The spectacular open-air art gallery at the heart of Venice
One of the world’s most beautiful public squares, Piazza San Marco – known in English as St Mark’s Square – never fails to impress visitors with its sheer scale and grandeur.
Most visitors are drawn directly to Piazza San Marco. Established in the ninth century, this square was, and still is, the largest flat, open area in a city famously defined by its waterways, and intended as a grand meeting space, showcasing the wealth and power of the Venetian Republic.
The roughly rectangular Piazza is the finest, and most famous, in Italy, measuring 176m long and 82m at its widest point. At its eastern end, it is dominated by the unmistakable façade of the Basilica di San Marco – St Mark’s Basilica - constructed in the ornate Byzantine style between 1063 and 1094. Originally the private chapel of the Doges, it became the city’s cathedral in 1807.
The Basilica is known as the Chiesa d’Oro – the Golden Church – due to its opulent decoration, most notably the 8000 square meters of gilded mosaic tiles depicting Biblical scenes which cover the façade, vaults, and cupolas.
The interior is just as splendid, and the high altar, the Pala d’Oro, is considered to be the finest example of Byzantine gold and enamel work in existence. Created in 1105, it features 250 enamel plaques and precious stones set in gold.
Soaring above the Piazza outside the Basilica is the Campanile di San Marco, another of Venice’s instantly recognizable landmarks. The 99m-high red brick bell-tower was rebuilt in 1912 following the dramatic collapse of its 16th-century predecessor.
Next to the Basilica, the Palazzo Ducale, the former Doge’s Palace, is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Today, it is a museum, allowing visitors a glimpse of the sumptuous staterooms and private apartments of the city’s former rulers. From the palace, one of the world’s most famous bridges, the Bridge of Sighs, leads to the old prisons.
You’ll find more Venetian art treasures in the Museo Correr, at the western end of the Piazza. Built as a royal palace under Napoleonic rule, it houses a collection of Venetian paintings and Neoclassical sculpture, including works by Antonio Canova.
Complete your visit to Piazza San Marco with a Bellini at the historic Caffè Florian, which has been serving fashionable visitors to Venice since 1720.
Piazza San Marco
Piazza San Marco, Venice