreria Acqua Alta is the gondola, a real and entire gondola placed in the middle of the room which seems sinking in a sea of books because others are piled on board along with two mannequins and a stripped pole used to moor boats. This unusual device to employ tubs and a gondola to display books might appear as a mere aesthetic choice, a way to make the bookstore more uncommon or special, but it has a simpler and more important use. As its owner, Luigi Frizzo, explains, the gondola and tubs are a perfect method to save books from the high water which might cause innumerable damages inside the bookstore. When asked how he came up with the idea of the gondola, he simply and smiling replies that there was enough room for it and that it was the place which was waiting for the gondola. Another way to preserve books is the constant presence of cats who keep mice away and add a further sense of cosiness to the place.
As most shops and houses in Venice, Libreria Acqua Alta has a door which opens directly on a canal and which Luigi Frizzo has humorously assigned as fire exit. He tells that in ten years two men and eleven women have fallen out into the canal as they were trying to take a nice picture of themselves and the view behind. But his wits go beyond the gondola, the tubs, the innumerable books he treasures in his bookshop or the fire exit. In a small corte – the Venetian internal courtyard – he built a staircase made of old unused encyclopaedias. The basic idea was to have a staircase accessible to visitors to allow them to enjoy the view beyond the walls which surround the corte and along the years Luigi built it with different materials, but people were not attracted by it. Therefore, he decided to have it in encyclopaedias as they are perfect for their size and resistance to work as steps, and to save them to be macerated. As he admits, it’s a lovely idea, but now people enjoy more the staircase than the view.
Acqua Alta is one the few independent bookstores remained in Italy and is one of the most unique places in the world. So, wear comfortable shoes, grab your map and go and find Libreria Acqua Alta, an enchanting place to get lost like the city which hosts it.