St Marks Square, Venice

St Marks SquareSt Marks Square
St Mark's Square, "la Piazza" for short, is Venice on parade, the point around which Venetian life revolves. Considered one of the finest squares in the world, it conveys a perfect impression of the city's former greatness since round it are grouped the buildings on which were centered the civic and religious life of the Republic. Surrounded on three sides by the arcades of public buildings - the Procuratie Vecchie (north), the Ala Napoleonica (west) and the Procuratie Nuove (south) - the integrated beauty of this unique square is rounded off by the domes and arches of the Basilica di San Marco (east) and the slender, soaring Campanile.
The square, paved with trachyte, is completely open without a single monument or roadway to detract from the unbroken architectural unity. The only traffic is the visitors (and the famous pigeons).
The square becomes narrower as it approaches the Ala Napoleonica, which gives it considerable greater depth: over an average length of 175m/574ft it narrows from a width of 82m/269ft) at the Basilica to 56.6m/185.5ft at the other end.
Originally the Piazza was full of fruit trees with a canal running across it. The completion of the Basilica and the enlargement of the Palazzo Ducale also saw a start made on landscaping the square. First came the Campanile (begun in 912 and completed in the 12th century, followed in 1204 by the Procuratie Vecchie; the fruit trees disappeared, the canal was filled in and in 1267 the square covered with paving slabs. 1583 saw the building of the Procuratie Nuove. Having been paved with marble in 1735 (the big white squares originally marked the sites where the individual craftsmen's guilds were allowed to erect their market stalls), the square finally acquired its present aspect with the building of the Napoleonic Wing.
Until the fall of the Republic the Piazza di San Marco was a "market-place". Today it is a place to see and be seen, to stroll in or to sit and listen to the bands playing at the square's world-famous cafes.
The pigeons of San Marco are also part of the picture. Fed at the public charge (although there are no set feeding-times), they are the acknowledged protégés of the Venetians. Whatever their origins - whether descended from the birds brought to the lagoon in the fifth century by the early Venetians on their flight from Attila, or from those set free by the Doges each Palm Sunday, or even from the carrier pigeons that brought the news of the capture of Constantinople in 1204 - they are an institution.

Basilica of St Mark

The Basilica of St Mark has a long history but its present form dates to the 11th C. The original structure, where the remains of St Mark were brought it 829, burned down in 976.


This charming square is where Venice really receives its visitors. It is open to the sea, with the two columns on the Molo (Colonne di Marco e Teodoro), bordered on the right by the Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), on the left by the Libreria Vecchia (library), backed by the Campanile on one side and the projecting Basilica di San Marco (Basilica of St Mark) on the other with, in the background, the Torre dell'Orologio (Clock Tower) and the Procuratie.
The Piazzetta opens into the Palazzo di San Marco of which it is almost a part.
It acquired its present shape with the building of the library. In the early Middle Ages a broad canal ran alongside the Doge's Palace up to the Basilica di San Marco.

Doges Palace

Doges' Palace is one of Venice's most famous attractions. The building is noteworthy both for its history and architecture. Adjoining the palace is the Bridge of Sighs, another of the city's well know sights.

Old Library

The Old Library on the west side of the Piazzetta in Venice, opposite the Palazzo Ducale, is the masterpiece of Sansovino, the architect and sculptor, who worked on it between 1536 and 1553. After his death it was completed by Vincenzo Scamozzi to the original specifications.
The library represents the real turning-point of Venetian architecture and the final break with Gothic Venice. Sansovino was a Florentine; he leaned towards the art of that region and towards Classical Rome. With this structure of Baroque-Roman arcades, arches, columns, balustrades and sculptures Venice lost its own individual form of architecture, since from then on almost all new buildings, especially the palaces, were modeled on this particular innovation. This style of architecture also became known throughout Europe as a result of Scamossi's theoretical work "Idea dell'architettura universale" (Idea of a universal architecture) which appeared in 1615.
The library itself is a unique work of art, elegant, harmonious and yet majestic.
The building today contains the exhibition rooms of the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, the "Library of St Mark". An impressive central portal (1533-54) by Alessandro Vittoria gives on to the staircase with stuccoes also by Vittoria. The ceiling in the anteroom is adorned with "Fresco of Wisdom" by Titian (1560). The "Golden Hall" has 21 ceiling-medallions (three of them, "Geometry", Arithmetic" and "Music", by Veronese) and on the walls are twelve portraits of philosophers, five of them by Tintoretto.
The exhibition rooms contain an astonishing collection of gems, manuscripts, calligraphy and book illuminations, including the Grimaldi Breviary (1510-20) which alone has 831 pages of Flemish miniatures.
The actual library of St Mark with its 1,000,000 volumes is today housed in the former Mint (Zecca, 1536) which is connected to the exhibition rooms.
Address: Piazzetta San Marco, I-30100 Venice, Italy


