East Meets West in Venice; Coffee – the Wine of Islam

Anna Marie Fisker, Anna Eva Utke Heilmann

Research output: Contribution to conference without publisher/journalConference abstract for conferenceResearch


It is said that Napoleon called the Piazza San Marco in Venice "the drawing room of Europe", and still today, sipping a small good coffee sitting in one of the many chairs offered at the Piazza gives you this feeling.
The relationship between Venice and coffee started long ago. Originally, coffee was described as ‘the Wine of Islam’, able to excite without being alcoholic. In Venice, coffee was considered a spice both to impress with, and to trade, and it was very expensive.
Our paper deals with Venice and its history during pre-modern and modern times; as a meeting point for commerce and culture, especially with the Muslim World.
Venice initially had strong political ties to Byzantium, and Venetian merchants obtained the trading privileges from the Byzantine emperors that gave them a distinct advantage over their rivals from other western European cities.
During that period, Venice was something of an “amphibian”; it became the link between the Western world and the storied East, the lands of Byzantium, Islam and beyond. We examine the role of Islamic Heritage for the construction of identity and ideologies in Venice.
The first scientific mention of coffee beans and their use is to be found in a book published in 1591 by Prospero Alpini, a physician working for the Venetian consul in Cairo around 1580. Venice was one of the ports where the first loads of coffee beans arrived in Europe, and the first café opened under the porticoes of Piazza San Marco in 1638. Our paper analyses how Caffé Florian, the 18th-century that was modelled after coffee houses in Istanbul, became a mythical, and even holy place; a temple that still celebrates the Wine of Islam making its footprint on modern architectural vocabulary.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2019
Publication statusIn preparation - 2019

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