The heart of Venice is where the action takes place and also happens to be one of the most historic parts of this beautiful river city.
St. Mark’s Square (or Piazza San Marco in Italian) is the main public square in Venice, Italy – although it is usually simply referred to as “the Piazza” or “the Square”. As the beating heart of the city, any essential weekend itinerary for Venice will inevitably lead to the square.
Venice is famous for its gondola rides along its beautiful canals, one can decide whether these are tourist traps or romantic highlights of the visit. Venice is an expensive destination, so if you’re on a budget, plan ahead! At least the visit to Piazza San Marco is free!
Venice and the history of St. Mark’s Square
In Venice, all other urban spaces (except Piazzetta and Piazzale Roma) are called fields (campi). Piazzetta (meaning “little square”) is just an extension of the main square. These two spaces form the social, political and religious center of Venice and are generally considered together.
- Or: In the heart of Venice
- Cut: 590 feet (180 meters) by 230 feet (70 meters)
The square is often considered one of the most beautiful in the world. It is often claimed that Napoleon (without proof) called the Piazza San Marco “the drawing room of Europe”.
The square contains Venice’s most famous buildings, including St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. The most famous buildings in the square:
- St. Mark’s Basilica: Dominates the eastern end
- The Doge’s Palace
- The Museo Campanile (bell tower of the basilica)
The square was first established in the 9th century with its current size and shape in 1177, but remained unpaved for another hundred years.
Horses of Saint Mark
During Venice’s heyday, there were four sculpted horses that presided over the square. They were such powerful symbols of Venetian power that the Genoese rival declared in 1379 that there could be no peace between enemies until they were subdued. Naturally, when Napoleon paraded 400 years later, ending the Republic of Venice, he had them dismantled and shipped to Paris.
- Attach : In their history, the horses of Saint Mark have been exhibited in Constantinople, Venice, Paris and Venice again
They had been plundered by the Venetians during the treacherous sacking of Constantinople in 1204. They had long been on display at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. After the French defeat in 1815, they were forced to return them and today they are in Vence.
To see the originals made just inside the basilica where they have been moved to protect them from air pollution. Outside you can see exact replicas.
Floods in the Acqua Alta
Venice is famous for its lowliness – it was founded by Roman refugees seeking refuge in its marshy lowlands from barbarian invasions. And the square is the lowest point in Venice. Several times a year, the place is flooded when there is a “Acqua Alta” or ” high water “. Venice is often flooded and the square is one of the first parts to be flooded, when this happens wooden walkways are laid for people.
- Flood: Flooding of St. Mark’s Square during Acqua Alta
Attractions and things to look out for
Once in the piazza, look up from the upper balcony of the Torre dell’ Orologio (Clock Tower) and see two bronze figures (representing Moors) chiming the hour. On special weekdays of Ascension and Epiphany, three statues of the Three Kings will also be seen emerging from the clock tower. These are presided over by an angel when they strike the hour.
- Torre del Orologio: See the Moorish figures and the three wise men of the clock tower striking the tower
The columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore in the square are particularly old and bloody. These two columns of granite and marble were placed there in 1172 and public executions took place between the pillars in bad weather.
- Executions: Formerly, executions took place between the columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore
Visit the square after dusk and see the square come alive in spring and summer and enjoy the various bands playing their live music.
- Cafe Florian: One of the oldest bars in Italy (est. 1720 and has been offering live music for 100 years)
Point: The cheapest drink at Caffee Florian is around €10 or $11
Don’t feed yourself or the birds!
If it is forbidden to feed the pigeons in Trafalgar Square in London (risking a fine of $680), it is even more forbidden in St. Mark’s Square. Of course, it is forbidden to litter (like everywhere), but it is also forbidden to eat or drink in the square (as well as to feed the birdies).
- Forbidden: It is forbidden to feed and feed the pigeons on the square
Next: Visiting Venice Beach? Here are some unusual things to do there
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