This is probably the most popular area of Venice. It's a fairly large piazza with an abundance of shops up, down and around the adjacent streets. In the piazza, there are many restaurants with outdoor dining areas and live entertainment. And, the eye catching church, Saint Mark's Basilica, is very elaborate in it's design and architecture. The pigeons are plentiful and fly across the piazza at the height of your knees which make for an interesting perspective of walking around the piazza. I'm not keen on overcrowded areas and this is one of those places but you do have to see it, experience it, say you have been if you get the chance!
St Mark's Square is the main public square and the most well known in Venice. It is reached from Canale Di San Marco (lagoon) via the piazzetta. Both squares had shaped the social and political centre of the Venetian Empire over the many centuries and nowadays it's crowded with tourists and pigeons!
The buildings to note at St Mark's Square are Basilica di San Marco, Doges Palace and the Campanile with its equisite architectural designs. There are also musuems (Museos Correr and Archeological) and expensive cafes in the square. Do look out for the 15th Century Clock Tower that stands out in the square.
There are three large mast-like flagpoles designed by Alessandro Leopardi in the early 16th Century. The flagpoles were used in the past to fly the Venetian flag.
What can one say about their first sight of the "Piazza San Marco"? It is magnificent, and overwhelming---am I really here? Turning 360 degrees to take in the panorama, I can only compare it to pictures and movies I have seen and though the piazza was somewhat smaller than I had previously imagined, it was everything I expected!!
Because there are any number of special places to visit in Piazza San Marco, planning is the key to enjoying all of the Piazza San Marco's key attractions: Basilica of San Marco, Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), Bridge of Sighs, Campanile of San Marco, Florian Cafe, San Marco Clock Tower,
Columns of the Lion of Venice and San Teodoro, and THE PIGEONS!!
To this end, we found that the guide books were not as helpful as expected with the most hassle-free way to purchase tickets and avoid crowds. However, since we visited in late May, neither the crowds nor the temperature were as great as they would be a month later had we waited. Simply, it was a matter of just getting into a line---we waited in line to visit the Campanile, and the Basilica of San Marco (see more below) approximately 30 minutes each.
When we we visited the Doge's Palace (14 Euro each) the following day, there was no line at all at mid-afternoon.
We were very disappointed when we attempted to visit the Basilica of San Marco because an over-zealous clothes inspector denied entrance to our daughter so we did not visit it either!! Our daughter was dressed modestly in our eyes with her shoulders covered but the dress police determined her skirt length was not acceptable!! This was all the more disappointing because there were many women, as well as men, who were dressed improperly in my opinion. My advise, therefore, is for women to think seriously about what they wear if you desire to visit the basilica.
At San Marco's the saving grace, while in line for these attractions, was that we met and talked to some very nice people along the way, especially a couple from New Zealand, which made the 30 minute wait a very easy one.
Consider visiting the Piazza San Marco very early in the morning or in late afternoon, unless being in a long line does not bother you. If you can purchase tickets (such as the Doge's Palace Secret Itinerary) online prior to visiting, you may avoid the lines to some extent. We also found that it was more enjoyable to walk to the Piazza San Marco rather than riding a crowded vaporetto! There was so much to see along the way that we had no idea we had walked so far!!
If I had not visited Venice before this summer 2010 I would have been very disappointed by the way this famous Piazza looked in July.
First the part of the Piazza near the Campanile is occupied by works. The clients of the famous and most expensive café Florian have their view cut off by the works palisade. Furthermore the left side of the Basilica is covered with a sheet (photo 1 & 2).
On the opposite side there was a large podium hiding the façade of the Fabricca Nuova with the Museo Correr. This podium, used for I don't know what event, completely destroyed the perspective of the Piazza towards the West (photo 3 & 4).
If you add to this the most miserable view on the Sights Bridge (see my tip and photo), the fact that the right side of the Palazzo Ducale is covered with a blue publicity sheet to hide the restoration works and that the façade of the Biblioteca Marciano on the Piazzetta is also covered with a sheet you might be tempted to postpone your visit to better times. However keep in mind that there are always restoration works going on in Venice. But this is the worst I saw.
