The fontegheto also has changed its look


While my mind is still loitering around the Giardini Reali, soon to be refurbished, titivated, and otherwise brought back to life (the Giardini, not my mind), I thought I’d show a glimpse of how the immediate area looked before Napoleon moved in and there went the neighborhood.

The little building on the right is the charmingly domed Palazzina Selva, bordering the west side of the Giardini Reali.  The Vallaresso vaporetto stop is visible on the left.  The ecru-colored building in the center of the picture is the headquarters of the Coast Guard and Harbormaster, but it was once the Fontegheto de la Farina, or flour warehouse.

Between the early 1800’s and the 1930’s, the white stone bridge so gracefully arching over the canal didn’t exist, for the simple reason that Napoleon and those who followed wanted the Gardens (royal, remember?) to be appropriately separated from the rest of the city on that side.

In this images from the 1930’s, the canal flows in regal isolation.  But take a closer look at the building to the left, the former Fontegheto.  Notice the two large arched window/doors at the corner of the building.  The archway on the canal side is obviously blocked off, but it wasn’t always so…

Slightly further back in history, there once was a perfectly serviceable bridge, and without parapets or steps, which was more the norm than not.  It led to that now-closed archway, which then was a perfectly serviceable passageway (sotoportego) that went through the Fontegheto de la Farina.

The waterfront at San Marco used to see a lot of working boats and cargo which were not gondolas and tourists. The Fontegheto de la Farina (the building front and center, with the bridge attached) has stood here since 1492 (this painting by Canaletto is from c.1730), a smaller flour warehouse than the Fontego de la Farina at the Rialto.  Smaller merchants were allowed to sell flour in the covered passageway.  But man does not live on flour alone. On December 14, 1724, the Venetian Senate ordered that a few rooms on the second floor be given to the Academy of Painters and Sculptors.  This academy provided instruction and working space for foreign artists passing through Venice on their way to Rome, Florence, and Bologna.  It was funded by contributions from Venetian noblemen, ordinary citizens, the artists and their students.


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Categories : Venetian History


  1. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    wow, really really interesting! Thanks for brightening our day!

  2. Mary Ann DeVlieg says:

    Even my husband agrees: when are you going to make this all into a book?!? So interesting!

  3. Caterina B says:

    I loved seeing this history! The flour warehouse made me remember that somewhere a few years ago I read, in a book, I think, but cannot remember where, about how Venice imported wheat for flour from Russia, It was way in the past. At the time, wheat was almost the only foodstuff available and that is why pasta was created. They only needed wheat, olive oil, water, and maybe a little salt to make something to eat. Do you have any idea where I might have read that or do you know about that?? I have tried several Google searches but come up without any hints. OK, I will Google “origins of pasta in Italy.” Duh. I hate it when I have read something very interesting and then can’t remember where it was. Too much info in my head, I guess. Do you ever forget the title to a book but remember some of the plot? That drives me crazy, too.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      I have no idea where you might have heard this, but it doesn’t sound at all probable to me. First, because the Venetian aristocrats had vast farmlands on the mainland, in the Po Delta and elsewhere, so no lack of wheat. There was trade with Russia, but I wouldn’t suppose wheat would have been in demand unless there had been some catastrophic crop failure (possible, true — there were a few famines along the way). Second, though, wheat was FAR from the only cereal that was cultivated and known. What about spelt and millet and barley and, after 1492, corn?

  4. Christopher says:

    Morning. If memory serves the domed building was built by the Austrians after Napolean occupied Venice. It was originally a coffee house.

    The flour warehouses were on the site of the Giardini Reale and we’re torn down by Napolean to allow for views of the bacino and for the creation of the garden.

    • Erla Zwingle says:

      “Warehouse” is a not very helpful word which I used to define “fondaco.” However, the warehouses to which you refer (which are clearly visible on the detail from Jacopo de’ Barbari’s famous view of Venice which I inserted in my post) were not fonteghi, but granai, or granaries (storehouses, if you will). There were originally two public granaries, one of which was located, according to records, as being at “Terranova in the Contrada San Zeminian,” which were the structures you are referring to, and which were torn down in the early 1800’s to make room for the gardens. One important distinction is that a fondaco also contained offices, meeting rooms, sometimes even bedrooms, for the use of the merchants involved in the particular trade or belonging to the particular nationality to which the fondaco belonged. The “warehouse” aspect was only one part of the fondaco’s purpose. A granary, on the other hand, was solely for the storing of grain, usually husked, though not necessarily milled into flour. (San Zeminian is Venetian for San Geminiano, the church which once stood, from the 6th to the 13th centuries, in the Piazza San Marco more or less in front of where the Caffe Florian is located; it was demolished when the Piazza was renovated. A second church by that name was designed by Sansovino in the second half of the 1500’s and built at the foot of the Piazza San Marco, destroyed in 1807 by Napoleon to make room for the Ala Napoleonica.) If I could have thought of a better word than “warehouse,” it would have been clearer.