Telecom Italia Future Centre
The Telecom Italia Future Centre in the heart of Venice is supposed to be a showpiece for Italy's telecommunications service, Telecom Italia. However when we visited in April 2007 the place was instead a showpiece for the irony of modern Italy. More of a Past Centre than a Future Centre. Still, it does - for the moment - offer free internet access in a city where connecting to the web usually costs several arms and legs.
The former monastery of San Salvador has belonged to the national telephone service for eighty years, and in recent years they opened this ambitious project to the public. The building is appealing, arranged around two imposing cloistered courtyards. According to the publicity information, there should be a range of interactive exhibits and displays arranged off the cloisters. And apparently there are sixteenth-century frescoes in the refectory which are worth visiting.
We say 'apparently' because we encountered an unpublicised period of closure. It's worth visiting in the future to see if anything has reopened. In the meantime, the place still has one useful function: free internet access.
Our visits to the Future Centre, April 2007
Just inside the entrance are several bilingual information boards in florid prose boasting of the wonders within. It was rather a surprise, then, to encounter a rather more traditional welcome: two glum security guards in a protective glass cabin labelled 'Reception'. They refused admission to even the smallest of handbags, insisting we left our belongings in some rather crummy lockers for which you need a 1 euro coin (refunded afterwards). After wandering around the two courtyards it seemed that every vague signpost led to a locked door. Eventually, up a staircase in the far corner of the second courtyard, we found some signs of life.
A bored young woman explained that in this 'cafe' (empty rows of computer terminals) you can, on presentation of a passport or other ID, access the internet free for 30 minutes a day. 'The museum' she observed without further explanation 'is closed'. She could cast no light on the wireless connection promised by Telecom Italia publicity.
A second visit elicited the information that the centre has been closed for some time, with staff laid off. Even the internet cafe may be closed at the end of this month: 'probably they haven't got the money'.
Free internet access
It doesn't seem terribly likely that the 'Future Centre' will re-open soon or ever. But until the doors are definitively closed you can admire the courtyards and save a few euros by using the free internet access (if the facility is still up and running...). You will have to leave your bag in a locker at the entrance, present ID to register, and then contend with rather futuristically laid-out keyboards. Access is basic and with no extras, and is cut off after 30 minutes. But if all you want to do is check your email, look up train times, view the news from home or book a hotel, you'll be able to do that here without lining the pockets of Venice's opportunistic
internet cafe-owners, who must be the richest folk in town.
How to get there
Identified by a red banner above the entrance doorway, the Future Centre is located in Campo San Salvador, very close to the Rialto, on the St. Mark's side. The nearest vaporetto stop is Rialto. From the bridge or the vaporetto stop walk away from the Grand Canal until you reach Via Due Aprile or Campo San Bartolomeo. Turn right and the centre is ahead of you. The address is San Marco 4826. The centre is open Tuesday - Sunday, 10am-6pm and admission is free.