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.
The Four Tetrarchs is the porphyry sculpture on the south-west corner of San Marco Basilica. It represents the Tetrarchs – four rulers of the Roman Empire toward the end of its power – Diocletian, Maximian, Galerius and Constantius. The sculpture has been taken from Constantinople, during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, and the missing foot of one of the figures has been discovered in Istanbul in the 1960s, where it is still on display.
The sculpture symbolizes the unity of the Tetrarchy, rather than depicting four personal portraits. Each tetrarch looks the same, without any individualized characteristics.
Although on "the touristiest" location in the whole Venice, this sculpture is often missed. It should not be.
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!)
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).
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
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-
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!!
Piazza San Marco is bordered on its left and right sides by rows of shops and cafes etc. with a covered paved area.
These were the offices for the procurators, who were elected to office, but were considered to be second only to the Doges. Their position was permanant, with 3 being responsible for the Basilicas' upkeep, and 6 being responsible for the area either side of The Grand Canal
The Procuratie Vecchie was commenced in 1500, taking 30 years to finish, adjoins the clock tower. The Procuratie Nuove opposite was constructed between 1582 and 1640.
During the 18th century, the coffee houses of Piazza San Marco were open all day and night, filled with Venetion society enjoying a drink, a gossip, a flirtation or conducting business (both legal and illicit!) There were around 27 of these establishments scattered in the Procuraties.
2 coffee houses remain from this period - Florians is probably the most famous (situated in Procuratie Nuove) and Quadri, which is across the Square in Procuratie Vecchie. Please see my restaurant tips for more info.
Both establishments offer a coffee drinking experience in authentic 18th century decor, but it is well known that this doesn't come at 18th century prices (especially if accompanied by live music) During my Christmas visits, I haven't heard or seen any of these musicians -but in June 07, they were playing - I'm not sure when the musicians season starts and ends.
At Christmas, the ceilings of the Procuraties outside the shops and cafes were decorated with lights, and artificial greenery and red flowers, quite tasteful!
The Procuratie are joined at the narrowest end of the Piazza by the Ala Napoleonica - built by the French in 1810, to complete the symetrical effect and in order to create a ballroom.
To the left of this building is the Museo Correr, which now holds Venices historical and Art collection
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.
The best way to look at St Marks Square is climbing the campanile. Another good way to avoid the huge crowds that gather in the square is going there at night. The cathedral is also beautiful during the night, when the golden paintings gain a new light.
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.
After peeping at 'The Lady With The Mortar', under the Clocktower, (see my previous tip) walk back into the hustle and bustle of "The Worlds' Drawing Room, the only one worthy of having the sky for it's roof"
It is also the only Square deemed worthy of being named a Piazza in Venice.
Apparently, the Tourist Office have estimated that half of the huge volume of people cramming into the Square each day, will visit nothing else in Venice!!!
From the 12th century onwards, Visitors have travelled from near and far to "Oooooh and Aaaaaah" at the splendors and atmosphere of this centre of Historical, Religious,Social and Political importance.
The first chapel of St Marks was built in 829, the abbess of San Zaccaria convent donated the nearby vegetable gardens and orchards to the doge of this time, and the Piazza began its life.
Later into the 12th century, the Piazza began to take shape
A canal that once crossed the area was filled in, and architectral visions of Sebastiano Ziani, came to fruition as he created porticoes for the Procurators of St Mark- now the Procuratie Vecchie (seen in the photo). Further buildings and architectural features were built, demolished, rebuilt and renovated.
The Square is now 180 yards long- but it isn't really a square!! - it is quite a bit narrower at the end opposite the Basillica, and is really a trapezoid!
Over the years, as the Piazza evolved, it became the centre of Venetians social life, as it was the largest open space in the city. Religious processions and fairs, celebrations of newly elected Doges,spectacles such as death defying acrobatics and sports-including jousting and bull fighting all took place here.
Modern times have brought concerts, such as the one by Pink Floyd in 1989, and more recently Elton John.
Early October in Venice...what a difference! My previous visits to Venice had been in mid-summer at the absolute height of the tourist season...aside from Carnivale. This was the first time I had actually seen Piazza San Marco with fewer people than pigeons. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration but still, I can't say I ever noticed the pattern in the pavers before.
The photograph here is taken from the roof of St. Mark's Basilica. This, to me, was the best part the tour of the Basilica. Now, I'm sure I'll get some argument from this, but the interior was just not that inspiring to me. Certainly, the mosaics are spectacular as were many of the other features but as a whole I was slightly disappointed. Maybe I was put off by the fact that, while entry is free, collection points are set up along the way to view special features such as the Golden Altar Screen. The image of the "money changers" in the temple springs to mind.
In any event, you must go and you must include the climb to the upper level. Pay attention as you enter as the stairs up are on your right just beyond the entrance. If you bypass them initially (as we did) you will have to sort of "jump" the velvet rope lines to get back or worse yet go outside and wait in line again. Once up top you will have excellent aerial views of the interior as well as access to the roof. The exterior views out to Piazza San Marco and toward the Grand Canal are well worth the climb.
This is the center piece of Venice. It is stunning, iconic and stacked high with history, art and architecture. Its delicately tiled surface is filled with as many pigeons as tourists, and they dive bomb you from the buildings that surround the square, encouraged by the idiots that feed them. I hope at the very least that feed they sell is dosed with a sterilizer to get those rats with wings under control.
The square contains some of the world's most famous and recognisable buildings, including the Clock Tower which soars up over the square and offers outstanding views, if you are prepared to queue for hours to take a trip up in its curiously named SCAM lifts. The Basilica San Marco is even more impressive inside than it is outside, feeling like you've walked into a treasure trove rather than a church.
The other great building is the Doge's Palace, home to the government of the republic and the duke himself. The tours of this extensive building are an absolute must for lovers of history, architecture or art. My personal favourite of the whole palace was the original maps painted in the time of Venice's great merchant past, showing a strange view of the world as it was seen back then.
Attached to the palace are the tedious dungeons. These are worth a visit just so you can cross over the Bridge of Sighs, so named because the prisoners were said to sigh as they walked across it and viewed freedom for the last time. The bridge is a must see, but the dungeons are filled with artefacts like cat bones and tooth picks, and isn't really all that interesting.
The Piazzetta San Marco, a part of the square, is open to the Grand Canal, and is known for the two Byzantine columns: one surmounted by the lion of Venice, a bronze chimera, perhaps from Syria or China, to which the Venetians added wings and a book, the other bearing St. Theodore, one of the patron saints of Venice, showing him standing in victory on the pagan crocodile.
St. Theodore was an early Christian, who was martyred for destroying a temple of a pagan goddess somewhere in the East of the Roman Empire. The crocodile symbolises the goddess representing the Temple destroyed by Theodor.
The area was the site of public executions, according to ancient belief crossing the line between the columns means bad luck and superstitious Venetians avoid it even today.