You are fortunate if you are in Venice right now. Never have you been closer to witnessing what Christmas was like here before the year 1796. Shopping for Christmas had always been the highlight of the Venetian business year and ever since 1272, Venetian merchant families meticulously prepared to stage their Rialto Christmas Fairs. A special period in the first three weeks of December when the merchants came back from their year-long voyages to the Levant, their cogs laden with luxury goods like silk and carpets and ton of exotic spices, essences and blossoms.
So what do we sense of this magical Christmas experience today? A lot in my opinion, and there’s this rose-golden atmosphere ! I’ve prepared four invitations to take you there in a virtual manner. First is our Venetian Advent Calendar telling you about the goods Venetians traded and presented at the Rialto Christmas fairs I mentioned above. Yes, you’ll find there’s a focus on food and spices.
Second is this two-part Christmas Gift Guide, and we start today with presenting six wonderful areas to shop in Venice. Two are luxurious palaces while the others are characteristic and local favorites.
In a way, we now have shopping malls in Venice again, integrated into luxurious department stores. These stores are housed in ancient Venetian palazzi which makes for a magical atmosphere and unique style. Catching the phantasy of what Venice looked like during her Christmas fairs, yet we are now on the other side of the Rialto. What many don’t know is that the Rialto market continued across the Rialto Bridge towards the Mercerie shopping area, so there were stalls on both banks of the Canal Grande. Even today at Christmas, stalls pop up in Campo San Bartolomeo selling sweets, fruit and little gifts.
In the picture above you can see Coin which was restyled in 2015 and now consists of two flagship stores, one in Rome and this one in Venice. Department stores like these remind us vividly of the Venetian tradition of the Fondego – Fondaco, the warehouse of a foreign trade partner in town. The place where the second brand-new department store is located in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi is exactly that, in modern terms.
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi can be viewed under various aspects. When I was a child it was the main post office in Venice and I remember even touching the pozzo (well) in the large entrance hall while the offices were removed to the corners. It was a marble hall with a high glass ceiling so you could make out the daylight above and the rain drops. The building was closed and after what felt like ages, Venetians were told that a luxurious department store would open. Many railed against that decision but when you see the result and recall the original vocation of the building, having housed German merchants for centuries, it might still work out.
La Bottega di Rialto is the name of their Food Section and there’s a stylish cafe on the ground floor. You can read more in this article by Gambero Rosso.
The other four shopping areas have one thing in common. They are adjacent to the Rialto and include Strada Nova which was hated at first for it felt like cutting a street through Venetian houses in the late 1840s under Austrian occupation. Today, it has become a major place for Venetians to shop.
Yes, here you will find little gems of shops, selling unsual yet beautiful gifts. My favorite store is a perfumery – Acqua dell’Elba. Not Venetian but from Elba yet it provides work to Venetians like so many of these small ones and the department stores do. Besides, Venice has always been home to foreign merchants, yet the Government knew how to deal with that fact, turning it into a major strength.
The favorite Venetian shopping areas are Ruga Ravano leading from the Rialto towards Campo San Polo. You can see it in the cover picture of this article. The other is Strada Nova leading to the train station, and the third is Salizzada San Lio. There are several other parts so worth discovering, such as Via Garibaldi, and practically each parocchia has its own little shopping area. We’ll start discovering these from January 2017 in the Shopping Guide of this Blog (online soon).
The second part of this gift guide will be online next week and tells you all about the typical Venetian Christmas gift basket. If you love perfumes and beauty products, perhaps you would like to sign up for our Christmas perfumery gift guide ?