The day I was at the Piazza San Marco in Venice, it was bustling with large crowds…people had settled like birds wherever they got even a foot of seating space, spreading their bags, food and books around them, slacking off and schmoozing in the ambiance of live music in the vicinity of eager pigeons that are always waiting to be fed. Wonder if this is what Napoleon had in mind when he called the Piazza “the finest drawing room in Europe.”
The Piazza is the principal public square of Venice and has been the social, religious and political center of the city. On the two sides of the Piazza, facing each other are cafes where you can sit and take in the splendor of this incredibly amazing place. In the evenings, each cafe boasts orchestras that the passers-by enjoy for free. There’s actually quite a competition between the orchestras as they challenge each other for the attention of the tourists.
This great square overlooks the lagoon and is a heady mix of spaces, volumes and styles: the Procurator’s residence, the bell tower, the Doge’s Palace and the Sansoviniana library.
After a good dose of slacking, I finally decided to climb the stairs of the Bell Tower or Campanile di San Marco for an aerial view of the city. You can also take an elevator to the top. Although “campanile” means “bell tower,” the Campanile di San Marco did double duty as a military watchtower when it was constructed in the 10th Century.
Did you know that The Campanile was ‘taken over’ briefly by Northern Italian separatists in May, 1997. No one was hurt in the slapstick hijacking by the “Most Serene Venetian Army.”
The other dominant building around St. Mark’s Square is the Doge’s Palace that housed Venice’s rulers for more than six centuries. A beautiful gothic structure, it faces the Venetian lagoon and connects to the adjacent Prigioni Nuove (“New Prisons”) via the Bridge of Sighs.
On the opposite side of St Marks square to the bell tower is the Torre Dell’Orologio – the Clock Tower. The tower holds the large blue clock with golden decorations to represent the signs of the zodiac. On a terrace at the top of the tower are two great bronze figures known as “the Moors” who strike the hours on a bell. One is old and the other young, to show the passing of time.
Below the clock is the archway through which the street known as the Merceria leaves the Piazza on its way to the Rialto.
The centerpiece of the piazza is, of course, the magnificent St. Mark’s Basilica, built in Venetian-Byzantine style, a mixture of western and eastern styles and famous for its huge domes and gilded mosaics. Nicknamed the “Church of Gold” because of its opulence, it has been the seat of the Patriarch of Venice, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Venice.
The exterior of the basilica is quite ornate and has been added to over the centuries. It’s said that whenever Venetian vessels returned from the Orient, they brought something for the basilica.
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