One of the landmarks of the Grand Canal, the Fondaco dei Turchi, with its arcades of round arches, was built for the Palmieri family in the 12th–13th centuries, and passed through many owners thereafter. In 1453, the last ambassador from Constantinople sojourned here; ironically, after 1621 the palace was occupied by his Turkish successors, serving as the headquarters for Ottoman merchants in Venice until 1838, when it was tidily over-restored by the Austrians to house the city’s Natural History Museum
The museum is good fun, and nature’s quiet reminder in the world’s most beautiful city that its creatures are all masterpieces in their own way – even the sponges, from the delicate little Basket of Venus to the mighty Elephant Ear Sponge. There’s a Japanese crab, the Macrocheira kaempferi, that could play a villain’s role in a James Bond film; incredible bugs, scorpions and centipedes (more in the Vincent Price vein); beautiful butterflies, beetles and bees; and a collection of things you’d probably never pondered before, like the embryos of the shark and ray, complete with photos of a shark giving birth on an Egyptian ship, or the ‘Monstrous Chimera’, a strange fish with peculiar sex organs.
The Venetian natural habitat is explored in one section, with models of lagoon craft (including a pre-Roman boat found in the muck) and fishing nets, lagoon birds and ‘Life on a Bricola’ which shows all the tiny creatures and algae who have made those wooden posts their special home.
The museum is especially proud of its Dinosaur Room, with finds from the 1973 Ligabue Sahara expedition, starring a 35ft-long fossil, the largest ever discovered of the crocodile’s ancestor, the Sarcosuchus imperator, and the complete skeleton of a never-before-seen reptilian biped, the Ouranosaurus nigeriensis, as well as a clutch of fossilized dinosaur droppings. These are followed by lovely shells, stones, minerals and more fossils, and trophies and photos bagged on various safaris.
By the water steps of the Fondaco is a Venetian curiosity: the unlabelled sarcophagus of Doge Marin Faliero, beheaded for treason in 1355. After his body, with the head between his legs was displayed for 24 hours, it was taken to SS. Giovanni e Paolo. In 1812, it was opened and his skeleton found in the same position, although what happened to the head is unknown. The sarcophagus, however, eventually ended up here after serving time as a rural cattle trough.
Hours June-Oct Tue-Sun 10am–6 pm; Nov- May Tues- Fri 9am – 5pm, Sat and Sun 10am-6pm
Adm €8, €5.50 ages 6-14; students 15-25, and over 65s
Salizzada dei Fondaco dei Turchi
vaporetto Riva di Biasio
+39 041 42730892
Images by: mararie