The Piazza di San Marco would not be complete without the rectangular towering Campanile in front of the Procuratie Nuove that links the Piazza and the Piazzetta.
The Campanile was begun in the 10th century; it was completed in the 12th century and its pointed roof added in the 15th century. It could be seen from afar by approaching ships and it guided them home with its gilded pinnacle.
It collapsed on 14th July 1902, smashing the Loggetta at its foot but causing no casualties. By 1912 it had been painstakingly rebuilt.
The Campanile is 98.6m/322.5ft high and has a double wall. A lift goes up to the Belfry from where there is a magnificent view of the city.
In the Middle Ages the Campanile was also used as a pillory: wrongdoers - including adulterers and renegade priests - were closeted in a cage and hoisted half-way up the tower. This breezy punishment could last for several weeks.
Address: Piazza San Marco, I-30100 Venice, Italy

Clock Tower

The clock tower in Venice was designed and built (1496-99) by Mauro Coducci, probably to finish off the Procuratie Vecchie. It is typical of Venetian Renaissance architecture.
The top storey with the mosaic of gold stars strewn over a blue background and the Lion of St Mark were added in 1755 by Giorgio Massari.
The two bronze Mori Moors on the terrace who strike the bell to mark the hours were cast by Paolo Ranieri (1494-97). Visitors can climb to the roof of the clock tower to get a closer view of these two figures.
The magnificent great clock (from which the tower gets its name) was also made by Ranieri and his son. It shows the hours, phases of the moon and the signs of the zodiac. Above the clock-face is a gilded Madonna. During Ascension Week and at Epiphany the Three Kings are conducted by an angel past the Madonna at each hour.
Below the clock tower is the passage leading to the shopping street of Merceria.

Correr Museum and Risorgimento Museum

The Correr Museum consists of an interesting collection illustrating the history of Venice, and an important collection of paintings. The main section covers both floors of the Procuratie and the entrance is in the passage in the Ala Napoleonica.
The Flemish masters are represented by Hugo van der Goes, Dirk Bouts, Rogier van der Weiden and Pieter Brueghel.
They have an important collection of early lace, silk banners, costumes and accessories from the 16th through the 18th centuries.
Address: Piazza San Marco, I-30124 Venice, Italy

Historical Collections

The first floor is devoted to the historical collections (Rooms 1-14): documents etc. illustrating the architectural development of the city (Room 1); paintings of scenes from the history of Venice, documents on the development of the State coat of arms, the history of the Doges and the political institutions (Rooms 3-10); State robes of the Doges, Procurators and Senators, a large collection of Venetian coins; finally, documents, etc. illustrating the history of Venetian shipping.

Art Gallery

The second floor houses an art gallery with paintings from the 14th to the 17th centuries, including works by Lorenzo Veneziano, Jacobello del Fiore, Cosmè Tuba, Antonello da Messina, the Bellini brothers, Alvise Vivarini and Carpaccio.

Museo del Risorgimento

The Museo del Risorgimento adjoins the Museo Civico Correr and contains documents and illustrations of Venice's struggle against Austria, the 1848 Revolution led by Daniele Manin, and union with the kingdom of Sardinia-Piedmont in 1866.
Address: San Marco 52, I-30124 Venice, Italy

La Fenice Theater

The Teatro La Fenice is the opera house of Venice. Built between 1790 and 1792, it was rebuilt in its original Neo-Classical style in 1836 after a fire.
Its interior is richly decorated with gold, pink and white stucco, carvings and gilding. Rossini, Bellini and Verdi composed operas specially for this splendid theater which thus saw the first performances of Verdi's "Ernani" (1844), "Rigoletto" (1851), "La Traviata" (1853) and "Simon Boccanegra" (1857). It also staged the première of Benjamin Britten's "The Turn of the Screw".
Incidentally, the rapturous reception for Verdi and the incessant chants of "Viva Verdi" were not simply on grounds of artistic merit. VERDI spelt out the clarion call of Italian opposition to Austrian rule and stood for Vittorio Emanuele Re d'Italia (Victor Emanuel, King of Italy).
La Fenice is the most important opera house in Italy after La Scala, Milan.
La Fenice is one of the most beautiful opera houses in the world and the place where Verdi's Rigoletto and La Traviata had their first performances. The building was gutted by a fire in January, 1996 but recreated to reflect the original. The theatre re-opened in 2003.
Address: Campo San Fantin, San Marco 2549, I-30125 Venice, Italy

Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo

The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo is probably the only palace in Venice which has a courtyard that is more interesting than the facade overlooking the Canal (in this case the Rio dei Barcaroli). In the courtyard is the famous Scala di Bovolo, a spiral staircase built about 1500 by the architect Giovanni Candi, which gave the palace its nickname ("Bovolo" = spiral).

