[Ed. Note: what follows below is a document by the newly formed Rialto Novo Association, describing their proposals for redeveloping and revitalizing the Rialto market, before it becomes, in their words, “a large, bad quality supermarket”. Noted Urban Historian and Venetian Donatella Calabi has led the initiave. The photo above was taken at the inaugural exhibition at the Venetian State Archives on 23 March 2019]
1. Venice: the project and the building
This proposal primarily concerns the establishment of a Museum – Exhibition Space concerning Venice in world commerce, to be located in the Pescheria (Fish Market) at Rialto.
The building built in 1908 by Domenico Rutolo and Cesare Laurenti, and owned by the city, would become the site of the museum; it is a Neo-Gothic artefact of high architectural quality, sited in a strategic location in the city in the very heart of the market, with a loggia facing the Grand Canal directly in front of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. For a long time it has housed the City Electoral Offices.
The building requires particular attention and restoration work both physically (the first floor of the Pescheria has been empty for about eight years), and socially, because the number of fish stalls on the ground floor as well as fruit and vegetable stalls along the surrounding banks is progressively declining. More generally, with the changes underway in the nature of the stores at Rialto, we are witnessing the striking impoverishment of an area that has for centuries been one of the liveliest areas of the city. The area, however, is still inhabited by Venetians who feel it to be ‘their own’. For precisely this reason the area deserves a meaningful intervention that aims to reorganize present commercial activities, and to introduce a cultural center that is related to the thousand year history of the lagoon city as the center of a “global economy”.
- A Cultural and Economic Center
Providing a cultural center of attraction along the Canal Grande, aimed primarily at the citizens, but also at tourists who want to better understand the history of the city, which emphasizes the role Venice has played in global trade has for centuries (as a true “global economic center”), can be an important project for the city Administration. The project can also help combat the deterioration of a particularly important area of the city, in which the changes of use that are underway risk transforming the area into a large, bad quality supermarket.
Redevelopment of the market area, in particular the part being used for the sale of fresh fish as well as the area along the bank, which is occupied by fruit and vegetable stands, appears, in fact, to be urgent: this means providing functional support to the commercial workers and the trades that are facing the problems related to the decreasing population of residents, but even more so the challenge of the proliferation of small neighborhood supermarkets. These factors have seriously hurt a market that up to a few years ago was quite lively and full of merchandise, people, and different cultures.
The high visibility of the building could encourage commitments for potential sponsors (not only local) that the city administration decides to contact. The centrality of the location would enrich and call attention to the museum as a destination for visitors (a wine bar and museum bookshop would also be accessible from the outside) and encourage economic revitalization by entrepreneurs interested in investing in Venice.
As has been demonstrated by a number of projects that have been realized in recent years in other European cities (Barcelona, Hamburg, Toulouse, Torino, Florence, Bologna), the mixture of cultural activity and commercial activity works to favor both elements, which support each other.
- A Museum and exhibition space
Today in Venice, addressing a subject that all European centers of a certain importance are addressing, which is to say that of the “Museum of the City”, necessarily requires reflecting on the opportunity to articulate the question in the urban context, taking in to account the specificity of the city’s morphology. In the case of our proposal that same subject is dealt with by focusing and analyzing, above all, on the specific role that this lagoon center has played in local commerce (the traffic with the islands) and international commerce (from the Silk Road to the Spice Road, from the Levant to Northern Europe).
Thus we propose a Museum that tells the history not only of the ancient Rialto, but also and above all of Venetian commerce and industry (merchants, entrepreneurs, ships, trade routes, institutions), the heart of which was Rialto: the organization of the very rich food and spice market, the fish market, the traditional craft shops, alongside which could be found international financial exchanges (the banks), the ‘treasure’ of the State and the administration of Justice. Put simply, Rialto was the true heart of the city. Rialto made the capital of the Serenissima a sought-out destination celebrated by travelers for centuries.
This would be an effort to visibly revive the Rialto area with a number of objects and important documents (paintings, drawings, prints) that are currently found dispersed or decontextualized in some of the city buildings and in repositories of the Correr, the Accademia Gallery or in private collections. There would also be a number of photographic reproductions, digital reconstructions, video and multimedia displays, allowing for a fascinating and enjoyable telling of events that are little known even to Venetians.
In short we want to pull together a unique but extensive history, bringing it to life – through narrations – in the midst of its material legacy, in the same place in which it began and where it thrived: such a choice could turn out to be a great cultural resource (as well as an economic resource, as has happened in many European cities and elsewhere).
What we ultimately want to highlight is the complexity and the extraordinary richness of this place, with its thousand year history, which between the XIV and the XVI centuries represented the true “center of the global economy” as it was defined by the great French historian Fernand Braudel. It was a place of cultural intersection, beyond being a marketplace of great importance for all of Europe, which has had a long and extraordinarily rich life, even beyond the fall of the Repubblica. It is well documented by, among other things, existing photographic collections and even cinematography. In short, Rialto is a cosmopolitan part of one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world.
Alongside working toward a feasible and sustainable project (about which we are thinking concretely, in particular regarding the needs for the redevelopment of the market), we have moved forward with the formation of an International Scientific Committee that will support us in the choices to be made and that has begun work on designing a Cultural and Exhibition Center capable of reviving this intersection of exchange with the entire world. Working with us there are currently scholars of trade and market construction from varying places; Marta Ajmar, Maurice Aymard, Philippe Braunstein, Donatella Calabi, Deborah Howard, Lorenzo Lazzarini, Luca Molà, Paolo Morachiello, Reinhold Mueller, Luciano Pezzolo, Elena Svalduz, Gian Maria Varanini (and others we are making contact with).
- Initiatives underway
People who today already work in Venice, at Rialto, or on the islands, some citizens’ associations, and many “friends” of Venice have expressed interest in such a project, and these groups could support a plan that involves them. The “Rialto Novo” Association, recently formed as a non-profit organization, intends to move in a specific and two-fold direction:
-on the one hand, the Association will work to establish forms of collaboration with public and private entities, towards the definition of a strategy for the redevelopment and revitalization of the space and buildings of the Rialto market. The project will concentrate first on the Pescheria, the Erbaria, the Ruga degli Oresi and the loggia along the banks of the Canal Grande.
-on the other hand the Association plans to launch a program of research and study aimed at defining the parameters of a project to establish an Exhibit Space (with the provisional name: Venezia nel commercio internazionale – Venice in international trade). This will include the definition of the museum contents, a course of exhibits, and a list of works and displays needed to illustrate the thousand year history of Rialto as the center of a “global economy”, as well as to narrate the transformations of the places (market buildings, banks, calle, campi) and the Bridge over the Canal Grande. Also addressed will be historical events, and the individual travels of great Venetian merchants in their centuries’ long relations with the Mediterranean basin, with Northern Europe, and also with Persia, India and China. We conceive this not as much as a permanent collection of objects, but rather as a space capable of hosting occasional small temporary exhibits, discussions, “Summer Schools” on subjects such as food or artisanal crafts, book presentations, or talks on the results of research that is being done. All of this would be undertaken in collaboration with the Venetian institutions that have offered their patronage to this project (Università Ca’ Foscari, Università IUAV, Dipartimento di Beni Culturali dell’Università di Padova, Warwick University, Accademia di Belle Arti, Ateneo Veneto, Fondazione Cini).
Our soon to be launched web site, www.rialtonovo.org, will feature information about past, present and future initiatives.
Source: Rialto Novo