Been to Venice and not seen Piazza San Marco? Simply impossible.
Saint Mark's Square with the Basilica and the Campanile view, Venice, Italy
Some people will tell you that a cultured person should have higher goals to achieve than to visit Saint Mark's Square. That there are numerous churches with art so exquisite that will take your breath away, or that the Venetian museums have no equals in the world. Well, Venice has a lot to offer but my advice is, don't listen to all that so uncritically.
Do not ever feel ashamed of the desire to see the famous Piazza. Everybody goes there? Every single person, even if their stay in Venice is supposed to be no longer than two hours, has to visit the Square? So what? It truly is a must to see, no matter what everybody else is saying.
And it depends on how much time you have how well you will explore the place and its surroundings. And they are really worth every minute spent there.
Let's have a quick look around the Piazza. The Square is more or less rectangular in shape, with several landmarks one cannot pass by indifferently.
Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark's Square) - view from the Campanile, Venice, Italy
The most obvious (and the biggest) is Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark's Basilica).
Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy
The building of the present-day Basilica began in 11th century on the site of the burnt San Marco Church. The erection, together with thorough decoration with mosaics and ornaments, which continued to 17th century, gave the Basilica the look it has nowadays. The Basilica owes its Byzantine and Gothic character to the fact that it had been built throughout several centuries and many parts were added in time, like columns or marble parts which had been brought to Venice from the Orient. Besides, in 13th century the look of the Basilica tried to match the Gothic facades of the Doge's Palace adjoining it.
Basilica di San Marco - domes, arches and marble, Venice, Italy
When you enter the Basilica it's worth to look not only at the golden mosaics on the walls illustrating Saint Marc's life and scenes from the Old and New Testament but also at the tessellated floor and the way its surface is uneven due to the Basilica's construction supported by wooden piles.
When you face the Basilica, the first thing you notice is the Byzantine arches on the facade, ornamented with colourful detailed mosaics.
Basilica di San Marco's arches - Saint Mark's Square, Venice, Italy
Look at the lower one on the right and notice how the moment of stealing Saint Mark's body from Alexandria is illustrated. There you have the men wearing turbans bending over the basket containing the relics. They are clogging their noses because of the smell of the pork put on top of the Saint's body, concealing it.
Basilica di San Marco mosaic - stealing the relics of Saint Mark, Venice, Italy
Saint Mark's Basilica mosaics - Saint Mark's relics - detail - Venice, Italy
If you stand in front of the Basilica, on your right there is Torre dell'Orologio - the Clock Tower.
Torre dell'Orologio (Clock Tower) in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy
Torre dell'Orologio and Procuratie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy
It's good to move a bit away from it to notice on top of the tower the two Moors cast in bronze. It's even better to wait to hear and see them hit the bell with hammers. And the best idea is to wait until midnight when a special mechanism hits the bell 132 times. Then you have a lot of time to admire both the movement of the Moors and the sound, combined with the atmosphere of the illuminated Square. The Clock Tower itself is a wonderful piece of art. The astronomical clock, dating back to 15th century, shows not only the actual time but also the date and an appropriate zodiac sign. Needless to say they are simply beautiful to look at. If you have an opportunity (as well as the time and money to spare) you can go on a tour to the tower, during which you will learn of the parts of the clock's movement and see the Moors at close-up.
Bronze Moors on the Clock Tower in Saint Mark's Square, Venice, Italy
Moors on the Clock Tower - view from Campanile, Venice, Italy
Torre dell'Orologio adjoins the Procuratie Vecchie (Old Procuracies), the offices of Venetian procurators, built at the beginning of 16th century.
Procuratie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy
Opposite it stand the Procuratie Nuove (New Procuracies), built at the end of 16th century.
Procuratie Nuove in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy
In 19th century Napoleon ordered to build the so-called Napoleonic Wing which joined Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove.
Piazza San Marco - the Napoleonic Wing, Venice, Italy
Opposite the Procuratie Nuove, in Piazzetta di San Marco, there is Palazzo Ducale or the Doge's Palace, a wonderful piece of art.
Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace) and the Saint Mark's lion column, Venice, Italy
Palazzo Ducale (Doge's Palace), Venice, Italy
Created in 814, it had been the site of the successive ruling Doges of Venice. You can visit the palace's museum rich in exquisite works of art. It is from there that you can reach the famed Ponte dei Sospiri (the Bridge of Sighs) through which the prisoners were led to the dungeons. And one of the prisoners was once Casanova himself!
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs), Venice, Italy
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) at the Doge's Palace, Venice, Italy
Close to Procuratie Nuove stands the Campanile.
Campanile (Bell Tower) in Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy
The Bell Tower's erection began in 9th century and finished in 12th century. On 14th July 1902 the tower collapsed but 10 years later it was rebuilt, the shape and original details being preserved. You can go upstairs (luckily, there's a lift) to admire the breathtaking panorama of Serenissima. Believe me, it's worth the time spent queuing to get there.
Basilica di San Marco and the Doge's Palace - view from Campanile, Venice, Italy
What you experience mostly when in the Piazza, is the overwhelming crowd of people, flowing constantly here and there. If you like crowds it may be an incredibly interesting experience to find yourself among the international buzz of hundreds of people. If not, there are ways to go around it. Simply come early in the morning or late in the evening and you are sure to find the place much more peaceful so that you can admire it without obstacles.
Basilica di San Marco at night, Venice, Italy
The Campanile (Bell Tower) in Piazza San Marco at night, Venice, Italy
Saint Mark's Basilica and the Campanile in Piazza San Marco at night, Venice, Italy
Piazza San Marco at night, Venice, Italy
Bronze Moors on top of Torre dell'Orologio (Clock Tower) in Saint Mark's Square, Venice, Italy
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) at night, Venice, Italy
If not for the historical, architectural or aestethical benefits, do it just to feel the atmosphere of the Square. It's unforgettable. As Napoleon once described Piazza San Marco, it's "the finest drawing room in Europe." And you wish to come back there again and again.
Piazza San Marco - Campanile, Basilica and Doges Palace - view from San Giorgio Maggiore Campanile, Venice, Italy
Piazza San Marco looks really majestic and you long to see it again the very minute you left it.