Piazza San Marco is the touristic heart of the city and as such is does get quite crowded (both with visitors and pigeons!), but with so much beautiful architecture I think it would be a shame to let that fact stop someone from visiting it. The piazza was designed at the same time as the Basilica di San Marco and it's surrounded by the "Procuratie", a group of buildings that were originally built to house the Procurator's offices. In the Republic of Venice, the Procurator was in charge of the city's religious and social issues, and it was considered the second highest ranked position after the doge. The Procuratie are now home to several (very expensive) shops, cafes and restaurants, including the famous Caffe Florian, once a favourite of Goethe, Lord Byron, Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens.
Piazza San Marco is also home to the "Torre dell'Orologio" (St. Mark's Clocktower), a beautiful 15th century building home to one of the world's largest astronomical clocks. The clock was designed by Paulo Rainieri and it's lavishly covered with gold leafs and ultramarine. Also, on the adjoining Piazzetta San Marco (the space that stretches in front of the Palazzo Ducale), it's possible to see St. Mark's and St. Theodore's columns. Before St. Mark's relics were brought to the basilica, St. Theodore was the patron saint of Venice and in the sculpture that stands on top of the column he is pictured with a dragon. On the top of the other column, St. Mark is represented by a winged lion. The space between the two columns was once used for public executions and to this day, some people (especially locals) still refuse to walk between the two columns. I guess my Italian teacher was right when he warned me that Italians tend to be a bit superstitious!
VAPORETTO - SAN ZACCARIA or SAN MARCO (VALLARESSO)
Crossing over the Ponte della Canonica, proceeding forward, and turning left you enter into the Piazzetta dei Leoncini.
This small square is named after the pair of porphyry lions that reside here. They were a gift presented to the city by the Doge Alvise Mocenigo 111 in 1722 to commemorate his accession. Giovanni Bonazza was the sculpter.
You can see one of the lions in my picture, which was taken on Christmas Eve. The Nativity Scene (presepio) is popular with visitors and locals having their photos taken in front of it.
The well here, is supposed to be the deepest in Venice. It was sited on a raised platform to avoid contamination by the floods
At one time, a vegetable market was held in this piazzetta.
Also in the Piazzetta is the Palazzo Patriarcale, (No 318) which joins St Marks Basilica, and closes off the east end of the Piazzetta. It was rebuilt in 1837, by the architect Lorenzo Santi. His mission was to forward 24 designs. The cheapest was chosen!
This building has housed the Venetian patriarchs since Napolean turned St Marks into a Cathedral.
A narrow passage led to the Doges Palace, but this has since been demolished. At one time, the large dining room of the Palace was used by the Doges for entertaining nobility and Official Guests. These banquets were held 5 times per year.
From the Piazzetta there is an entrance into St Marks Basillica, which was open during Christmas for those attending services.
UPDATE 1 - My June 07 visit, I saw a wedding party leaving from this doorway, plus I found that You are not allowed to sit on the wall of this Piazzetta - please see my Warning and Dangers tip for more info
UPDATE 2 Christmas 07 The Nativity Scene was replaced by a modern glass tubular Christmas Tree
Christmas 08 & 09 - There was no Tree or Nativity Scene in the Piazetta - presumably due to the recent floods, that deluged the area.
VAPORETTO - SAN ZACCARIA or SAN MARCO (VALLARESSO)
The Molo is the area of waterfront of the Pizzetta San Marco , here is one of the places where excursion boats to Murano (and its glass factories) depart and arrive, water taxis and gondolas await to empty your purse!!! You can haggle for a fairer price, but I've been told that you might get a better deal for a gondola ride at one of the 'off the beaten track' gondola stops. (Be aware that some of the 'cheaper rides' may be with unlicensed gondoliers though!)
