Giacomo Casanova’s Legendary Swashbuckling Travels

Forced into exile in 1756 from his native Venice, Giacomo Casanova traversed Europe in search of adventure, wealth, and of course, women. Find out more about Casanova’s legendary travels.

Aug 27, 2023By Stephanie Jelks, MPhil History, MA History, BA Political Science
giacomo casanova swashbuckling travels
Portrait of Giacomo Casanova, via The Times of London; with map of Casanova’s travels, via


Giacomo Casanova spent much of his adult life outside his home city of Venice. From becoming wealthy by selling state lottery tickets in France to contemplating the life of a monk in Switzerland to getting involved in a pistol duel in Poland, adventure seemed to find Casanova. Casanova met monarchs, a pope, and other notable historical figures. As an older man, Casanova had the opportunity to put pen to paper and write about his many exploits. Some people believe that Casanova was a fictional character, but his incredible life was very real.


Giacomo Casanova Arrives in France

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Le Carnaval des rues de Paris by Étienne Jeaurat, 1757, via Artvee


Giacomo Casanova, the well-known ladies’ man, had no choice but to live in exile from his home city, Venice, after escaping from prison in 1756. Born in 1725, Casanova had already lived an eventful life. In addition to the scores of romantic liaisons that made him posthumously famous (or even infamous), he had spent time as a professional clergyman, military officer, musician, writer, and even gambler. He was also already well-traveled. On his escape from prison, he returned to the city where he had lived for two years at the start of the decade: Paris.


Older and arguably wiser, and with funds borrowed from his Venetian patron, Senator Matteo Bragadin, Casanova arrived in Paris on January 5, 1757, via Munich, Augsburg, and Strasbourg. On the day he arrived, there was an assassination attempt on King Louis XV. A few months later, Casanova watched the would-be assassin’s execution from a window overlooking the Place de Grève. He marveled at how the women he was with observed the execution unflinchingly while the men “shuddered and turned away.”


Casanova reconnected with a friend he had met earlier that decade, François-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis. De Bernis was now the Foreign Minister of France. De Bernis advised Casanova that if he wanted to find favor with the state, he should find a way to raise funds for it. Later that year, Casanova became one of the trustees of France’s first state lottery, which made him a considerable fortune between 1757 and 1759.


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Cardinal François-Joachim de Pierre de Bernis attributed to Antoine-François Callet, 18th century, via The Walters Art Museum

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Giacomo Casanova moved in the circles of Paris’s high society, gaining popularity with his claims of being a Rosicrucian and an alchemist. He rubbed shoulders with Madame de Pompadour, the Count of Saint-Germain, and the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. During this time, de Bernis sent Casanova to Dunkirk on his first spying mission. After successfully gaining intelligence on the state of the French navy preparing for a possible invasion of England, Casanova was paid handsomely.


After the Seven Years’ War began, Casanova was once again asked to help increase the French treasury’s coffers. He was dispatched to Amsterdam to sell state bonds. Holland was a major financial center in Europe, and by selling the bonds at just an 8% discount, Casanova made so much money that by the following year, he was able to buy a silk manufacturing company.


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Miniatures of Giacomo Casanova, by Graff (left) and Baudoin (right), via Masters, J. (1969). Casanova. New York: Bernard Geis Associates.


On returning to Paris from Amsterdam, Casanova was offered a French title and pension if he would agree to become a French citizen and work for the finance ministry. Casanova turned this offer down, perhaps because he didn’t want to be tied down to France. It turned out that Casanova was not a good business owner. He ran the business badly, was the victim of robbery, borrowed heavily trying to save the business, and spent much of his money on his female workers whom he hired more for his pleasure than his profit. Unable to pay his debts, he was arrested and imprisoned in Paris on August 23, 1759, although he was released two days later after finding a way to reimburse his creditor.


Casanova’s patron, de Bernis, had been dismissed by Louis XV, and Casanova had made many enemies in France. Casanova returned to Holland the month after he left prison, but this time he was unsuccessful in raising a loan for the French government. He then decided to explore Germany.


On the Road in Europe

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Title page of a 1966 edition of Giacomo Casanova, the Chevalier of Seingalt’s autobiography, via Varshavsky Collection


Giacomo Casanova arrived in Cologne on February 7, 1760. He had intended to travel to Bonn the next day, but he stayed for several weeks, enticed by a new female companion. About six weeks later, he traveled on to Stuttgart. After having his drink spiked at a brothel (Casanova had never been a big drinker or a user of drugs) during a game of cards, he was essentially put under house arrest until he could pay his gaming debts. With the help of friends, Casanova was able to hide some of his money and escape his house arrest, from where he headed for Zurich, Switzerland.


