on October 2, 2008
This is the heart of Venice and one of the world's most beautiful public squares. It is full of cafes, shops, tourists and pigeons. Since the founding of the Doge's (ducal leader's) house, the Church of St Mark and the bell tower (Campanile) have been landmarks of the square.The bell tower is the tallest structure on the Venice skyline. It is a 20th century replica of the 8th century original, which collapsed without warning in 1902. You get a bird's eye view of Venice and the square below from the top. It is a great way to get a feel for the shape of the city and front this vantage point there are rooftops galore, but the network of canals is not visible.The Basilica is the final resting place of St Mark. Venice has 2 patron saints - St Teodoro and St Mark. St Teodoro was there first, but in the 9th century two Venetian merchants stole St Mark's body from Alexandria. St Mark found a permanent resting place in the church on this site.The church is Byzantine and one of the world's most embellished and distinctive Roman Catholic churches. The sarcophagus of St Mark sits beneath 4 columns in the presbytery. In the shadows of the Basilica, look out for exquisite mosiacs adorned with gold and the altar panel of the Archangel Michael, decorated with garnets, rubies, pearls and sapphires. The floor is also incredible - geometric patterns and exuberant mosiacs.The terrace area is a good place to visit - it costs 4 Euros to go up there, but you get a lovely view of the square down below and can get close to the 4 bronze horses of St Mark. There is also a little museum with numerous interesting artefacts.Get to the Basilica early or the queues will be horrendous - whatever the time of year. Also be aware on Sundays you can only enter the church between 2 and 5pm. Do not aim to see everything, just try and get a feel for the oriental extravagance of the place.The Doge's Palace was once the centre of government. Here dukes ruled for 1,000 years. Each duke was elected for life. The structure is pink and white marble - the work of many architects over the centuries. Inside it is filled with paintings by the greatest Venetian artists. The Scala d'Oro is a grand staircase with frescoes embellished with real gold. The armoury is filled with antique weapons. As you pass through the Scala del Senato, look up at the ceiling for the Triumph of Venice - all prancing horses and puffy clouds. The Bridge of Sighs links the palace with the Palazzo delle Prigoni where prisoners were held after being judged.We just had a look into the Caffe Florian - the oldest cafe in Italy founded in 1720. It has red velvet banquettes, gilded walls and painted ceilings. You can sit inside or out, but everything costs a fortune!Our son liked looking out for the lions all around the square. There are lions everywhere - on the clock tower, the entrance to the Doge's Palace, the bronze gate in front of the Campanile, on the Basilica and more.We also enjoyed going to St Marks several times at different times of the day. In the morning early, you feel as if you have it all to yourself; in the afternoon there is the spectacle of the crowds but best of all after dark it is intensely romantic with its lights and wonderful atmosphere.After exploring St Marks Square, it is nice to have a stroll down the Riva degli Schiavoni. Our hotel was on this street, but it is a good place to have a wander. The pavement is wide, bustling and busy and it is a great place to watch the boats go by - large car ferries, vaporetti, water taxis, tugs, gondolas, huge cruise ships and pleasure motor boats. The area close to St Marks Square is busy and has lots of souvenir sellers, but if you carry on in the opposite direction to St Marks, it gradually becomes almost empty and is a nice place to sit and look back at the skyline of this fabulous city.Get to the Basilica early or the queues will be horrendous - whatever the time of year. Also be aware on Sundays you can only go into the church between 2 and 5pm. Do not aim to see everything - we thought it was enough to get a feel for the oriental extravagance of the place.
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