Procurators Office

The north and south sides of the Piazza di San Marco in Venice are bordered by the Procuratie, the former offices of the Procurators of San Marco, the chief officials of the Republic. Today the buildings house, amongst other things, the Museo Correr together with the Museo del Risorgimento and the Museo Archeologico.
There was a Procurator as early as the 10th century. After the Doge, he was the most important man in the State and was answerable to no one, not even the Great Council. The Procurator was the "Custodian of St Mark", of the wealth that accumulated in the coffers of the Basilica di San Marco as a result of public and private gifts, bequests and regular income. The sums in question were enormous, since a donation was always made to St Mark as a matter of course in thanksgiving for a successful and profitable enterprise.
It was with this huge fortune that the State financed all that it owned, the construction of San Marco and every one of its welfare institutions: hospitals, alms distribution, hostels for the homeless, homes for the aged and orphanages - institutions that guaranteed even the poorest the means of subsistence.
It soon became impossible for one person to shoulder alone the burden of the work that came to be involved in administering the public purse; in the 13th century there were four Procurators, in 1319 six and in 1442 nine.

New Procurators Offices

When even the enlarged Procuratie Vecchie became too small the building of the Procuratie Nuove was begun in 1582 on the south side of the Piazza di San Marco. The architect Vincenzo Scamozzi used Sansovino's library as a model, adding another storey and topping it with a cornice (instead of a balustrade). Baldassare Longhena completed the building in 1640 in accordance with Scamozzi's original plans.
Today the former official residence of the Procurators houses the Museo Civico Correr, where the magnificent official robes of the Procurators can be seen, the Museo del Risorgimento and the Museo Archeologico.
Between 1805 and 1814 Napoleon lived in the Procuratie Nuove whenever, in his capacity as "King of Italy", he visited Venice, his second Italian seat of residence after Milan.

Old Procurators Offices

In 1204 there was a two-story building on the present-day site of the Procuratie Vecchie. The present three-story building dates from between 1480 and 1517; the architect was Mauro Codocci and the building work was completed by Bartolomeo Bon. It is a very fine example of Venetian Early Renaissance architecture and has arcades along the length of its facade (150m/164yds) - 50 on the ground floor and 100 on each of the upper floors.

Santo Stefano

The Late Gothic church at the top end of the Campo Morosoni dates from 1374. The perilously crooked Campanile, the gables on the facade, the choir and the splendid wooden vault in the nave were added 150 years later.
Two important Venetians are buried in the simple interior. In the nave is the tomb-slab of Doge Francesco Morosoni who recaptured the Peloponnese for Venice, but at the same time blew up the Parthenon on the Acropolis which was used by the Turks to store their gunpowder.
The composer Giovanni Gabriele (1557-1612) is buried in front of the first altar on the left. He was organist at San Marco and a pioneer of Early Baroque music. Santo Stefano also contains several valuable paintings by Venetian artists, including several by Tintoretto: "The Last Supper", "Christ Washing the Disciples' Feet" and in the Sacristy "The Agony in the Garden". In the first altar on the right is "The Birth of the Virgin" by Nicolò Bambini.
Apart from the paintings the Late Gothic choir-stalls in the Presbytery and the fragments of a choir screen (both 1488) are very interesting.
The fine monastery cloister (entrance at the east end of the north aisle) is also worth seeing.
Address: Campo Santo Stefano, I-30100 Venice, Italy

Archeological Museum

Only some of the exhibits in the Archeological Museum in Venice are in fact archeological treasures, but the collection offers a unique opportunity to compare Classical archeological finds with "modern" Renaissance art. Here the visitor can see the Classical sculptures that influenced the Renaissance artists of Venice.
The most important exhibits are:
Room 4: eleven Classical Greek korai dressed in chitons (fifth century B.C.)
Room 5: Statue of Apollo.
Room 6: Satyr and nymph embracing.
Room 7: Carved gem-stones.
Room 8: Running Odysseus (Hellenistic); Leda and the Swan; Roman busts
Rooms 9-10: Busts from the Republic and Roman Empire.
Room 11: Byzantine ivory-carvings; St John the Evangelist and St Paul (10th century); St Theodore and St George.
Room 12: Reliefs of centaurs by T. Aspetti.
Room 20: Assyrian reliefs (eighth-seventh centuries B.C.).
Address: San Marco 17, I-30100 Venice, Italy


The Loggetta at the foot of the Campanile in the Piazza di San Marco, a small marble loggia built by Sansovino between 1537 and 1540, was originally intended for the members of the Great Council so that they could assemble here whenever they wished, sheltered from rain and snow, before going into the sessions.
However, as early as 1569 the elegant building, a work of art in itself, was downgraded to being the guardroom of the Doges Palace, which function it fulfillled until the end of the Republic in 1797.
In 1902 the Loggetta was crushed when the Campanile collapsed, but it was possible to rebuild it using the original stones and sculptures. Today it is a waiting-room for tourists wanting to ascent the Campanile by lift.
Sansovino's four bronze statues, "Pallas", "Apollo", "Mercury" and "Peace", between the twin columns are masterpieces.


