Piazza San Marco Walking Tour (Self Guided), Venice

Piazza San Marco is the main square in Venice. This is a place that enriched the cultural, social and economic life of Venice in the course of its history. The square is the host of the famous Venice landmarks such as the Doge's Palace, Basilica San Marco and the Procuratie. This self guided walk shows you the best known places around this historic square.
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Piazza San Marco Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Piazza San Marco Walking Tour
Guide Location: Italy » Venice (See other walking tours in Venice)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.5 km
Author: naomi
Bridge of Sighs

1) Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs is a bridge in Venice, Italy. The enclosed bridge is made of white limestone, has windows with stone bars, passes over the Rio di Palazzo, and connects the New Prison (Prigioni Nuove) to the interrogation rooms in the Doge's Palace.

The view from the Bridge of Sighs was the last view of Venice that convicts saw before their imprisonment. The bridge's English name was bequeathed by Lord Byron in the 19th century as a translation from the Italian "Ponte dei sospiri", from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the window before being taken down to their cells.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace)

2) Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) (must see)

Built on the foundations of a 9th-century fortress, this palace is unquestionably the finest secular building of its era in Europe, having served as the residence of the doge, as well as the home of all of Venice’s governing councils and law courts. Additionally, it housed a sizeable number of the Venetian Republic's civil servants and even prisons.

The palace dates to the 14th century, though a 16th-century fire destroyed much of the original building, reducing many of its masterpieces to ash. Some of the greatest Venetian masters of the time contributed to the restored palace, replacing the works of the old masters with gilded stuccowork, sculptures, frescoes, and canvases – among these, Tintoretto, Veronese, Titian, Bellini, and Tiepolo.

The architecture is a combination of Byzantine and Gothic, whereas the courtyards and much of the interior are based on Classical forms – a blending of influences that led art critic John Ruskin to declare it “the central building of the world”.

The regular tour of the palace is interesting enough, showcasing lavish rooms of a splendid scale. The furnishings and paintings are spectacular and visitors gets to explore the various administrative salons and marvel at the ceilings. The most outstanding feature is found in the Grand Council chamber – namely, Tintoretto’s “Paradise”, said to be the world’s largest oil painting. The second grandiose hall, which you access from the grand chamber, is the Sala dello Scrutinio or “Voting Hall”, with paintings telling of Venice’s past glories. On the other hand, Titians paintings are found all over the palace, even lining staircases and in minor rooms.

Towards the end of your visit to the Palazzo Ducale, you cross the Bridge of Sighs by which prisoners were led to their cells on the other side of the canal. In complete contrast from the splendor of the palace, the cell-blocks confront visitors with the grim remnants of the horror of medieval justice. The “sighs” in the bridge’s name stem from the sad laments of the numerous victims forced across it to face certain torture and possible death at the hand of state inquisitors appointed by the city.

If you don't want to miss out on the importance of much of what you’re seeing, seek out the infrared audio guide at the entrance that gives the fascinating history of the 1,000-year-old maritime republic, and the intrigue of the government that ruled it.

***Casanova Tour***

Casanova was sentenced to five year in prison for his libertine behavior which is considered dangerous to society. He was taken to Doge's Palace on the night of 25 July 1755 and put in a cell under the roof of palace. The cell was covered with sheets of lead. But Casanova managed to escape by making a hole in the ceiling and descending his way to freedom with bed sheet ropes. Casanova was the only person ever to escape from the prison of Doge's Palace.

