High on our list of recommendations for any visit to Venice this Spring would be the newly reopened T Fondaco dei Tedeschi: a monumental Renaissance palazzo in the heart of the city that has recently been transformed into a luxury department store like no other.
For centuries, Venice was one of the world’s most important trading centres; at the crossroads between East and West, it was a major city on the Silk and Spice Routes. The Fondaco dei Tedeschi, founded in 1228 as a trading hall, warehouse and residence for German merchants, was one of the city’s most significant commercial hubs. Twice destroyed by fire, the current building was constructed in 1506, with a facade that was originally covered in frescoes by Giorgione and Titian (sadly no longer, having deteriorated over time due to the salty and humid climate of the lagoon). Used as a customs hall in the 18th century, the Fondaco was converted under Mussolini in the 1930s into Venice’s central post office, which continued to operate until 2009 when the building was bought by the Benetton family.
Over the following seven years, the Fondaco was the focus of a multi-million euro restoration project led by Dutch architects OMA, who were tasked with transitioning the building into a high-end shopping emporium. With interiors designed by London-based architect Jamie Fobert, the result is breath-taking; a soaring four storey structure based around an arched central atrium that provides a welcome oasis of space in contrast to the crowded alleys outside. As well as preserving many of the Fondaco’s original features, including a medieval well and 16th century fireplace, the design brilliantly balances heritage with modernity; matte gold elevators, geometric light fixtures and bright crimson escalators create a highly contemporary aesthetic.
Run by the luxury retail group DFS and now officially known as ’T Fondaco dei Tedeschi’, the store presents a curated selection of over 300 brands across fashion, jewellery, watches and accessories, with a notable emphasis on Italian labels such as Gucci and Bottega Veneta. The ground-floor also features a boutique food hall offering Italian gourmet products, as well as works by local artisans including Burano lace and traditional gondolier slippers. As DFS Chairman and CEO Philippe Schaus commented, “we had a responsibility on the retail side to create something which adds value to Venice and elevates the profile of the city. We wanted to add a dimension to the city so that people who are in Venice can stay longer, and don’t need to go to Milan or Rome for shopping”.
In the middle of the central courtyard, a stylish restaurant conceived by Burano-based designer Philippe Starck serves a menu from Michelin-starred Venetian chef Massimiliano Alajmo, with a focus on fresh local produce from the nearby Rialto market. Hovering high above sits a dramatic steel and glass ‘event pavilion’, designed to house a rolling programme of exhibitions such as the current installation by Italian artist Fabrizio Plessi, ‘Under Water’. T Fondaco’s trump card, however, is without doubt its spectacular roof-terrace. Situated right above the Rialto bend of the Grand Canal, it offers sweeping 360 degree views over the city’s rooftops, from the domes of St Mark’s to the distant island of Murano and – on a clear day – the Italian Alps. As DFS notes, “this magnificent terrace gives T Fondaco dei Tedeschi a picture-perfect finish to its astounding transformation into Venice’s new cultural and commercial epicentre.” Free to access (unlike the Campanile in Piazza San Marco), it is currently one of the city’s best-kept secrets – so in the words of the original Merchant of Venice, we recommend paying a visit before “news on the Rialto” spreads too far.
For more information visit www.tfondaco.com