Venice and its Lagoon is my favorite living history museum on the planet.
There is absolutely no place on earth like Venice!
The work of Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese adorn her magnificent buildings. Since Venice is a very popular tourist destination you may want to purchase a museum card or Museum Pass to avoid long lines at key sites in Venice.
Venice Museum Pass: One Reservation for 11 Museums!
The Venice Museum Pass allows visitors the entrance to all Venice Civics Museums such as:
St Mark’s Square Museums (Piazza San Marco): Doge’s Palace, Correr Museum (includes temporary exhibitions), Archaeological Museum, Monumental Rooms of the Marciana Library.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, mainland refugees settled the sparse islands to escape waves of invasions. These residents harvested seafood from the canals of the Adriatic Sea for sustenance. Eventually, they became sailors and then wealthy sea merchants. Even the map looks like a fish. I prefer to stay in the San Marco District where I can lovingly gaze at the Basilica at all hours of the day!
This gateway to the Asia became a major maritime power in the 10th century. Exotic spices like saffron, cinnamon and curry fueled the Venetian Empire. Salt was a crucially important profit center for the Venetians. The term salary is derived from the Venetian practice of being paid in salt. The extraordinary profits earned through trade, filled the coffers of the patrons of the flourishing artists. Marco Polo (1254-1324) was a prominent Venetian explorer who traveled to Asia.
I love the cafes in San Marco Square with the tuxedo-clad musicians. The Caffè Florian opened in 1720. It is the oldest cafe in Italy and has hosted Lord Byron and Casanova. This is the perfect place for a Vino con Vista!
“Founded in the 5th century and spread over 118 small islands, Venice became a major maritime power in the 10th century. The whole city is an extraordinary architectural masterpiece in which even the smallest building contains works by some of the world’s greatest artists such as Giorgione, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and others.” UNESCO
According to legend, in 826 some merchants of Venice made off with the body of St. Mark the Evangelist from the city of Alexandria, Egypt. This is documented on the facade of the Basilica using mosaics on the lunettes over the entrances.
The clever Venetians decided to erect a basilica around the precious relic of the saint. At that time, he was the only Evangelist without a real sanctuary dedicated to him in the Mediterranean area. The new basilica was inspired by that of the Twelve Apostles of Constantinople, then capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. Doge Giustignano Partecipazio commissioned the church in 829 as a fitting place to preserve the mortal remains of St. Mark. Until 1797, the basilica was called the Cappella Ducale.
Piazza San Marco celebrates splendors of a glorious past. The facade of the basilica serves as a backdrop to the elegant square that displays the spoils of war following the conquest of of the Eastern Capital in 1204. It is in the Sestiere (district) that takes its name from the patron saint of Serenissima which also took the symbol of the Evangelist’s winged lion with the book open under one paw.
You can find the elaborate St. Mark’s Basilica with five rounded arched portals on the main floor with magnificent mosaics. The central door (principal portal) has a scene from the Universal Judgement by L. Querena (1836). There is a second row of mosaics on both sides of the horses above the balcony.
Below you can see the detail of the gable showing Venice’s patron apostle St. Mark with angels and the winged lion, by Niccolo Lamberti from the beginning of the 1400s. This is the symbol of the saint and of Venice.
St. Mark spent his adult life in Alexandria, Egypt, the second largest city in the ancient world. He became the first bishop there, founding Christian churches that have continued until today. Even after his martyrdom in AD 68 he was busy performing miracles.
St. Mark’s body was smuggled by Bruno Malamocco and his partner Rustico from Alexandria. During 828, disobeying the rule imposing a trade embargo against Saracens, they landed with their ships in Alexandria. They wrapped San Marco’s dead body in a pig skin hiding It from the Islamic guards at the harbor. Despite the storms hitting the ships on the way back, St. Mark protected the sailors who landed in Venice where the Doge and the population were waiting to start the celebrations.
On the west facade of St. Mark’s Basilica, four mosaics portray the story of how St. Mark came to Venice.
The lower level lunettes, shows San Marco’s body (the first two mosaics); the Universal Judgement (the central mosaic), San Marco’s veneration and the Basilica (the last two mosaics on the left side). From right to left the mosaics are – Removal or stealing the body of St. Mark in Alexandria (1660), Arrival of St. Mark in Venice (1660), The Doge and people receiving and paying homage to the remains of St. Mark (1728) and St. Mark is carried in procession into the basilica (1260-70).
“Removal of St. Mark’s body from Alexandria”
Arrival of St. Mark in Venice
The Doge and people receive the remains of St. Mark
“St. Mark is carried in a procession into the basilica”
The upper level of mosaics in the lunettes of the lateral arches has scenes from the Life of Chris. In the upper register, from the top of ogee arches, statues of Theological and Cardinal Virtues, four Warrior Saints, Constantine, Demetrius, George, Theodosius and St Mark watch over the city.
Above the large central window of the façade, under St Mark, the Winged Lion (his symbol) holds the book quoting “Pax Tibi Marce Evangelista Meus” (Peace to you Mark my Evangelist).
The higher set of lunettes by the horses has four more mosaics representing scenes of Jesus life: the deposition from the cross, the descent into limbo, the resurrection and ascension of Christ. These mosaics are by A. Gaetano based upon drawings by Maffeo da Verona between 1617-1618.
