The Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Venice’s posh department store

The Fondaco dei Tedeschi is the name of a historic building in Venice, situated on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge. It was the headquarters and restricted living quarters of the city’s German (Tedeschi) merchants. The word fondaco comes from the Arabic funduq (فُنْدُق), which refers to an inn-like establishment for traveling merchants. Tedeschi means Germans in Italian.

Nowadays, it is also the name of a posh department store in the center of Venice. The terrace on the rooftop is something special and I’ll be posting on it soon.

The first notable building constructed on this site was in 1228; the building was rebuilt between 1505 and 1508, after its destruction in a fire. The reconstruction produced a very functional four-floor building surrounding a grand courtyard. Its architecture is typical of the Italian Renaissance style.

Like the Fondaco dei Turchi, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi combined the functions of a palace, warehouse, market and restricted living quarters for its population, in this case mainly Germanic merchants from cities such as Nuremberg, Judenburg and Augsburg.

The ground floor was accessible by water and was used for storage, while the first floor was dedicated to offices and an upper area contained about 160 living quarters.

The German merchants arrived shortly after the building was originally constructed in the 13th century and stayed until the Napoleonic occupation. It was one of the city’s most powerful colonies of merchants, and consequently the fondaco became an important trading center for goods passing from the Orient on their way towards the Alps. The Venetian Republic took commission on the transactions of the fondaco. The German community worshipped at a nearby Catholic church, San Bartolomeo.

Around 1508, the façade on the Canal Grande was frescoed by Giorgione and Titian. Of that work, deteriorated by the salty and humid climate of the lagoon, only a few fragments survive, now housed in the Ca’D’Oro. The interior also featured outstanding artworks by Paolo Veronese, Titian and Jacopo Tintoretto, also mostly disappeared.

In the 20th century, the building served as the Venice headquarters of the Poste Italiane. In 2008, the building was sold to the Benetton Group and Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas planned a new shopping center to be made from the Renaissance building. Benetton promised to transfer 6 million Euro to the city budget in exchange for building permits handed over by the end of 2012. This caused protests among the groups campaigning for preservation of the Italy’s historical heritage. Today, the building houses a T Galleria duty-free store as part of the DFS Group.

I had my first chance to see this marvel of modernity and high end sales emporium last week. It is quite something.

As I walked around each of the 4 floors, organized around a central courtyard of open space, I was reminded of the Liberty store in London. Its as if Liberty had landed in the 21st century. I liked it!

And, my oh my, are the goods high end! All the major international designers have a boutique here. As good an illustration as any of the fancy stuff for sale is this gift box of Italian vinegar. I’ve seen artisinal vinegars for sale all over the peninsula: particularly in Modena and even Parma. But no where have I seen it presented in quite this way!

There’s an entire gallery on the ground floor dedicated to the selling of Murano glass. But, this isn’t your grandmother’s Murano glass: it’s modern and very, very high end.

There’s a lovely cafe in the center of the courtyard.

I was particularly taken with a group of artiginale candles that represent the Serenissima herself. I might have come home with a few of these lovelies.

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