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Libreria Acqua Alta

Home > Venice > Places of Interest | Libraries | Books and Writing | Shopping | Weekend Escapes
by Cressida Ryan (subscribe)
Classicist and traveller
Published August 22nd 2016
Where books, boats and cats meet
'Acqu'alta', 'high tide', the last thing anyone in Venice wants to hear, but even more so when you're a book shop opening onto a canal. Still, the Libreria acqua alta is just that, and thrives in its shabbiness, billed as the most beautiful bookshop in the world with books piled in boats.

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Books piled high with even a bath for storage

'Most beautiful' might be pushing it slightly as a description, but magical, chaotic, unexpected, charming and old-fashioned are certainly all appropriate adjectives. Online retailers can never beat the atmosphere of a proper quirky bookshop. Libreria means bookshop rather than a library, and this shop does stock lots of books relevant to Venice, as well as a random assortment of other books.

books, alta, acqua, venice
The shop front, set back from the street

The shop is piled from (almost) floor to ceiling with books, using baths and boats to store many of them instead of regular shelves. Great for a rummage, it gives an air of complete chaos, but there are zones for different kinds of books, so you can still browse meaningfully.

books, alta, acqua, venice
Books in a boat

I say almost floor to ceiling because there is one nod to the impending floods. Most of the books are raised precariously on plastic crates so that they are not in fact on the floor, giving a small amount of protection from the incoming waters.

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Books in a gondola

Flooding is a real and regular thing, given the frequency of alcqu'alta alarms in Venice, and the shop's beautiful but dangerous position right on the water's front. These chairs may offer a lovely view of the canal, but it is hardly practical for book conservation.

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Canalside views from the bookshop

Some of it is clearly as much for show as for sale, where stacks of slightly mildewed books which nobody has investigated for years sit precariously balanced in odd corners. This is the case, for example, in the outside annexe. At the back of the shop is even a staircase made of books!

books, alta, acqua, venice
Outside the main shop

People wander in and out, and book trade is certainly done. Books that nobody will ever want jostle for space with blockbusters and cookery books which are likely to attract tourists. They're certainly not an Italian language bookshop with nothing to offer a non-native.

books, alta, acqua, venice
Old boats as shelving

The shop is as much an experience to visit, an attraction, as it is a working bookshop. You can buy postcards and calendars featuring it, for example, as it markets itself as more than a bookshop. The gentle sepia tones of many postcards remind one that place is about the atmosphere as much as the purchases.

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Made up masked revellers among the books

Not only books, but cats are everywhere. The shop makes a feature of them, letting them settle on the books, and selling postcards of the books and their furry friends.

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Cats are everywhere among the books

Within ten minutes of St Mark's square on foot, it would only take a short detour from the manic hustle and bustle there to pop in to this tranquil and bizarre little shop. It lies in the Castello area, where there are plenty of other things to see and do too. It is quite narrow inside so would not accommodate large groups, for example. With no website of its own, you'll just have to visit it yourself to enjoy it.

books, alta, acqua, venice
Welcome sign - beautiful, bonkers or both?
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Why? A beautiful and bizarre bookshop
When: 9am to 8pm daily
Where: Calle Lunga Santa Maria Formosa, 5176/B, 30122 Venezia
Cost: free
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