Book in advance for the guided "Secret Itinerary" tour that takes you into otherwise restricted quarters and hidden passageways, such as the Doge’s private chambers and the torture chambers where prisoners were interrogated.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am–7pm, last admission 6pm (Apr-Oct); 8:30am–5:30pm, last admission 4:30pm (Nov-Mar)
San Marco and San Todaro Columns

3) San Marco and San Todaro Columns

San Marco and San Todaro Columns were raised up in 1180 at the entrance of the Piazzetta San Marco. On top of one there is the figure of Saint Theodore, the first patron of Venice, on top of the other column there is the lion of Saint Mark, the second and present patron of Venice. It was also the site of executions in the city.
Campanile di San Marco (St Mark's Campanile)

4) Campanile di San Marco (St Mark's Campanile)

The city’s tallest bell tower was originally constructed in the 12th century, as a combined lighthouse and belltower, and was continually modified up to the 16th century, when the golden angel was installed on the summit. Each of its five bells had a distinct function: the largest, tolled the beginning and end of the working day; another one rang midday; two separate bells either proclaimed a session of the Senate or called the members of the Maggior Consiglio to council meetings; and the smallest bell gave notice of an execution.

Galileo Galilei famously demonstrated his telescope to the Doge of Venice on 21 August 1609 from the Campanile, and there is a plaque commemorating this event at the viewing area of the tower. However, the Campanile’s most dramatic contribution to Venetian history was made on July 14, 1902, the day on which, it fell down after giving a warning sound that sent the fashionable coffee drinkers in the piazza below running for their lives.

The Venetians rebuilt their Campanile “where it was and how it was”, and it is now safe to climb to the top. Unlike other bell towers, where you have to brave narrow, steep spiral staircases to reach the top, this one has an elevator so that you can easily get a pigeon’s-eye view against a fee.

At 99 meters, the Campanile is the tallest structure in the city; a particularly good vantage point for viewing the cupolas of the San Marco basilica, as well as the city and surrounding lagoon. Sometimes in the evening, the lagoon is so clear that one can see for miles! Even if you don't go up to the top, it's worth just standing at the base of this historic bell tower and staring up trying to get a peek at its very top.
Basilica di San Marco

5) Basilica di San Marco (must see)

The monument which draws the largest crowds in Venice, the Basilica di San Marco was built in 832 AD to house the relics of the city’s patron saint brought here from Egypt. Legend states that two Venetian merchants took the holy man’s body from its shrine in Alexandria and hid it in barrels of pork as they knew that the Muslim guards would not touch anything having to do with swine. This was seen as a stroke of genius, since it allegedly prevented the precious relic from being desecrated by the Muslim rulers of Egypt. St Mark himself was said to have been greeted by an angel who appeared to him on the night he took shelter in the lagoon, with the words “Peace be with you Mark, my Evangelist. Here shall your body rest”. The legend inspired many works of art, but it’s at least as likely that the theft was ordered to raise the prestige of Venice as one of the world's greatest cities, with one of the holiest relics.

As two more centuries went by, a new sumptuous church was built on the foundations of the earlier one and was consecrated when St. Mark’s body was placed in a tomb beneath the high altar. This new basilica was modeled after the celebrated Church of the Apostles in Constantinople; as such, for all intents and purposes, it was a Byzantine church. To enhance its opulence, the structure was subsequently clothed in marble and mosaic depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments and the lives of Christ, the Virgin Mary and St Mark. The best time to visit, then, is around midday when all the golden mosaics adorning the vaults, walls and cupolas are illuminated and at their most magnificent.

Entry in the basilica is free but you can pay the small fee to skip the line and book a time slot. Inside, there are a number of things that you can pay separately to see – namely, the Golden Altar, the Museum, the Treasury, and the Crypt. It's also definitely worth paying to go up to the first level just to see the interior and the square outside from a higher vantage point, or you might want to visit on a night tour when the basilica is closed to the public and you can pretty much have the entire space to yourself.

Why You Should Visit:
Exceptionally beautiful blend of Byzantine and Western art!
The grandiosity of the mosaics and the wealth of the 'treasure room' will make you realize how powerful Venice was in its golden days.

The lights are on only for limited times during the day (11:30-12:30) so make sure you time your visit so you can see/appreciate the beauty of the mosaics.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5pm; Sun: 2-4pm (until 5pm during the summer months)
Torre dell'orologio

6) Torre dell'orologio (must see)

In a Piazza filled with iconic Venetian buildings, this remarkable Renaissance clock tower holds its own. Its base has always been a favorite meeting point for Venetians as it marks the entrance to the ancient Merceria, one of the busiest streets in Venice, now home to both high-end boutiques and trinket shops.

