THE GREAT HEART OF VENICE
A practical guide to St. Mark’s Square, described by many as “the most beautiful salon in the world”.
St. Mark’s Square is a true jewel of architecture that astounds visitors year-round with its magical colours, exciting events (the traditional Feast of St. Mark is celebrated on 25 April) and numerous shops and restaurants that are just waiting to be discovered!
Described by many as “the most beautiful salon in the world”, St. Mark’s Square has been the great heart of Venice through the ages, thanks to its historic cafés and its atmosphere enlivened by the music of its small orchestras. So much to see and do! But if you’re pressed for time, don’t worry, we have prepared a practical guide to help you make the most of your visit, and you can also use this guide for your next trip to the lagoon. Read on!
SIGHTSEEING FROM ABOVE
Before we begin, let’s make one thing clear. Don’t be alarmed if someone uses the term ‘procuratie’ when giving you directions. The Procuratie are simply the buildings surrounding the three sides of St. Mark’s Square and they are divided into the Procuratie Vecchie to the north, the Napoleonic Wing to the west and the Procuratie Nuove to the south. You’ve just arrived and can’t wait to see the lagoon? Excellent! Head to St. Mark’s Square where you can ascend to the top of the Bell Tower (using the convenient elevator which is open from 9am to 9pm).
St. Mark's bell tower or Campanile soars 100 metres over the square, offering a commanding view over the lagoon, a view that you are unlikely to find anywhere else. The bell tower was formerly a lighthouse used to guide sailors. It is here that Venice’s annual Carnival event kicks off with the ‘flight of the angel’ when a young girl wearing traditional costume ‘flies’ from the top of St. Mark’s bell tower to a stage on the opposite side of the square, marking the beginning of the extravaganza with a series of performances and events.
Another lookout point, located just a few metres away, is on the terraces of the Basilica of San Marco. Taking photographs of the mosaics inside the Basilica is forbidden, but you can have fun taking ‘selfies in front with the exquisitely carved bronze horses and columns of San Marco IN THE SHADE OF THE BELL TOWER
In the 14th century, the area surrounding
St. Mark’s bell tower was filled with stalls selling handicrafts and wine. In order to avoid the heat, these vendors would frequently move their tables into the shade of the bell tower, meaning that it was customary to say “Andèmo bèver al’ombra” (“let’s go and drink in the shade”).
Over time, in local dialect, this phrase became “Andèmo bèver un’ombra”(Let’s go and drink a
shade), where the meaning of the term ‘ombra’ (shade) indicated a glass of wine. This invitation is still commonly used today by many Venetians when inviting a friend to share a drink.
and San Todaro in the background. If you’re a good photographer, you’re likely to get some amazing shots! The terraces of San Marco will also enable you to get a close-up of the details of the beautiful façade of the nearby Palazzo Ducale. In fact, even those of you who are not well-versed in the intricacies of architecture will be awestruck by its elaborate details and decorations… we can assure you that it’s really worth standing in line to admire its overwhelming beauty!
Particularly noteworthy is the Scala dei Giganti at the ancient Doge’s palace, named for the two enormous statues positioned on either side of it. Don’t miss the Scala d'Oro, lavishly decorated with frescoes and golden stuccoes. Before descending from its terraces, turn around and head in the opposite direction of Palazzo Ducale until you come to the Clock Tower. Two large bronze figures known as ‘Moors’ stand on its roof. These figures are driven by a mechanism allowing them to pivot and strike the large bronze bell situated between them with a hammer to mark the hour. The Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana (Piazzetta S. Marco 7) completes the treasures of St. Mark’s Square. This is one of the largest libraries in Italy, and the most important in Venice. It originated when the Italian scholar and poet Francesco Petrarca bequeathed his books to the Republic in 1362. Another absolute ‘must’ is a visit to the Museo Correr (which organizes a number of tours dedicated to the Art and History of Venice), and the Museo Archeologico Nazionale (which shares its entrance with the Correr Museum, Napoleonic Wing). Please note: if you have time to visit all the museums in St. Mark’s Square, you can purchase a single ticket that is valid for the Doge’s Palace and the combined itinerary of the Museo Correr, the Museo Archeologico Nazionale and the Monumental Rooms of the Marciana National Library. Tickets cost €19 and can be purchased online at correr.visitmuve.it.
Finally, whilst in the area, don’t miss a visit to one of Venice smallest yet utterly delectable treasures, the Negozio Olivetti. This gem of architecture is located just a short distance from the entrance to the Correr Museum.
Italian entrepreneur Adriano Olivetti, whose dream was to create a modern showroom to showcase the famous Ivrea-based company’s typewriters and calculators, commissioned architect Carlo Scarpa to design the building in 1957. Today, the museum/store, which is protected by FAI (the Italian National Trust), has been restructured and restored to its original splendour showcasing its precious collection of vintage typewriters and calculators (www. negoziolivetti.it).
