April 04, 2016

7 Sights on Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco seems to be on the itinerary of every visitor to Venice. Napoleon described the square as the finest drawing room in Europe; powerful doges ruled the Venetian Republic from a pink marble palazzo; and Caffé Florian served the continent’s first cup of coffee. From the Byzantine basilica that gives the square its name to a colourful zodiac clock, here are seven sights you’ll see on one of the world’s most famous squares, Piazza San Marco.

Dusk on the Piazza

Piazza San Marco, Venice

The Arcade Surrounding the Piazza

1.  The Doge’s Palace
The Venetian Gothic palazzo of the doges stands on the waterfront overlooking St. Mark's Basin. Many doges were crowned at the top of the Stairway of Giants. The palace is connected to the doge's prison by the famous Bridge of Sighs.

Doge's Palace

St. Mark's Column, Bell Tower and the Doge's Palace

Palace Arcade on the Waterfront

Stairway of Giants

The Bridge of Sighs

2.  St. Mark’s Basilica
The basilica at the eastern end of the square is notable for its distinctive onion domes, glittering Byzantine mosaics and looted artifacts like The Tetrarchs made of porphyry and four Bronze Horses taken from Constantinople during The Crusades. These are the same horses that Napoleon later moved to Paris for a time.  (The originals are inside the San Marco Museum.)

St. Mark's Basilica

St.  Mark's Clock Tower (left) and Basilica (right)

Basilica Mosaics

Copies of the Bronze Horses of St. Mark's

The Four Tetrarchs

3.  St. Mark’s Bell Tower
The basilica’s bell tower, or campanile, rises high above the piazza.  The original tower collapsed in 1902 and was rebuilt ten years later. You can take an elevator to the top to take in the views of Venice.

St. Mark's Bell Tower

Top of the Bell Tower

Bell Tower Entrance

4.  St. Mark’s Clock Tower
On the north side of the square is the clock tower, or Torre dell’Orologio. A blue astronomical clock includes the signs of the zodiac. The archway beneath the clock leads to the shopping streets of Venice: the Mercerie and the area around the Rialto Bridge. 


St.  Mark's Clock Tower

Astronomical Clock

5.  The Caffés
Three grand old cafés are located on the square: Caffé Florian, Caffé Quadri and Caffé Lavena. They each have their own orchestra. Two of my favourite moments in Venice were having a cozy lunch at Florian on a rainy spring day and sipping an aperol spritz at Lavena on a balmy summer evening.

Caffé Florian

Caffé Florian Interior

Lunch at Caffé Florian

Gran Caffé Quadri

Caffé Quadri Tables on the Piazza

Gran Caffé Lavena

Caffé Lavena Orchestra and
St. Mark's Basilica

6.  Piazzetta dei Leoni
There are two small squares, or piazzetti, adjacent to Piazza San Marco. Piazzetta dei Leoni lies to the north of the basilica and is named for its two crouched lions.

Cistern on Piazzetta dei Leoni

One of the "Leoni" or Lions

7.  Piazzetta di San Marco
The other small square, Piazzetta di San Marco, is the open space connecting the larger piazza to the lagoon. This is where you’ll find the fourth San Marco café, Gran Caffé Chioggia. They have a take-out window where you can buy gelato and there's a small park around the corner, the Giardinetti Reali, where you can sit to enjoy it.  

Piazzetta di San Marco

Piazzetta di San Marco and
the San Marco Column

The Winged Lion of St. Mark

Gran Caffé Chioggia

The Garden, Giardinetti Reali

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