Around the Piazza San Marco in Venice
The most famous Place of the World: Piazza San Marco
The Piazza San Marco is probably the most famous place of the world, only the Times Square in New York can keep up with it. Also those who have never been in Venice surely have gazed at the trapezoidal plaza that is surrounded by glorious buildings on TV. This place can be described as the centre of San Marco and/or of whole Venice. Here, there is the most action and there are the most sightseeings for the tourists.
I would like to start by saying that by visiting each building and each of the museums, one can easily stay half a day or a full day at the Piazza San Marco. And another word concerning the significance of this place: the Piazza San Marco is the only plaza in Venice that is denominated as Piazza; all other plazas of the city are degraded to be called fields (in Italian: Campi). But now we come to the details of each of the sightseeings at the Piazza San Marco.
The Piazza San Marco
If one steps for the first time into the Piazza San Marco, one is first overwhelmed by the whole scenario; one does not know where to look first. Gorgeous buildings at each of the sides, posh shops surrounding, a vivid hustle and bustle of hundreds of rambling tourists, hundreds of pigeons that want to be fed, several big street cafés with own musicians each; one experiences so many things at once that one needs some time to assimilate the impressions. But one thing is noticed soon: one is in the centre of a touristic metropolis, here is life and this is where the action is.
I think the Piazza San Marco is the only place in the world I know where feeding the pigeons is not prohibited and/or unwanted. It is just the contrary, some merchants even sell some small bags with pigeon food and grains of maize, so that the visitors can have their fun by being surrounded by umpteem hungry pigeons that eat the grains straight from one's hand. The pigeons of Venice are completely unbashful; what a photography, if one's body is covered by pigeons and even on one's head some of them are standing and pick the grains!
The Piazza San Marco has, by the way, not an rectangular but a trapezoidal shape. Thus, one's vision is not confused if one thinks that the two buildings are not parallel to each other. The plaza is approximately 175 m long and at the height of the basilica it turns into the direction of the lagoon. Of course, one has to cross this plaza at least once, but promenading underneath the arcades is also important. Here, one posh shop follows the next luxury shop and in between, there are some souvenir shops. It is imaginable that here, it is not possible to shop at reasonable prices.
Those who stay some longer time in Venice should in any case walk to the Piazza San Marco at different day times, as the plaza can appear in the most different atmospheres. Those who cross the plaza in the early morning will find some lonely tourists and workers; the Piazza San Marco seems to be abandoned and endless in its dimensions. If then in the late afternoon hundreds of travel groups arrive, one finds the hustle and bustle of the straying tourists, pigeon feeders and of course endless queues in front of the basilica and the Camanile Tower.
But not until the evening when it gets dark the Piazza San Marco gets really impressive. Finally, the hectic atmosphere disappears in order to give space to a rather romantic atmosphere. It is unforgettably beautiful when the surrounding palaces, the basilica and the tower are brightly illuminated. At the evening, also the small café-orchestras crow and entertain the audience with a first-class entertainment music that goes from entertaining up to a bolero. Here, one gets really excellent concerts for free and many times, hundreds of listeners come together to the surrounding of the cafés to applaud the musicians.
Of course, the evening gets much more comfortable if one takes a seat at one of the outdoor cafés in order to have unhurriedly a coffee or a glass of wine. I think I do not need to mention that a cup of coffee at the Piazza San Marco is not a bargain. Yes, I even ordered a capuccino for 10 € in order to have a a unique and unforgettable event, but when the waiter made clear to me that further 5 € surcharge have to be paid for the orchestra we did not consider this as fun anymore and we preferred to enjoy the entertaining music behind the cofee tables as hundreds of other tourists.
The Campanile di San Marco
At the Piazza San Marco, an approximately 100 m high tower overtops all other buildings around. It is the Campanile di San Marco, that is also visible from a distance at the horizon. This is why it is the city-emblem. THe clock-tower - this is the Italian denomination - was built at the beginning of the 10th century and in the course of the time the height was extended. Thus, one sees a nearly 1000 years old tower - one could think. But it is a matter of fact that out of the blue, in the year 1902 the tower suddenly collapsed. It was then rebuilt from the original construction material but therewith, the Campanile of today is actually only a century old and not a whole millenium.
