Venice’s Natural History Museum is housed in the old Fondaco dei Turchi or the Turks’ Warehouse and Commercial Centre. This heritage building is one of the oldest buildings in Venice. In the early part of the thirteenth century, Giacomo Palmieri, a rich nobleman from Pesaro sought refuge in Venice and commissioned this building in 1225 for his personal use.
In 1381, the Republic of Venice took control , and used the palace as the court of the Duke of Ferrara, Nicholas II. This is where it got its name of Casa del Duca di Ferrara.
Due to its architectural elegance, the palace was used to house princes and sovereigns, such as the Emperor of Constantinople Giovanni Paleologo (1438) and Alfonso D'Este (1562). In 1597 the last duke of Ferrara died and after four years of dispute over the ownership, the palace was sold to Antonio Priuli. In 1621, Priuli leased the palace to Ottoman merchants to serve as a warehouse trade and social centre. From then on, the palace was known as the Fondaco dei Turchi or the Warehouse of the Turks.
In the early 19th century, the trade with the East began to decline and in 1838, the palace was abandoned by the Ottomans and eventually fell into ruin. By 1858, it was in such a ruinous condition that it had to be restored. By 1880, when the municipality purchased it, it was due for a complete overhaul. The task was given to Camillo Boito who gave it its present appearance, maintaining the characteristics of the original buildings, i.e. its Venetian-Byzantine façade covered in marble. This 19th century restoration has been much criticized, but the towers and long water-level arcade give some idea of the building’s original appearance.
After the restoration work, it became the house of Correr Civic Museum from 1898 to 1922. Since then it’s been home to a small but rich natural history collection. But in 1923, the Correr Museum was transferred to its present home in St. Mark’s Square.
Italian malacologist Giorgio Silvio Coen proposed to use the vacant Fondego dei Turchi as a Natural History Museum. This was to bring together the various scientific collections already existing within the city at the Correr Museum, the Istituto Veneto di Scienza, Lettere ed Arti, and the private collection of Count Alessandro Pericle Ninni and other smaller collections.
The Museum is currently under restoration. Only the Ligabue Expedition room and the Tegnue aquarium are open to the public.
The Tegnùe Aquarium
Set up on the ground floor downstairs, is an aquarium containing species that live in the Adriatic and some information on the ecology of the lagoon. This five-metre aquarium holds more than 5,000 litres of water and re-creates the extraordinary eco-system of the tegnùe and their rich varieties of animal life: more than 50 different species of fish and invertebrates. A very accurate reproduction, this is a very effective teaching tool that makes it possible to admire these numerous species as if in their natural habitat.
The Ligabue Expedition Room - The Dinosaur Fossils
The Ligabue Expedition Room is the main attraction of the Museum, which lies through the inner courtyard. This room contains a very atmospheric display of the finds made by the 1973 Ligabue expedition. It has a state-of-the-art exhibition, devoted to the search for fossilized dinosaurs in Saharan Africa, a nice collection of gems and of rare insects and animals, the famous crocodile and also all the other fossils found at the time. The exhibits are accompanied by informative illustrations.
Fondaco dei Turchi
Santa Croce 1730, 30135 Venice
Tel. +39 041 275 0206
Fax +39 041 721 000