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Prostitutes and Courtesans

Big business back in the day

Titian's Flora, in the Uffizi

Her face is adorned with the quintessence of beauty. In her cheekes thou shalt see the Lilly and the Rose strive for the supremacy, and the silver tramels of her haire displayed in that curious manner besides her two frisled peakes standing up like prety Pyramides, that they give thee the true Cos amoris.Crudities, Thomas Coryat (1611)

Most women in Venice lived in purdah-style seclusion until the 18th century—except for prostitutes. In 1358, the Maggior Consiglio declared the world's oldest profession was 'absolutely indispensable', and in 1403 the city set up a brothel near the Rialto, which remained Venice's red light zone for centuries. It was designed, some say, to counter Venice's perceived rise in homosexuality and a declining rate of marriages and births.

In the lusty 16th-century dawn of tourism, Venice had 11,654 registered tax-paying prostitutes, dressed in red and yellow ‘like tulips’ (a 1543 document on what they were allowed to wear is in the Archivo di Stato). There was even a guidebook, listing addresses and prices.

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History and Anecdotes



Text © Dana Facaros & Michael Pauls

Image by PD Art