Things to see and do - Venice
Saint Mark’s Square and its treasures :
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Saint Mark’s Square and its treasures
Saint Mark’s Square and its treasuresPedestrian, 1 km, 1 day
Famous the world over, the area in and around Piazza San Marco is a concentration of mythical and compelling Venetian monuments that are just impossible to ignore. Get there early, to avoid the crowds!Customise this route and add it to My travel book
Its five domes outlined in the sky, its facade interrupted by a terrace with balustrade ornamented by a group of bronze horses, the mosaics on its portals showing the story of the return of Saint Mark's body to Venice, offer a spectacular vision that you will have all the time to admire if you just stand at the tail of the line of visitors that sometimes extends to the other end of the square. Don't be discouraged by the wait, as you must not miss the inside of the basilica. Even the least interested among you will be left in awe of the place! The first impression you get is oddly oriental. The magnificent marble floor contributes to this effect. But most of all it is the sumptuous golden mosaics that literally cover the entire building and illuminate the whole place, especially on a sunny day! You might not have the time to interpret the scenes from the New Testament, but in the end it doesn't really matter: the whole is spectacular! Under the entrance porch, a staircase leads to the gallery and the Saint Mark's Museum - do go upstairs! From there you will get a panoramic view of the interior of the basilica and, from the outside gallery, you will get a sumptuous view of the city and Piazza San Marco. In the museum you attention will turn, without any doubt, towards the bronze horses. They were brought to Venice as part of the spoils of the 4th Crusade. But they actually date from way before that time, and they will impress you with their extraordinary aliveness.
The noble arcades of the old Palace of the Magistrates line Piazza San Marco on the opposite side of the lagoon. After the building was destroyed by fire in 1512, they were rebuilt by Bartolomeo Bon, Guglielmo Grigi and finished by Sansovino. Crowned by a crenellated design similar to that of the Palace of the Doges, they consist of a portico with 50 arcades and two floors worth of loggias in a Venetian Byzantine style.
This second seat of Venice's Procurators, or Magistrates, whose facade occupies the entire south side of Piazza San Marco (where Caffe Florian is) replaced the Orseolo Hospice. Built according to a project by Scamozzi, the Palace was built by Longhena during the first half of the 17th C. and took on the role of Royal Palace under Napoleon.
There are two adjacent squares: the piazza itself, an immense rectangle measuring 176 m long and 82 wide, and the piazzetta ("little square") that opens out from the corner of the bell tower, towards the vast basin of the lagoon, called the Saint Mark basin, on which vaporetti and gondolas circulate among an incessant traffic, while in the distance you'll see larger vessels slowly marching by. Here you are at the epicenter of Venice: pigeons and tourists rushing about incessantly, the latter forming the most amazing lines to visit the basilica or the bell tower... This vast open space surrounded by the colonnades of the Old and New Palaces of the Magistrates, tied together by the Napoleonic wing, under which are legendary cafes (Quadri and Florian) where are night you will find orchestras performing Viennese waltzes and Italian pieces, offer a beautifully theatrical composition. The superb facade of the Saint Mark Basilica with its loggia, its lively horses, and the gold bits in the mosaics that shine in the bright sun, the tall silhouette of the bell tower, the stone latticework of the façade of the Palace of the Doges, all along the piazzetta to the quay, make of this place built on the old vegetable garden of the neighboring Monastery of Saint Zachary, a miracle of architecture, of colors and of light, that you will come back to again and again during your stay in Venice, whether you want to or not.
Also known as the Old Library and Sansovino Library, it was built by Sansovino across from the Palace of the Doges, starting from 1537. It is the first example of Classical architecture in Venice. A majestic staircase whose decoration symbolized the ascent of Man towards Wisdom, leads to Sansovino Hall with a ceiling decorated with grotesques on a gold background.
The collections of a Venetian gentleman, Teodoro Corner (1750-1830) were the basis of this museum, which is dedicated to the city, to its history and its art. Since 1922 it has been located in the Napoleonic wing of the New Palace of the Magistrates. Having gone through a few halls dedicated to Neoclassicism with works by the master of this period, Antonio Canova ( Daedalus and Icarus), you will then move on to a series of items evoking life in the Venetian Republic, accessorized by a myriad of objects from all aspects of daily life, urban and sea-faring life at the time of the City of the Doges: hats worn by the doges, "manine" used for counting the votes during the election of the Supreme Magistrates of the Venetian Republic, paintings, ceremonial outfits, coin and medal collections (including the famous Venetian sequins), engravings, business signs, all of which show what Old Venice was like. The art gallery, one of the most interesting, has a collection of paintings by Venice's well-known painters, from their beginnings until the end of the 16th C.: the works tat stand out, an admirable Pietà, painted by Ferrare Cosime Tura and, a little further on, Two Venetian Ladies by Carpaccio, an example of borderline caricature! Finally, the famous Gentleman with a red beret, which you may attribute to your favorite artist, as no one really knows who painted it. The last section, called the Risorgimento Museum, tells the story of Venice after the fall of the Venetian Republic (1797): Hall of the Bucentauro, shows examples of daily life, Venetian artisan professions and games.
This is the history of the Venetian Republic and perhaps also the history of its spirit, that offers itself up to you in this marvelous palace with, on Saint Mark's Square and on the pier, its marvelous arcades that could be compared with latticework made of stone. In the courtyard adorned with the Foscari portico, you will take the Staircase of Giants, which leads to the loggia. Then you will go though a series of different rooms of the ducal apartment, decorated with paintings (Carpaccio, Bellini, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Titian...). The Hall of the Great Council is without any doubt the highlight of the visit: immense (1 300 m2), it once kept the ballots that eventually concluded in the nomination of a new doge. What is there to say but that you will once again be in awe by the magnificence of the place, both for its wall decoration and the ceilings: this is where you will see the huge Paradise painted by Tintoretto and, in the form of a frieze, the portraits of the 76 doges that governed the city between 804 and 1554, among which that of the infamous Marino Falier, covered with a painted drape as eternal punishment for his crimes, to complement his beheading. Ready for a thrill? Move on to visit the prisons that you will get to via the famous Bridge of Sighs. But if you really want to find out about the secrets of Venice, you should visit the "secret itineraries": a torture room that will make you shiver, prison cells ("wells", both cold and humid, and "leadings" located under the roof, from where Casanova managed to escape), secret passages, hidden hallways, the hall of the Inquisitors: just the opposite of everything you have seen so far in Venice!
Opening out onto the lagoon, the piazzetta is adorned by a sumptuous portal made up of two granite columns atop of which Marc and Theodore supervise gondola and vaporretti traffic. On the basilica's facade on the Piazzetta you can see the famous intertwined Tetrarchs: Roman or Saracen emperors turned to stone for having tried to steal the treasures of the Basilica? It's a matter of interpretation.