The Giardinetto, extending west of the Piazzetta on the Molo, is one of those small parks which have grown up in Venice since the early 19th century and which bring to the city a touch of green which many visitors find lacking.
Madam de Staël, for example, complained "An indefinable sadness creeps into the heart when one arrives in Venice. One is not in the country, for there is no green tree to be seen and yet not in the town, for every sound is drowned out by the water".
It was to another French visitor (and the one most unwelcome to the city) that Venice owed her parks. Beside the Giardini Pubblici Napoleon I was also responsible for the Giardinetto behind the Procuratie Nuove because he disliked having his view of the sea from the window of the Procuratie Nuove blocked by a grain store which stood there.

Columns of St Mark and St Theodore

Doge Michieli actually brought three columns back from Tyre (now in the Lebanon) in 1125, but when they were being unloaded one of them fell into the sea and sank to the bottom of the lagoon.
The other two were set up on the Molo. One of them was crowned with the Lion of St Mark - probably an early medieval mythical animal from Persia that had been given wings and a book between his paws. Until the 18th century the lion was gilded. St Theodore was set up on the second column; he was the first Patron Saint of Venice until superseded by St Mark. The gleaming white statue has been skillfully assembled: the head belongs to a Roman Emperor and the rest, including the dragon, to an early St George.

Santa Maria del Giglio

Santa Maria Zobenigo was founded in the ninth century by the Zubanico family, hence its name, but it is usually called Santa Maria del Giglio. The interior was restored in 1660 and the Baroque facade was added in 1678-83 by Giuseppe Sardi on the orders of Antonio Barbaro who, as a quid pro quo, ensured his own immortality by having a stone statue of himself placed above the main portal with, underneath, some of his ancestors. The lower plinths are decorated with reliefs showing panoramas of the cities in which Antonio Barbaro had served: Padua, Candia in Crete, and Zara (left), Rome, Corfu and Spalato (right).
The Presbytery contains an early work by Tintoretto, "The Four Evangelists" (1552-57).
Address: Campo Santa Maria del Giglio, I-30100 Venice, Italy

Napoleonic Wing

The west side of the Piazza di San Marco in Venice is formed by the Ala Napoleonica which was built in 1810 by order of Napoleon I.
The work was entrusted to the architect Giuseppe Soli who simply copied the two lower floors of the Procuratie Nuove, omitted the third floor in order not to spoil the proportions of the Procuratie Vecchie, and topped his building with a heavy attic fronted by statues to bring it up to the height of the Procuratie Vecchie. The Ala Napoleonica contains the entrance to the Museo Correr.

San Moisè

Art connoisseurs find the Baroque facade of the church (built by Alessandro Tremignon in 1668) too rich and over-ornate. but the people of Venice love their "San Moisè" with its typical Venetian bell-tower.
Worth seeing in the interior are a "Pieta" dating from 1732 (interior wall of the facade), a bronze relief of the Deposition (designed by Roccatagliata brothers in 1633; Sacristy altar), and the Baroque sculpture on the High Altar depicting Moses receiving the Tablets on Mount Sinai (by the Austrian Meyring).
Address: Campo San Moisè, I-30124 Venice, Italy

Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti

Close to the Ponte dell' Accademia in Venice, the façade of the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti provides an excellent example of Late Gothic architecture. The building, which dates from 1565, was carefully restored in the 19th century. Of particular interest are the richly ornamented window frames. Part of the rear of the palace was enlarged in Neo-Gothic style. There is a small garden between the building and the Accademia bridge.
The staircase is considered one of the sights of Venice.

Santa Maria della Fava

This 18th century church has a single nave lined with reliefs and statues by Giuseppe Bernardi, the teacher of Antonio Canova. It also contains an early work by G.B. Tiepolo, "Anna, Joachim and Mary" (1732; first side chapel on the right) and a masterpiece by G. B. Piazzetta, "St Filippo Neri begging for the Poor" (1725-27; second side altar on the left).

Museo Fortuny

This museum features a collection of textiles, paintings, theatrical costumes and furniture, including work by set designer Mariano Fortuny.
The famous pleated Fortuny dress was invented in this Palazzo in 1906 by Mariano Fortuny.
Address: Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, Campo San Benedetto, San Marco 3958, I-30124 Venice, Italy

Town Hall

The Town Hall in Venice consists of the Farsetti and Loredan palaces. Although the upper floors were altered in the 14th century, the ground floor of each palace has retained the 13th century Byzantine floor plan.

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