Jail Breaks Lover Casanova Escapes the Leads Part 1

About the jail break of famous lover Casanova from the Leads prison, history of the escape.


Casanova Escapes the Leads-1756

Giovanni Jacopo Casanova-famed lover and libertine who later became the confidant of kings, philosophers, and courtesans-managed to get himself embroiled in a dangerous literary feud while dallying about his native Venice.

The witty, narcissistic adventurer (son of actors who mistakenly thought him destined for the priesthood) supported the playwright Zorzi over Chiari, whose friend happened to be Antonio Condulmer, the infamous Red Inquisitor. Already displeased with Casanova's libertine ways, the government assigned a spy to entrap him and turn him over to the dread State Inquisition.

This was accomplished on July 26, 1755, after Casanova's apartment was raided and forbidden books were found (several of them dealing with alchemy). He was condemned to serve five years in an attic prison called "the Leads" (since it lay some feet below the lead-covered roof of the great Palace of the Doge).

He was locked up in a tiny wooden cell barely 5 ft. high. With no company but swarms of bold rats, he endured the heat radiated by the metal roof high above the low ceiling of his room. It was here that Casanova had months to plan an ingenious escape (the details of which he faithfully recorded in his famous 12-volume Memoirs, first published in France in 1826).

He managed to smuggle in two items which would eventually lead to his release--a small piece of black marble and an 18-in. iron bar. By rubbing the bar against the marble for days on end, he gave it a sharp point and then hid it away.

After pondering the matter for several days, Casanova deduced that his cell lay directly above the large chamber where the Inquisition met to hear its cases. He decided to cut through his wooden floor and into that chamber's ceiling. On a weekend or a holiday, when the great governmental building was deserted, he might climb down through this hole and escape.

Over a period of several months, he cut the needed opening almost to the point where he could break through the ceiling. He concealed the hole with his bed, secreted the iron bar in the stuffing of an armchair, and disposed of any debris (by hiding it in a towel and depositing it behind a lumber pile) which might attract the attention of his rather indolent jailers.

He determined to escape on Aug. 28, 1756. But three days before that, luck turned against him. He was transferred to another cell, and his jailer, Lorenzo, discovered the forbidden hole in the floor.

Such a revelation in some jails would bring solitary confinement in the deepest stone dungeon and ceaseless surveillance. But it must be remembered that the jailers of 18th-century Venice were men who were themselves on the fringes of the underworld, men who lived by bribes and by stealing from prisoners.

Casanova kept his wits and threatened Lorenzo. Should Lorenzo reveal the escape attempt to his superiors, Casanova promised to testify that the jailer himself had provided the needed tools. The threat worked. Lorenzo secretly had the hole filled up, and the adventurer soon set to work in his new cell on a second escape plan. (The unsuspecting jailers brought in his armchair, in which the iron bar was still concealed.)

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