What is a fondaco in Venice?
Best view in Venice? The answer is Fondaco dei Tedeschi. But what is a FONDACO in Venice specifically? The word comes from the the Arabic funduq, which literally means hotel. The Italian meaning of it is actually casa-magazzino, literally house-warehouse. In other words it is a place where foreign merchants would deposit their goods, exercise their traffics and often live.
History of the Fondaco
Venice has always been a crossroad of cultures, races, languages and people from all over the world. This diversity has turned it into the perfect mix between the East and the West.
Looking back to its glorious past, it is not difficult to imagine the busy merchant traffic of everyday life. The revolving door of boats, the vitality of the colors of the spices. The fabrics coming from the far away East. The great number of people with different cultural and geographical backgrounds, all living together in the intricate and yet amazing maze of little streets and alleys that Venice is.
Being one the most important bench marks of the maritime merchant shipping, with one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean area, Venice would host merchants from all over the world. These people had important and big businesses in the city. Their staying here was often a long one. For this reason walking down the streets of Venice it is possible to notice the FONDACI or FONDAGHI, in Venetian dialect.
Being a city built on the water, Venice has always given a great importance to its canals. They were, and still are, its main roads. This is the reason why all of the most important palaces have a facade on the Grand Canal, definitely the greatest street of all.
Considering that business and commercial exchanges would be performed directly on the water, the most important Fondaci have a safe place there too.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi, or German Fondaco, finds itself in a majestic and beautiful palace a few steps away from the Rialto Bridge. The building as you see it today dates back to the 16th century. They rebuilt it after a terrible fire that completely destroyed it in the early 1500’s. In fact, the original Fondaco was founded in 1288. This makes it one of the most ancient palaces in the city.
The Fondaco from outside
The facade in its present form might seem plane but it must had been a total wonder to the past traveler’s eyes. It used to be decorated with the spectacular frescos by Giorgione and Tiziano, now unfortunately lost.
The ground floor would be used for the loading and unloading of the goods and of course as a warehouse. In the other floors, that hosted something like 200 rooms, the merchants had their apartments and offices.
As the Republic fell in 1797 the Fondaco was abolished by Napoleon and lost there its traditional and crucial role. It was the end of an era.
In the 30’s the building became property of the Italian Post Office and was renovated in some of its parts. In particular with the demolition of the side turrets and the adding of some windows.
The Fondaco today
The contemporary use of the fondaco in Venice as a luxury shopping center dates back to 2016. With a 40 million restoration the place was turned into a wonderland for the most inveterate shopaholics. On the ground floor it is possible to find any type of food and goodies. To enjoy a coffee, a glass of wine or a snack in one of the different bars. The higher floors host more than 60 shops selling the most popular and exclusive brands.
However, the main reason why one should have a look inside is its spectacular terrace on the top floor. The view from there is simply one of the most breathtaking one can find in the city. The perspective is a 360 degrees one on the Grand Canal. It is possible to see the Rialto Bridge, the most impressive palaces, roofs, bell towers and churches. Moreover, the romantic and amazing Venice as a whole, including its lagoon, islands and even the hills and mountains surrounding it. To guarantee a certain order especially in these difficult Covid days, it is recommended to make a reservation to be allowed to have a spot on the terrace. Here is the link.
Dispute about the fondaco
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi, now known as T Fondaco, is one of the many unexpected surprises in Venice. It is also one of the most controversial places you can find here. As a matter of fact, on the one hand it represents an example of how an ancient and historical building can find a new light and become a contemporary bulwark. On the other hand many Venetian would consider themselves very upset by the new touristy face of such an important witness of the golden commercial past. Click here to know more about massive tourism in Venice.
Whatever position you fell to agree with, it is unquestionably true to say the past and the present are somehow once again reunited. Although the commercial purposes and the goods exposed are completely different, the building preserves its ancient meaning: that of buying and selling.