The Venetians’ skill at manufacturing luxury objects, in particular lace, glass and leather, much of it centred on the islands of Burano and Murano, provided important attractions to tourists and the manufacturing centres in turn encouraged the development of shops where these products could be attractively retailed. Some of the principal ones were centred around the Rialto bridge, a centre for goldsmiths’ work and the site of the Venice Exchange and the bridge itself, rebuilt in 1588, also provided a space for shops. ”.
There are a few places where we can still get the sense of what it must have been like to go on a shopping expedition in the heyday of the Grand Tour. The historic weaving factory Tessitura Bevilacqua in the Santa Croce district has changed very little since the eighteenth-century with its velvets, wooden looms and multicoloured fabrics, and they are proud to have supplied luxury textiles to the beau monde for over five centuries. Hidden in a little street in the Cannaregio district, lies one of the most spectacular and best-kept secrets in Venice: since 1888 the Angelo Orsoni workshop, the oldest in the world of this kind, has been producing precious glass and gold mosaics for the most spectacular monuments in the world: from Westminster in London to the Golden Buddha in Bangkok, from the Theatre de l’Opéra de Paris to the Basilica of San Marco in Venice.
The ladies of Venice always wore the latest style, and in the street of merchants known as the Merceria there was a doll dressed in the latest Parisian mode which gave its name to the shop itself which became known as ‘The Doll of France’ or, in the Venetian dialect, La Piavola de Franza. But in the nineteenth century there was also a growing interest in buying older things such as old lace in the “curiosity shops” such as Carrer’s which catered for the increasingly antiquarian tastes of collectors. One quintessentially Venetian piece of merchandise are the carnival masks which are as popular now as they were in the heyday of the Grand Tour. For two eye-witness accounts of the delights of shopping in Venice, click on the icon below