SHOPPING IN STYLE
If time is not a factor, you can take a leisurely stroll amidst the city’s numerous ‘calli’, in search of Venice’s most picturesque artisanal ‘botteghe’. However, if you’re pressed for time and don’t want to miss out on the best that the city has to offer, then these are our choices of go-to addresses: Calle Vallaresso, Calle XXII Marzo, Calle Frezzeria and, naturally, the arcades of St. Mark’s Square. These places are home to the top luxury brands of Italian and international fashion, including Chanel, Prada, Hermès, Salvatore Ferragamo, Gucci, Michael Kors, Versace, Giorgio Armani… and also the world’s most coveted jewelry and watch brands, including Damiani, Rocca 1794, Tiffany & Co., Salvadori, Pomellato and IWC Schaffhausen (to mention a few). While in the area, you can visit several traditional Venetian boutiques such as the Antonia Sautter Atelier, a magical place filled with all types of exquisite masks and costumes, which are in great demand, especially at Carnival time (www. antoniasautter.it), and the Bugno Art Gallery in Campo San Fantin (www.bugnoartgallery). Also worthy of note are the sublime glass art of Venini (venini.com), lying next to the Basilica of San Marco, and the exquisite perfumery of
The Merchant of Venice. Although the latter has several boutiques, the one nearest St. Mark’s Square is located in Campo San Fantin, just steps from the La Fenice opera house (www.themerchantofvenice.com). If you’re not too tired after all your shopping, head to the Mercerie, a trio of tiny, interconnecting streets between St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto bridge. These narrow passageways were once the centre of day-to-day trade in Venice, and they still teem with vendors selling their wares - jewelry, masks, costumes and souvenirs. A real shopping mecca where you can find almost anything your heart desires!
DINING AROUND THE SQUARE
Three of Venice’s most historic and famous cafés, including Florian, Quadri and Lavena, hold place of pride in St. Mark’s Square. Over the centuries, writers, poets, musicians and famous people from all over the world have patronized these cafés and, even today, they are must-visit stopovers for those wishing to take a trip back in time. During the warmer months, you can savour the experience, while relaxing on their traditional outdoor chairs
(the chairs of each café are a different colour) sipping a traditional ‘Spritz’. The atmosphere is further enhanced by the soothing music emanating from the small orchestras that are always present.
For connoisseurs wishing to experience all the authenticity of Venice’s famous cuisine, we suggest several venues where you can sample genuine flavours. Our pick includes the Antico ALL IN ONE
Left to right: the ancient mosaics of the Basilica of San Marco, the details of the Clock Tower (below), an amazing feat of engineering, the timeless history of the Negozio Olivetti. Bottom, the splendid Procuratie with its shops, museums and typical restaurants: a multitude of emotions encapsulated in just one square!
A MIXTURE OF MAGICAL ATMOSPHERES AND TRADITION You cannot leave Venice without indulging in at least one of its typical traditions. Absolute ‘musts’ include sitting at the outdoor tables of its historic cafés in St. Mark’s Square while listening to the soothing music played by its orchestras, taking a romantic gondola ride on its canals or enjoying a concert at Teatro La Fenice, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks (top right). Martini, situated next to Teatro La Fenice (www. anticomartini.it). Just a little further on, another excellent and picturesque location is Vino Vino, a tavern and wine bar since 1720 (Ponte delle Veste, 2007/a). A more contemporary setting, serving traditional Venetian fare, can be found at the Osteria San Marco (osteriasanmarco.it) while, just a short distance away, near Calle dei Fabbri, you can sample the flavours of bygone days at the undeniably romantic Bistrot de Venise (www.bistrotdevenise.com). If, however, you’re in search of a more international, ‘edgy’ venue, then the Hard Rock Café (Bacino Orseolo 1192 - www.hardrock.com/cafes/venice) is your go-to address. Finally, Venetian landmark Harry’s Bar, deserves a special mention (www. harrysbarvenezia.com). The favourite haunt of the jet set since it first opened, Harry’s
Bar continues to be ‘the’ destination for VIP watching, and it goes without saying that the best cocktail to order is a Bellini, a cocktail made from a mixture of prosecco and white peaches.
ENTERTAINMENT & MORE
Located just steps from St. Mark’s Square, it is imperative to visit the famous Teatro La Fenice which, like the bird after which it is named, rose twice from the ashes. The theater is generally open daily for tours from 9.30am to 6pm, although variations in the schedule may occur due to artistic or technical reasons. Numerous productions are staged throughout the year. Upcoming events include a concert by Jeffrey Tate (7 and 9 April), Lucia di Lammermoor by Gaetano Donizetti (from 21 April to 2 May) and Leonidas Kavakos (24 April, www.festfenice.com). For those who prefer something trendier, we recommend a special tour known as the ‘Bacaro Tour’.
This ‘Venetian pub crawl’ takes you on an expedition of several locations where you can sample a selection of tasty Venetian ‘cicchetti’ made from fish, meat or vegetables, accompanied by a glass of wine or a Spritz. Otherwise, an excellent address is Campo Ss. Filippo e Giacomo, where you can choose from among an array of venues that will not disappoint! For the more romantic, an absolute must is a gondola ride along the nearby canals.
But those in search of something a little more daring should opt for a helicopter tour of the lagoon: Heliar Venice offers different tours catering to different tastes (www.heliairvenice.it). Take your pick!
TEATRO LA FENICE. PHOTO: © MICHELE CROSERA