In Zurich, Casanova walked six hours to the Benedictine Abbey of Einsiedeln, where he spoke to the prince-abbé about adopting a monastic life. The prince-abbé told Casanova to take two weeks to think about such a momentous decision. When Casanova returned to his hotel in Zurich, he saw four ladies getting out of a post-chaise. All thoughts of becoming a monk left Casanova’s head as he embarked on an affair with one of the (married) ladies.


After leaving Zurich, Casanova visited Albrecht von Haller and Voltaire, and continued traveling to Marseille, Genoa, Florence, Rome, Naples, Modena, and Turin. In 1760, Casanova started calling himself the Chevalier de Seingalt, a name he would use more frequently throughout the rest of his life. He also called himself Count de Farussi, using his mother’s maiden name. Around this time, he also received the Papal Order of the Éperon d’Or (Golden Spur) from Pope Clement XIII (who Casanova had known when Casanova was a university student in Padua and Clement XIII was a bishop there).


Rubbing Elbows with Nobility & Royalty

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Jeanne Camus de Pontcarré, the Marquise d’Urfe, via


By 1763, Giacomo Casanova had returned to France. Jeanne Camus de Pontcarré, better known as the Marquise d’Urfé, was reunited with Casanova. Believing that Casanova had occult powers, she had already given Casanova jewels to help finance his travels, as well as letters of recommendation. Casanova tried to convince the Marquise d’Urfé that he could use his occult powers to transform her into a young man. When this failed to work, the Marquise d’Urfé refused any further dealings with Casanova.


After leaving France, Casanova traveled to England in the hopes of selling his state lottery idea to the English. Using his connections and many of the valuables he had stolen from the Marquise d’Urfe, Casanova worked his way up to an audience with King George III. The scheme to sell state lottery tickets to the English was unsuccessful. After spending virtually all of his money and contracting a venereal disease (not for the first time), Casanova left England in 1764 for the Austrian Netherlands.


After receiving funds from Senator Bragadin in Brussels, Giacomo Casanova spent the next three years traveling throughout Europe, covering about 4,500 miles (7,240 kilometers). In Berlin, Casanova had two audiences with King Frederick II of Prussia. Casanova moved on to Riga before reaching Saint Petersburg in December 1764. He had three audiences with Catherine the Great, although he was unable to convince her to create a state lottery.


Casanova arrived in Poland in 1765. In the following year, he was expelled from Warsaw after getting involved in a pistol duel with a Polish colonel over an Italian actress. Both men were wounded; Casanova was wounded in the left hand. Doctors recommended that the hand be amputated, but Casanova rejected this advice, and his hand healed.


Casanova Runs Out of Luck

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King Carlos III dining before his court by Luis Paret y Alcázar, 1775, via


Casanova continued on to Breslau in the Kingdom of Prussia (now known as Wrocław in Poland), Dresden, and back to Paris. After a few months, he was kicked out of France by no greater personage than King Louis XV, mainly because of the scam he had tried with the Marquise d’Urfe. Now known in much of Europe, Casanova headed for Spain via Orléans and Bordeaux.


Much of Giacomo Casanova’s time in Spain involved arrests, imprisonments, quarrels, misunderstandings, and sickness. He had hoped to meet the Spanish king, Carlos III, but Casanova fell ill before the meeting. Not only did he miss the opportunity to join the Spanish Court, but he was also excommunicated from the Church for failing to attend Mass on Easter Sunday. Casanova found all the usual doors of opportunity closed to him in Spain. He considered traveling on to Portugal, but with little money, he decided to go to Constantinople instead. However, he never made it to Constantinople. By 1769, he wanted to return to Venice.


In Italy, Casanova had to wait in Rome for his supporters to pay for his legal entry into Venice, although he traveled to other cities in Italy too. He worked on writing, including a Tuscan-Italian translation of the Iliad, a history of Poland, and a comic play. To improve his case with the Venetian authorities, he did some commercial spying for them. When months went by without word from Venice, he appealed directly to the Venetian Inquisitors, who had sentenced him to prison in 1755. To his surprise, the Inquisitors granted him safe conduct back to Venice. After 18 years of exile, Giacomo Casanova was permitted to return to Venice in September 1774.


