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The Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice: history of an ancient palace


Today I'll tell you the story of one of the main palaces of all time in Venice: the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Its history is long, studded with many events and after a long period of decay, the Fondaco is experiencing a new life. Born as an important commercial center, today it has taken over what it does best: bargaining and being a meeting place between Venice and the East.


 

NO WEAPONS, NO GAMES, NO PROSTITUTES.

FOR THE REST FREE TO TRADE

HERE ARE THE RULES IMPOSED BY THE SERENISSIMA REPUBLIC OF VENICE

ENGRAVED AT THE ENTRANCE OF THE PALACE


 

History of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi


We have news of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi as early as 1200 when merchants from Northern Europe arrived in Venice in search of spices and dyes to dye wool. The word "fondaco" derives from the Arabic funduq and indicates a hotel-warehouse: the merchants who arrived in the lagoon were accommodated in the various Fondachi of the city to sleep and trade. In fact, on the ground floor there was the warehouse, while on the upper floors there were 200 rooms where the merchants ate and slept.


The Fondaco dei Tedeschi, located on the Grand Canal next to the Rialto Bridge, was called "dei Tedeschi" to distinguish it from the warehouse of the Greeks and that of the Moors. The Serenissima had imposed a certain distance between these spaces to avoid uncontrolled contacts between the various foreign communities. The German one was among the largest in Venice and then by "Germans" meant all people from Northern Europe and not only from Germany.


In 1505 there was a fire that destroyed the palace, which was later rebuilt at the behest of Doge Loredan. The Fondaco dei Tedeschi returned to being active as early as 1508: a new large building to enhance the important German community both from a commercial and artistic and cultural point of view.


In 1797 the Fondaco was closed due to the arrival of Napoleon in Italy and the drastic fall of the Republic of the Serenissima. The building was reused as the seat of customs controls. In 1937 there was an important restoration, transforming the ancient building into the headquarters of the Post Office until not so long ago.





Art inside the Fondaco dei Tedeschi


Given the importance of the building, the Serenissima called two of the main artists of the time: Giorgione and Tiziano. Allegorical frescoes were created to enhance the independence and power of the Republic by Emperor Maximilian I: it was a period of conflict between the two countries. Giorgione took care of frescoing the facade overlooking the Grand Canal, while Titian found himself on the side.


German traders had the opportunity to attend religious services in a small church which was located near the Fontego. They could go to the chapel of the church of St. Bartholomew where an altarpiece by the German artist Albrecht Dürer had been placed: it is the Rosary Feast of 1506, now preserved in the Narodni Galerie in Prague.


A curiosity


You will also find written Fontago dei Tedeschi, where the word "fontago" is the Venetian version of "fondaco". So don't be surprised when you see it written: we're talking about the same place.


The Fondaco dei Tedeschi today





My first time was during university, when with a friend we went in search of works of art studied in books. And it was immediately a great disappointment. We knew that inside there was a fresco by Giorgione and we absolutely had to see it. As soon as we entered we found ourselves in a decadent building, old and used as a warehouse (or so it seemed to us with all those packages thrown in jumble here and there). Sad and heartbroken, we left in search of something else.


Since then, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice has changed and is no longer the old dilapidated building it was then. Purchased by the Benetton family in 2008 and after a long restoration carried out by the Dutch studio Oma of architect Rem Koolhass, it was reopened to the public in October 2016.


The structure was in poor condition and a restoration was necessary, however, creating some controversy over the reuse of the building. The renovation involved a change in the floor from terracotta to two-tone marble and the well was moved from the center of the courtyard to its side. A steel and glass roof was created which replaced the skylight, creating an extra space on the fourth floor.


What is inside the Fondaco today?


Inside the Fondego dei Tedeschi today we find 60 luxury boutiques spread over four floors: the DFS (Duty Free Shop) manages several duty free shops in major airports around the world. Here in Venice he wanted to focus on oriental customers, drawing inspiration from the malls found in the main cities of the Middle and Far East. So don't be surprised to find tons of Asians shopping crazy!


In the courtyard on the ground floor there is a café and outlets for food and gifts. On the fourth floor you can access the panoramic terrace overlooking the lagoon and that's why I brought you here. Unfortunately I happened both times in winter days with a lot of fog but I don't dare to imagine the view on beautiful sunny days.


The building underwent a major transformation and was renamed T Fondaco dei Tedeschi where T stands for Travel. It is up to you to decide if it was a nice change or if this historic place was ideal for some other intended use. My opinion is more than positive: an ancient building destined for wreck has been recovered. Furthermore, the Fondaco, by its tradition, has always been a place of commerce and trade: what better place to continue trading?



Useful informations


  • The Fondaco dei Tedeschi is located in Calle del Fontego dei Tedeschi, Ponte di Rialto: it is just a stone's throw from the most famous bridge in Venice!

  • To visit the panoramic terrace, just book it at T Fondaco dei Tedeschi. I happened both times in a little busy days and I was able to go up immediately without a reservation. However, it is mandatory to book from the site in order to avoid queues and long waits.

  • Admission to the Fondaco and the terrace is free. Obviously if you don't stop to buy something in luxury shops.

  • Every third Wednesday of the month there is a free guided tour at 6.30pm by booking at fondaco.culture@dfs.com.

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