The Campanile di San Marco appears from the exterior impressively high and pleasantly colourful; it is a real gem in the Piazza San MArco. But what would be a tower good for if one could not get to the top in order to finally get an overlook of Venice and the surrounding islands? Of course, the clock-tower does have an observation deck on which one can get during the day and in the summer months even up to the late evening. One does not have to get up ascending stairs as there is a fast elevator that takes one comfortably up and down again. Most of the times there is a long queue at the cash that goes up to the plaza; but there is not so much time to wait as the elevator is quite fast.
One has a dream view from above the way one wished it to be. Of course, one first gets an overlook over the city of Venice. But what is there to see? Where are the channels? One is first shocked, as Venice looks from above as many other Italian small cities at the seaside. There is nothing to see from the waterways, between the sea of houses there could be also very normal roads.
But much more interesting than the view to Venice's oldtown is the view to the single islands in the lagoon. Now one finally really understands how Venice and the snall islands are arranged and how unique this lagoon landscape really is.
The Basílica di San Marco
Now we get to an absolute highlight of Venice, the famous San Marco church. In order to view this highlight, one has to stand in queue up to one hour during the rush hours. The entrance is indeed free of charge, but the security staff only permits a certain amount of persons to pass through the gate. Moreover, there are very strict luggage controls, that means that the bags and rucksacks of any kind cannot be taken to the interior of the basilica. It is indeed permitted to take a camera, but in the interior of the church it is not permitted to make any pictures.
One could think that the waiting queues are shorter in the early mornings. But in fact, one waits the longest by going to the basilica at the beginning of the opening times. The waiting times are shorter in the afternoon or by the evening.
Already from outside the San Marco church is so impressive that one can stand for an our in front of it in order to gaze at the glory and each of the details. But the interior caps any other church in pomposity, gold and details. The approximately 1000 years old church consists on five main cupolas. Almost any patch of the interior is arranged with extremely laborious stone mosaics that represent some scenes of the bible. One actually does not find the time to admire the mosaics specifically , one is rather impressed by the totality. From the high portal, one has a nice overlook to the mosaics. But in order to get there, there is the first entrance fee to pay. But this in this fee also the visit to the church museum is included where one can also view the four world famous bronze trousers (Quadriga). From the high portal, a door leads to the exterior to the observation deck of the basilica. From here, on has a full overlook over the Piazza San Marco and here one is allowed to make some photos again.
But the basilica of San Marco has more to offer, for example a visit to the treasure chamber or the viewing of the golden altar in the chorus area. But as it is the case of getting to the high portal, here, extra tickets are also to be paid.
Der Palazzo Ducale
At the lower end of the Piazza San Marco, at the Piazzetta, there is the Palazzo Ducale at the left and right at the se mole. It is not a palace like so many others in Venice but it is THE palace par excellence, the palace of the palaces. From this palazzo, the doges have governated and administrated the city for a millenium.
The entrance to the palace costs more than 10 €; one gets a combined ticket that is also valid for the other museums at the Piazza San Marco. The roundtour through the palace is imposing, the Palazzo Ducale impresses either by its arquitecture as also by the arrangement of the rooms. The most significant painters have colaborated to give the palace a glorious face. One gets the most massive impression by stepping into the Sala del Maggior Consiglio. This room is, believe it or not, sized 54 x 25 m. Who would not like to have 1300 m² living space...? In this room, up to 1800 councillors could meet in former times; at its front, a 22 x 7 m sized picture of paradise is hanging at one single canvas.
More Sightseeings at the Piazza San Marco
One does not have to step into a building in order to be dazzled by the flair and the environment of the Piazza San Marco. But one should go to the basilica as also to the Campanile, as both are some unforgettable viewings. Those who still have enough time during the visit to Venice should have a look at the Museo Civico Correr that is located in front of the basilica. Here, one learns everything about the city history of Venice and can admire a lot of Venecian arts. The history of Venice is multifariously represented with old costumes, paintings, statues, jewels and of course also with old church weapons.
In front of the Palazzo Ducale there is the Libreria Sansoviniana, also a glorious palace, that rather catch one's eye due to its big street café than by its wall covering. The library tha tis half a millenium old can be also viewed during the daytime.
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Copyright: Patrick Wagner, www.tourist-guide.biz