(To visit Murano independently, you can get a vaporetto No 41 or 42 from nearby San Zaccaria - check the route before you board. Otherwise, head for Fondamente Nuova, where vaporettos including the 41/42 head for Murano and the other lagoon islands)
I'm afraid that I have no idea of the starting price for gondola rides- my 'out of date' guidebook mentions an official price of 62 euros for 50 min ride which rises to 77.50 euros after 20.00hrs plus 31 euros for each extra 25 minutes- in high season a premium 'unofficial' rate may be negotiated.
Some official guided tours include a gondola ride as part of their tour price. Please read my local customs tips for lots more info on gondolas and gondoliers and for the reasons why the cost of riding in one of these vessels is so expensive.
A cheap alternative, is to do as the locals do, and take a 50 cent crossing by traghetto - not as romantic, but quite fun as you stand up all the way - see my transport tips for pics and info
It's a pleasant area to wander, lots of photo opps for Gondola shots, water reflections etc, especially early morning or at sunset.
VAPORETTO-SAN MARCO VALLARESSO/ SAN ZACCARIA
Piazzetta San Marco is the 'doorway' onto San Marco Piazza, where years ago, seafaring visitors and traders would arrive into the city.
It is hard to imagine that at one time, part of this terrace was a garden, where turnips etc were grown to feed the nuns of nearby San Zaccaria. Later, its name of Broglia (kitchen garden), became well known as the area where deals were made, and politicians ensured that they would be favoured by gaining votes at election time.
2 granite Columns of San Marco and San Teodoro - dominate the Piazzetta - these are one of Venices oldest symbols and were 'acquired' as loot in 1170- A 3rd column sunk into the waters of the Bacino di San Marco while it was being unloaded.
Public executions were often held between the columns, the last recorded being Domenico Storti in 1752, who murdered his brother. Superstitious Venetians avoid walking between the 2 columns.
To the left of the Piazetta, is La Zecca (The Mint) , which is part of its neighbouring building The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana or Libreria Sansoviniana.
Opposite, on the right hand side of the Piazzetta is The Doges Palace or Palazzo Ducal , which is next door to St. Marks Basillica.
I'll return to these sights soon in more detail, (page 2 of my tips) but first I'll continue along the waterfront-
VAPORETTO- SAN MARCO VALLARESSO
Turning right from the San Marco Vaporetta stop, you will soon come across this small garden on your left hand side. Originally the site of the state granary (Fontegheto della Farina), but the gardens creator (Eugene de Beauharnais) decided to demolish it to enable visitors to the ballroom of the Ala Napoleonica in St Marks Square to have a view of the lagoon.
Entering through cast iron gates, the park has a few seats scattered amongst its' shrubs and grassed areas which offer a place to rest your feet after all the walking around Venices sights.
It's also one of the few areas around San Marco that You're allowed to eat ' Al Fresco' - (Please see my Warning and Dangers tip for more info)
Next to the garden is a pavillion of a neoclassical style called the Casino da Caffe , also designed by Beauharnais. This is now a Tourist Information office and gift shop. You can buy concert tickets here.
The door can be quite difficult to push, I walked away, thinking it was locked, then went back for another try- saw many others do the same - also each time I've visited there has been a long queue for info - 1 person manning the desk, and lots of people wanting info/ tickets etc.
Also next to the gardens is one of the few Public toilets in Venice- from my guide book I understand public WC's are open 0700 or 0800 to 2100hrs and are all wheelchair accessable.
I'm not sure if you have to pay, or if there is an attendant expecting a tip.
In front of the garden are a few kiosks selling souvenirs including masks, postcards, films etc. (Don't worry there are loads more further on!)
VAPORETTO SAN MARCO VALLARESSO
This is the start of my mini tour of San Marco to the Rialto Bridge
Alighting at the Alilaguna water bus stop, from Marco Polo airport you are within a few minutes of some of Venices' most famous and historic sights situated in and around St Marks Piazzo.
However, there are a few things to see on the short walk to the Piazzo
In front of you is the legendary Harrys Bar , famed for its invention of the Bellini cocktail- made with the juice of fresh white peaches, and Prosecco - the sparkling wine of the Veneto region.