The tower's clock itself was made the official timekeeper of Venice as far back as 1858. It notably not only tells the time but is also an aid to the astrologer, matching the zodiac signs with the position of the sun. A gruesome legend relates that the makers of the clock slaved away for 3 years at their project, only to have their eyes put out so that they couldn’t reproduce their engineering marvel for other patrons. To compensate, however, it is said they have received a generous pension from grateful Venetians.

Above the clock face you will see, against a field of golden stars, the winged lion of St Mark, which is the symbol of Venice, to be found virtually everywhere across the city. On the level below the winged lion is a statue of the Virgin Mary and Baby Jesus who also seem to be watching over Piazza San Marco.

The two men striking the bell at the extreme top of the clock tower are one of the most characteristic Venetian scenes. They originally represented two European shepherds, but after having been reproduced in bronze, they’ve grown significantly darker as time went by and, as a consequence, they came to be called “Moors” by the locals. If the movement of the Moors seems slow in today’s fast-paced world, remember how many centuries these unfortunates have been at their task without a day off.

All this is obviously for free; except if you climb the tower, in which case you may book one of the two daily English-language tours, each limited to 12 people. Your guide will show you the secret door, then you will climb the steps stopping at every level all the way to the top, which offers great views of the clock mechanism and the San Marco square.
Cafe Lavena

7) Cafe Lavena

Established in 1750 café lLavena has its origins in the popular Venice of the 17th century. As the other cafés of St Mark's Square, Lavena equally had its part in intellectual life in the city. The person who gave lustre to Caffé Lavena, patronizing it from his first coming to Venice and becoming an habitual customer, was the composer Richard Wagner. Almost every day from five to six in the afternoon, Wagner used to visit Caffé Lavena and stay for half an hour, conversing very often with the owner Carlo Lavena.

Other famous persons that has frequented Caffé Lavena include the Venetian violinist Raphael Frontalli, famous composers and writers along with the current plethora of famous and not so famous movie stars that visits during the annual Venice Film Festival. Café Lavena is a great place to sip coffee with your loved one in a sunny afternoon and watch the world go by.
Procuratie Vecchie

8) Procuratie Vecchie

The Procuratie (literally, "procuracies") are three connected buildings on St Mark's Square in a U shaped configuration connected to St Mark's Clocktower. They are historic buildings over arcades, the last of them completed, to finish off the square, under Napoleon's occupation. The oldest of the buildings is the Procuratie Vecchie on the north side of the Square, built as a two-storey structure in the twelfth century, to house the offices and apartments of the procurators of San Marco.

The two levels have 100 small round arches resting on the porch, nowadays used mainly for shops, cafes and restaurants. The original design was made by Mauro Codussi, which still betrays something of its Gothic roots, then reconstructed by Jacopo Sansovino and other designers in the 16th century.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Museo Archeologico

9) Museo Archeologico

In 1523 Cardinal Domenico Grimani offered the City of Venice a very important collection of sculptures and antique art pieces, some of which came from ancient Greece, Egypt and Assyria-Babylon. Nowadays, the museum contains bronze sculptures, potteries, jewels and coins. A wonderful lesson in art and history for all - children, students, elders.

The Archaeological Museum is part of the museum complex in Piazza San Marco, thus it has same location and can be visited with single ticket, which includes a visit to the Doge's Palace, Correr Museum, the Archaeological Museum and Monumental Rooms of the Biblioteca Marciana.

Operation Hours: Daily: November - March 10 am - 5 pm; April - October 10 am - 7 pm.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Cafe Florian

10) Cafe Florian

Cafe Florian is the oldest cafe in Italy, providing its services from 1720. Due to its prestigious position it is almost a symbol of Venice. It was the meeting place of artists and poets, writers and politicians. Marble tables and cushion chairs get along also under the arcades and on the piazza where an orchestra plays from the late afternoon. The cafe offers a wide range of unique products, such as different kinds of coffees and teas, room fragrances, accessories.

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