Piazza San Marco is the main square in Venice – with key attractions like the St Mark’s Basilica and Doge’s Palace. You’ll easily spend a few hours visiting the sights around here.
Tip #1 – Get here early morning – better still stay close to the square so that you can enjoy the square with few tourists. And you get beautiful views of the building as the sun rises.
Tip #2 – Join a guided tour of the buildings so that it is a bit more meaningful as you look at the different structures. But you need to book early especially during peak periods.
#1- Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
I booked Skip the Line ticket for the palace which was good because there was a long queue out there at the time. I had wanted to book a guided tour but the slot available was limited – so book early! Anyway – even if you don’t get a guided tour, it would still be good to get into the palace main courtyard and appreciate the architecture. They are opened till evening and sometimes late evenings. Check the website here for opening hours and online tickets for entry to the palace and guided tours.
What is this place? It is the centre of the government and the official residence of the Doges, the appointed ruler of the former Venetian Republic.
I didn’t have much time to spend much time here. Wish I did. Trying to remember what was it that I was chasing after – of yeah that’s right! Lunch and shopping! Hmm – I can’t believe I would sacrifice architectural beauty for that – what was I thinking?
A couple of interesting points –
1- Can you see the red arrow pointing to two pillars that’s a bit pinkish compared to the other pillars at the side of the palace in the picture below? This was where the Doge stood whenever he gave out death sentences. The pinkish colour symbolises blood. Also they say walking between these two pillars bring bad luck – if you are superstitious that is.
2- Also if you look closely at the sculpture above the cornice on top of the ceremonial entrance to the building, per picture below, you can see a sculptural portrait of Doge Francesco Foscari kneeling before the Lion of St Mark as a sign of respect. The Lion of St Mark is a winged lion representing St Mark, the Evangelist and is also the symbol of Venice.
#2- The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
‘I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs, a Palace and a Prison in each hand’ – Lord Byron
This is the famous covered bridge that connects Doge Palace and the prison on the other side of the canal. After their sentencing at the Doge Palace, prisoners would pass through this bridge and from the very small windows on the bridge, they would have seen their last glimpses of the ‘free world’. The most famous prisoner who walked this bridge was Casanova who escaped after 15 months.
Nowadays the bridge is associated with romance with many couples trying to get that intimate shot with the bridge in the background. The bridge was made popular by the 1979 movie, ‘A Little Romance’, where an American girl and a French boy fell in love and declared their love with a kiss on a gondola ride passing underneath the Bridge of Sighs.
You can access the bridge with your Doge Palace tickets.
#3- St Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
The Basilica uses a lot of gold in many parts of its structure – therefore it is also known as the Church of Gold. The church was built in the 9th century to house the remains of St Mark’s smuggled out from Egypt by Venetian merchants. The entrance is free but you have to pay certain fee to enter certain parts of the church. I didn’t buy any Skip the line ticket – I was quite lucky that I was amongst the first in line. Partly because many people had big backpacks or bags and they had to get that stored first before joining the queue. If you enter the church for free without a guided tour, there is some kind of time limit for you to walk through the church. No photography is allowed inside the church – although I see some people don’t seem to care about this – and was stealing quick photos. Seemed so wrong…
#4- St Mark’s Bell Tower (the Campanile)
You can go up the tower for a fee to get a beautiful view of the city. There is an elevator that will bring you up. In 1609, Galileo was up at the top of the tower, demonstrating his telescope to the Doge. The tower, built in the 9th century, collapsed in 1902, and was rebuilt over a period of 10 years.
#5- The Clock Tower (Torre dell’Orologio)
The clock tower was built in the 15th century. It displays the time, the moon phases and the zodiac signs. You can join tour to see the inside mechanics of the clock; and then go all the way up to the roof where you can see the two bronze hammer-wielding figures (a bearded old man and a young man) often referred to as ‘moors’ which strike the bell every hour. The tower also housed the living quarters of its caretakers and their families.
It is said that during the days of public execution at the square, (not sure if this is true), those sentenced to death were executed facing the tower. Must have been very scary for the prisoners – as they watched the clock hands moving towards the time of their execution.
Notice also the Lion of St Marks statue at the top tier of the Tower.
#6- Procuratie Nuove/Vecchie
The three connected buildings were built in the 16th century and were the official residences of the procurators of St Marks who handled treasury and other financial matters of the church. Parts of the building such as the ground floor were rented out as shops and workshops, for additional income.
There are cafes are the square where you can have coffee and do people watching. I heard it was super expensive – I didn’t even bother checking it out.
St Mark's Square - Checked!
Time passed by very quickly and there is just so much to see! After a bit of time here – of course you need to venture a bit further. There is more to Venice than just the Square!
Check out my other posts on Venice.