In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Customs Office


Etching by Vasi from 1752

Rome’s ancient customs office or Dogana di Terra was in a building designed by Carlo Fontana in 1696, which incorporated the pillars from a temple honoring Emperor Hadrian built in 144. It was renovated and simplified in 1879-1882 and again in 1928. This impressive building sits in the Piazza di Pietra, for “stone” referring to these grand columns.

After his sojourn in Rome in the 1740s, Casanova returned to the city in 1760 for a short time. He tells us about entering the city on this occasion:

“It was an hour after midnight. The great city can be entered at any time; a foreigner is at once sent to the Customs Office, which is always open, where his baggage is examined. The customs officials are strict only in regards to books. I had thirty or more, all hostile to religion or to the virtues it prescribes. I knew this, and I had resigned myself to giving them up without an argument, for I needed to get to bed at once. The clerk who examined my baggage politely told me to count them and leave them with him, assuring me that he would bring them all to me the next day at the inn to which I was going. I assented, and he kept his word. I gave him two zecchini.”

This revelation is a bit remarkable due to C’s bravura. He had been seized and imprisoned in Venice partly due to his collection of books deemed unacceptable by the Church and the Venetian State Inquisition. You’d think he’d be more cautious about his collection, especially traveling to various cities. Apparently not.

Casanova returned to Rome and its Customs Office again in 1770 with a woman named Betty and her English lover who C referred to as Sir B.M. But while still in Montefiascone, after Casanova had proven to Betty that her seducer, a man who went by the name of Count de l’Etoile (Count Star), was a fraud, they had Betty’s trunk sent ahead to Rome to be held securely at the Custom’s Office. Being quite savvy about how to protect Betty’s interests, Casanova advised her “with the help of a notary of the city, … to sequestrate the trunk at the Roman customs office for a month, which would give her time to prove her right to prevent its being delivered to anyone who might come to get it” (Vol. 11, Ch. 8, p. 247). They feared that Count de l’Etoile would try to steal her possessions. Casanova, Sir B.M, and Betty traveled by night and arrived to the customs office early, where Casanova “gave the chief clerk the notarized document authorizing Betty to recover her trunk.” Casanova continues, “He told us that, after the necessary formalities, he would send it to us at whatever inn we might choose, and it was done the next day” (Vol. 11, Ch. 9, p. 257).

Okay, not a particularly sexy site in C’s life, but his feet did walk these stones, and these instances reveal Casanova’s knowledge of travel practices.


Screen Shot 2020-06-10 at 4.07.25 PM

(Images of the Custom’s Office plus research come from and the map is from Google.)

About seductivevenice

Teacher, writer, traveler, dancer, reader, photographer, gardener.
This entry was posted in Casanova, Italian heritage, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to In Casanova’s Footsteps: Rome–Customs Office

  1. Vince Gratzer says:

    A beautiful building and I passed by it last year on my way from the Pantheon to the Trevi Fountain and wondered what it was.

    The Rome Art Lovers link you provided is quite interesting and gives images of the wonderful Bas-Relief sculptures, and the site gives this information about them: The temple was surrounded by a portico which was decorated with large reliefs portraying personifications of the Roman Empire Provinces.

    • You’re so lucky to have visited last year, before our travel plans all came to naught. The RomeArtLovers site is a fabulous source of info–you can easily get lost in it for hours!

  2. Jeric Urbayo says:

    Great photos and articles. Thank you for sharing your experiences. You may want to check my website too: .

  3. Interesting little profile, I didn’t know I wanted to know this!

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