Behind you, is the landmark church of San Maria della Salute, with its' domed roof, and the Dogana di Mare (Customs House) - a golden ball supported by a pair of Atlases sits on its rooftop. These are situated in Dorsoduro , and is the point where the Bacino di San Marco waterway becomes The Grand Canal.
After admiring the view, and enjoying those first few minutes of arriving for the first time, or re-visiting for the umpteenth time, we head along to our next attraction
Piazza San Marco offers great views of the small island of San Giorgio Maggiore and its 16th century church built by Andrea Palladio, the famous Venitian Renaissance architect. Although it's possible to take a vaporetto to the island and visit the church, what I mostly wanted to do was to admire San Giorgio Maggiore from Piazza San Marco, like so many painters have done before. "San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk" (1908) is one of my favourite paintings by Monet, and although my little camera couldn't quite reproduce the same effect, I'm very happy with my "San Giorgio Maggiore at Sunset" picture!
No matter how often you see pictures of famous buildings, the reality is always best.
When I entered the square of St Mark's ,I was amazed at how big it was, and all the pigeons! The guide talked about the campanile which was destroyed in an earthquake, and about the four horses of St Mark's. Two of them had been taken for cleaning at the time we were there..
But inside was a real eye-opener. The gold mosaic held me spellbound. The interior is huge anyway, but to be surrounded with all that 'gold' was something indescribable.
Around the square are colonnades and these shelter those having a rest drinking coffee or whatever. And the Doge's Palace with its wonderful tracery is another amazing building.
Off the square are little alleys which make interesting exploration. We watched women making lace in one shop.
'...the landing place without equal,
the incredible composition
of fantastic architecture...'
Thomas Mann, Death in Venice
Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) is undoubtedly the most famous landmark of Venice. Once it was the symbol of religious, political and cultural powers.
Here, you can see:
- St. Mark's Basilica, the church that preserves the remains of the patron saint, the Evangelist St. Mark
- the Doges' Palace, the seat of government
- the Library that contains priceless manuscripts
- the Bell Tower
- the Clock Tower
- the Procuratie Vecchie and Nuove, the apartments of the Procurators of St. Mark
- the 2 columns of Mark and Theodore guarding the city
This is a quite interesting initiative from the Musei Civici Veneziani association.
With one single ticket you can visit:
1° THE MUSEUMS OF ST MARK'S SQUARE: Doge's Palace, Museo Correr, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Monumental Rooms of Biblioteca Marciana
2° ONE OTHER OF THE MUSEUMS RUN BY MUSEI CIVICI VENEZIANI from among:
Ca' Rezzonico, Museum of 18th-Century Art, Palazzo Mocenigo, Carlo Goldoni's house, Ca' Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art + Oriental Art Museum, Glass Museum – Murano, Lace Museum- Burano (Closed until October 2010 for requalification and restoration works)
This Ticket is valid for 3 months and grants only one admission to each Museum.
Full price 13,00 euro (from 1/11 - 31/03 price is 12,00 €)
Reduced 7,50 euro. This is for children aged 6 to 14; students aged 15 to 25, citizens over 65.
Best is to start your visit with Museo Correr (north of Piazza San Marco) where there is no queuing and then visit the Palazzo Ducale by the entrance for those who have already a ticket-biglietto.
From the other museums I do recommend the Ca' Rezzonico (Decorative Venetian Arts).
Just note, for those visiting Venice when it is very hot, that there is no air conditioning (at least efficient AC) in Museo Correr or Palazzo Ducale.
There is efficient AC at Ca' Rezzonico (as it was about 40°C outside, we did appreciate).
The Piazza San Marco is home to St. Mark's Cathedral and the Palazzo Ducale, a breathtaking former palace with Gothic architecture. Climb up the Campanile for the best view of Venice. This is the most fun you can have on land in this city in the water.
REVISED for 2010: This is still the premier destination on the islands. But aside from seeing the aforementioned, take a stroll down one of the adjacent alleys and you'll find yourself in the labyrinth of the island itself. You'll find endless shops, restaurants, etc... and find some picturesque back alleys to create more photo memories.