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Nini the famous Venetian cat


It's funny to me that a cat who lived in Venice over a hundred years ago is still "alive" and well in stories and art.

I just finished reading a recently-published children's book called "The Famous Nini: The Mostly True Story of How a Plain White Cat Became a Star." It's a charming book with nice illustrations; you can watch a trailer on the author's website here.

I first learned about Nini from Jan Morris, who wrote about this "international celebrity" cat in both "The World of Venice" and "A Venetian Bestiary." Nini lived in the late 19th century and belonged to the owner of Caffe dei Frari. He held court in the cafe but was also a roaming neighborhood cat who spent time mousing in the Frari church across the canal and in the nearby Archives of State.

For some reason, Nini became famous, and visitors to Venice stopped by to meet and pay homage to him. He had his own guest book in the cafe, and among the many famous people who signed Nini's book were the composer Giuseppe Verdi, the king and queen of Italy, the czar of Russia, and even Pope Leo XIII. When Nini died of old age in 1894, there was a wake honoring him, with many tributes to "a gentleman, white of fur, affable with great and small."

The cafe is still open today, but evidently Nini's guestbook was sold and is now lost. There is a circa-1932 painting of Nini on the cafe facade which shows the cat reclining with his book and a cup of coffee. Long live Nini!

Caffe dei Frari

Nini the Cat


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Comments (8)


What a charming story! I must look for the children's book.

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, what a wonderful story and subject for a children's book. I love the book cover and the painnting of nini in the cafe. It's too bad the guest book is lost. It would've been cool to have in the cafe for other guests to follow as another wonderful bit of history in Venice to follow.

Thanks so much for sharing.

Sandra, I checked it out of the library but might end up buying a copy. It's really a sweet book.

Thanks Kathy. I went by to take the photo of Nini's painting in November, before I knew about this book.

I imagine that the guestbook was valuable because of all the famous people who signed it, so it doesn't surprise me that it was sold.

Aw, what a nice story. Something else to look for in Venice!

Kathy (Trekcapri):

Hi Annie, how cool that you went to the cafe and took a photo before knowing about the book. Wonderful discovery. I just downloaded the book. It is also available on Amazon Kindle. I love the illustrations and the stories. I may have to take it to work today to finish the book.

Thanks so much again for sharing.

Yvonne, I didn't go inside the cafe to see if there is any other Nini memorabilia and now I wish I had.

Kathy, that's cool that it's available for Kindle. Glad you're enjoying it!

Isobel Liebman:

Sad that we couldn't see nini, but after several large proseccos & good food maybe we did.

Shirley, Izzie, Dave & Phil

Hi Isobel, thanks for your comment. A large prosecco and some Venetian food sounds perfect to me right now. :) Annie

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 3, 2011 10:40 AM.

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