THE MODERN MERCHANTS OF VENICE
Photographers love to be able to get above the rooftops to take pictures. Until recently in Venice, there were only a few high vantage points – St. Mark’s Bell Tower, the Campanile on San Giorgio Maggiore, or the Scala Contarini del Bovolo from where you could get unimpeded views over the rooftops of the city. The inauguration of the latest incarnation of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, overlooking the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge adds a spectacular new vista.
THE EARLY YEARS
First constructed in 1228, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi (Storehouse of the Germans) served as the headquarters for German merchants who lived and worked in the building (Fondaco means storehouse in Arabic).
As is typical of most commercial structures in Venice, goods were unloaded from boats in the canal straight into the storage area of the ground floor of the building. Offices occupied the first floor, and the merchants lived on the top.
The Germans were one of the city’s most powerful colonies of traders, transporting goods from the east on their way to northern Europe. They paid a commission on all goods traded to and through the Venetian Republic. At one point in its early life, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi earned half the fiscal revenues of the city.
The German traders remained until Napoleon’s troops occupied the city in 1797. The building next served as the city’s customs house. A further transformation under Mussolini turned the Fondaco into the city post office.
Twice destroyed by fire and rebuilt (in its current form in 1506), the structure was almost entirely reconstructed in the 1930s. It was only in 1987 that the building was declared a monument, forbidding any further changes.
After years of sitting empty, in 2008, at the request of the owners of the building (the Benetton Group), Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his company, OMA, began to turn the old Trading House into Venice’s luxury shopping mall. Today, it is a sort of “Harrods of Venice” that retains many of its most distinctive historical features and layers of history with exposed brickwork and interior loggias (complete with arches), juxtaposed with bright red lacquer escalators and the latest fashions.
The entrance to the building is an immense marble doorway topped by a winged lion – the symbol of Venice. A covered central atrium is the focal point of the building, preserving the original arched courtyard. On the floor, blocks of red Verona marble and Istrian stone are laid out in contemporary diagonal lines.
The original cellular sequence of the rooms surrounding the arched courtyard has been maintained. As a result, the structure is subdivided into a series of separate, internal shops with large windows in the façade drawing your eye to the views over Venice.
Large tapestries, bearing the names of products sold on each floor, hang over the courtyard balconies. They are reminiscent of the Renaissance practice of hanging flags with family crests from palazzo windows during regattas on the Grand Canal.
A glass and steel floor suspended over what was once the medieval courtyard on the first floor, provides space for exhibitions as well as access to the wooden terrace with its superb 360-degree view over Venice.
Visitors pass through a brass and mirror wall on the 4th floor to reach the pavilion which itself features brass walls in a gradient from blue to gold.
THE NEW MERCHANTS OF VENICE
Inaugurated in September 2017, the 23,000 sq. ft. shopping mall consists of shops, windows and exhibition spaces on four levels, featuring the pride of Italy – Gucci, Prada, and Versace – as well as numerous international brands.
While the majority of the stores are devoted to fashion, there are also shops displaying traditional Venetian crafts such as glass vases from Murano, decorated Venetian masks, gondolier hats, and striped shirts.
Italian foodstuff, including multi-colored, twisted gourmet pasta, jams, cheeses, meats, and more, fill another room. The in-house brand, called Rialto, includes mouth-watering displays of biscotti, olive oil and more.
If looking at the displays of foods makes you hungry, stop at the AMO (meaning “I love” in Italian) restaurant in the courtyard. The creation of Massimiliano Alajmo and his brother and partner Raf, AMO consists of an exquisite café and pastry shop as well as a dining area in the center of the atrium serving lunch and dinner.
Massimiliano Alajmo is one of the area’s most renowned chefs, the youngest (28) ever to be awarded three Michelin stars for his restaurant, Le Calandre.
AMO is open throughout the day, starting at 10 am when you can enjoy breakfast – yellow croissants filled with turmeric cream or chocolate hazelnut muffins. For a special treat stop for an elaborate afternoon tea complete with finger sandwiches, cakes, and macarons.
The menus for lunch and dinner feature whatever happens to be fresh that day at the Rialto market across the canal. The menu changes every four months.
Black and white striped sofas with high backs (meant to resemble gondolas) around dark marble tables surround the central bar. It is a place to linger over a spritz and people-watch.
Perhaps the most exciting part of the new Fondaco dei Tedeschi is the panoramic terrace above the fourth floor. You have to pre-book your visit either online or on a computer screen on the fourth floor. After you enter your name, email and preferred time slot, you will receive an email confirming your appointment time. On arrival, you show the guard your confirmation, and you will have 15 minutes to photograph the views before the attendants usher you out so a new group can arrive. (It is a good idea to get in line as soon as the previous group departs). If there are no crowds, no tickets are required, and you can stay as long as you like.
As you exit onto the terrace, you find yourself overlooking a bend in the Grand Canal. Immediately below, the roof of the Rialto Bridge peeks through the balustrade.
Vaporetti and water taxis thread their way through the waters. To the right, a traghetto or public gondola ferries local inhabitants across the Grand Canal. On both sides of the waterway, you can spot many of the famous buildings of the city.
In the opposite direction are the domes of the Basilica of San Marco and the bell tower, the campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore and the islands of the lagoon. On a clear, sunny day, you can see as far away as the Dolomites.
FOR THE PHOTOGRAPHER
For the photographer, there are numerous opportunities both inside and out. Photograph the exterior façade of the building from both the Rialto Bridge and the opposite side of the Grand Canal. Look for architectural details on the exterior of the building, especially the front entrance.
Photograph the internal courtyard from the ground level as well as from the floors above. Look for the juxtapositions of old and new to photograph.
Photograph details of the displays on the various floors and in the food shops.
From the panorama terrace, photograph Venice from 360 degrees. Take a panoramic shot to include both sides of the Grand Canal. Photograph the traffic on the Canal.
If you can reserve a sunset time slot, this is a magical photograph to take.
Tripods are not allowed.
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi provides a unique opportunity to photograph Venice from a heretofore unknown vista over the city. It also offers a different restaurant experience, as well as the chance to shop for souvenirs of your visit.
IF YOU GO
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi is at the bottom of the Rialto bridge on the San Marco side of the Grand Canal. ( Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Calle del Fontego dei Tedeschi, Rialto Bridge). It is generally open from 1000 to 2000.
To book a visit to the panorama terrace, go to the website and scroll down to reserve a time slot.
The AMO restaurant is open from 1000 to 2200 daily. Tel +39-0410241-2823.
For additional images of Fondaco dei Tedeschi, visit https://www.allegriaphotos.com/EUROPE/Italy/Venice/