Return to Venice

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Casanova’s translation of the Iliad, 1775, via Sotheby’s


When Casanova returned to Venice, in contrast to how he had been dealt with in recent years by the Venetian authorities, he was treated like a celebrity. Even the Inquisitors wanted to know how he had escaped from prison in 1756. His patron, Senator Bragadin, was now dead, but his friend Dandolo allowed Casanova to live with him and even gave him a stipend to live on. Casanova did some spying for Venice, but the financial opportunities he had enjoyed in the past seemed to have dried up.


By the end of 1774, Casanova was 49 years old. Years of fast living and thousands of miles of travel had caught up with him. He now had smallpox scars, sunken cheeks, and his formerly aquiline nose was now described as hooked. His former carefree manner was now more guarded. The Venice he returned to wasn’t the same Venice that he had left. Casanova no longer had the money for gambling, few friends to pass the time with, and he was even less ardent in his pursuit of women. He didn’t earn much money from his Iliad, which was published in three volumes. However, he did find the time to get into a published dispute over religion with Voltaire.


In 1779, Casanova met an uneducated seamstress who became his housekeeper and live-in lover. The Inquisitors hired him to do some more spying on the commerce between Venice and the Papal States. However, other publishing and theater ventures failed due to a lack of capital. After writing a savage satire that lampooned Venetian nobility, Casanova was expelled from Venice again in 1783. He would never return.


Giacomo Casanova’s Final Years

Castle of Dux, Bohemia, via Radio Prague International


Giacomo Casanova returned to Paris after traveling across the Alps, where he met Benjamin Franklin in November 1783. He continued to travel and found work in Vienna as secretary to the Venetian ambassador to the Holy Roman Empire. The ambassador died in 1785, and Casanova then became librarian to a count based at the Castle of Dux, Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic).


Count Joseph Karl von Waldstein, a chamberlain of the emperor, was also a Freemason, cabalist, and frequent traveler like Casanova. The pair had met earlier at the late Venetian ambassador’s residence. Although Casanova’s job offered good pay and security, Casanova found the work tedious and frustrating. The count was frequently absent, and the other inhabitants of the castle disliked Casanova.


Casanova had a lot of time to write, and a mass of unedited papers on literature, philosophy, history, and mathematics was found after his death. Some of his books, including one on his escape from prison in Venice, were published, but sales were not high. Having first considered the idea around 1780, it was at the Castle of Dux where Giacomo Casanova began to work in earnest on his memoir/autobiography Histoire de ma vie (History of My Life). The first draft, written in French, was completed by 1792.


Casanova was so unhappy in Bohemia that he even considered taking his own life. He traveled to Prague, the capital city of Bohemia, several times and visited Leipzig and Dresden. Casanova likely met the librettist of Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni in 1787, although none of the verses Casanova wrote found their way into Don Giovanni. Casanova also went to Prague to attend the coronation of Holy Roman Emperor King Leopold II in 1791.


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Portrait of Giacomo Casanova, aged 62 in 1787, by Johann Berk via France Culture


Towards the end of his life, Casanova’s health deteriorated. In 1797, he found out that the Republic of Venice had ceased to exist, unable to withstand Napoleon Bonaparte’s military campaign against the Austrians and their Italian allies. Giacomo Casanova died the following year on June 4, aged 73. Casanova’s last words were reported to be, “Almighty God, and you witnesses of my death, I have lived as a philosopher and die as a Christian.” Casanova was buried at Dux (now Duchcov in the Czech Republic), but the exact location of his grave was forgotten over time and remains unknown today.


Giacomo Casanova was many things in his life, including an inveterate traveler. Best known for the numerous women (and, according to some, a few men) who he seduced in addition to some who beguiled him, he was also a lottery organizer, spy, silk producer, violinist, con man, philosopher, prisoner, duelist, author, playwright, gambler, military officer, Freemason, poet, priest, lawyer, and more. Casanova lived in an era when few people traveled, and when they did, it was usually with a destination in mind or for a single grand tour of the Continent. It wasn’t until several years after his death that the first parts of Casanova’s memoir were published. When the first modern, complete edition of History of My Life was published in 1960, the full extent of his resourceful and cosmopolitan character became known to the general public.

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By Stephanie JelksMPhil History, MA History, BA Political ScienceStephanie is currently a writer based in Montevideo. She earned her MPhil and MA in History from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England, as well as a BA in Political Science (with a minor in International Studies) from Truman State University in the US. In her free time she enjoys reading, traveling, and spending time with friends.