“Deposition from the Cross” on the Western Facade
“Descent into Limbo”
“Ascension of Christ”
In the center of the balcony, above the main arch, the famous four Greek bronze horses face the square. The originals were brought from Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade and are displayed in the Museum of the Basilica on the second floor. Napoleon took the horses to Paris on December 17, 1797 and they were returned to Venice in 1815.
There are many treasures inside the church. Visit the Sacristy and the museum.The Treasure of St. Mark’s is the richest documentation of gold and silver work, precious stones, ornamental glass and paintings, the most refined items produced for the churches and buildings of Constantinople and the most precious pieces created for the glory of St. Mark’s by Venetian craftsmen.
Pay extra to see the Golden Altarpiece; an incredible masterpiece of Medieval Venetian goldsmiths! The Pala d’Oro, the retable of the high altar of the church which glorifies the Evangelist and contains his relics.
The Pala d’Oro: This golden, jewel-encrusted altarpiece was first commissioned in 976 and completed in 1342. It depicts the life of Christ and has plaques depicting Empress Irene, the Virgin Mary, and Doge Ordelaffo Falier (who had the original likeness of Emperor John Comnenus changed into a portrait of himself). Diamonds, emeralds, rubies and topaz give a third dimension to angels, prophets, evangelists and portraits of Oriental emperors.
Saint Mark is represented the winged lion surmounting one of the tall 12th century granite columns. If you don’t want to wait in line, Get tickets for the Basilica San Marco at
Look for the Acre Pillars that show the Four Tetrarchs, a Porphyry sculpture portraying the four Tetrarchs or Roman Emperors. In an attempt to generate stability in the Roman Empire after the crisis of the third century, Emperor Diocletian imposed a new Imperial office structure: a four co-emperor ruling plan called The Tetrarchy. They are holding each other in a tight embrace to symbolize the unity of the Empire and to represent the interdependence of the four rulers.: Diocletian, Maximillian, Galerius and Constantius Chlorus.
It probably originally decorated two separate pillars in Constantinople but was plundered by the Venetians during the Fourth Crusade in 1204. Part of the missing foot of one of the figures was discovered in Istanbul (near the Bodrum Mosque) in the 1960s, where it is still on display, clarifying the original location of the work.
This enchanting city is an architectural masterpiece with domes, spires and campaniles. St. Mark’s basilica and the Doge’s Palace constitute the fulcrum of Venetian religious and civic life.
Inside San Marco the mosaics tell a magnificent story about Jesus and the Evangelists
The baptistery from 1350 by has a large font executed by Tiziano Mineo and Francesco Segala who did the statue of Saint John the Baptist in 1575. This charming place and full of hidden treasures. Look for the tomb of the doge Andrea Dandolo, who gave the Baptistery its current appearance during the 14th century.
This doge was the last to be buried in St Mark’s Basilica and his tomb is a masterpiece of Gothic sculpture: the work of De Sanctis, it is decorated with beautiful three-dimensional engravings representing the Martyrdom of Saint Andrew and Saint John the Evangelist, with a body of the doge lying on the urn.
In the centre of the room stands a beautiful baptismal font in marble and bronze, by the famous Renaissance sculptor Jacopo Sansovino.
He made a bas-relief on the cover with eight sectors representing four scenes from the life of John the Baptist and the four Evangelists, and on top a statue of St. John the Baptist (by Francesco Segala). In the dome above the font, Christ sends the Apostles to proclaim the good news; surrounding Christ you can witness the Apostles baptizing people from various countries. The dome above the altar contains the mosaic “Christ in Glory” and the pendentives show the figures of the four Doctors of the Latin Church. The splendid mosaics chronicles the life of John the Baptist, and stands among the splendid scene of the dance of Salome.
The altar consists of a large boulder of red granite, brought here from Tiro in 1126 and Christ speaks to the crowds.
I can’t get enough of Saint Mark’s Square! Saint Mark’s Square (Piazza San Marco) is the location of some of the major attractions in Venice:
- The Campanile Bell Tower is shown below. It once acted as a beacon for seafarers. You can take an elevator to the top for the best view over the city and its lagoon!
The original construction began in 888 on a Roman foundation. On July 14, 1902, it was damaged by fire and earthquakes and the bell tower collapsed. The reconstruction began immediately, and the new bell tower, identical to the previous one, was inaugurated on April 25, 1912; the Feast Day of St. Mark. The tower is surmounted by a gilded angel who serves as a weather vane. At the foot of the tower, there is a loggia by Sansovino built between 1537-1549. There are 4 statues that represent: Apollo, Mercury, Peace and Minerva referencing the virtues of the Venetian Republic.
2. The Clock Tower was built by Mauro Coducci between 1496 and 1499. It is known as St Mark’s Clocktower or the Moors’ Clocktower because od the dark patina of the bronze statues. The two Moors surmount the tower; the bronze figures were cast by Ambrogio de la Anchore in 1497. It displays the time of day, the dominant sign of Zodiac and the current phase of the moon. The clock fulfilled a practical role in what was historically a mighty maritime empire.
Seafarers setting out from the Grand Canal could rely on this timepiece to decide the most favorable time for setting out to sea. In 1858, it was made the official timekeeper of Venice – to which every other clock should be set.
The clock’s facade portrays three pillars of the Serene Republic’s power: scientific progress, civic enlightenment and Christian faith. There is a representation of the Lion of San Marco, symbolizing the power and wisdom of the ruling fathers of the Republic. The Magi paying homage to Christ symbolize the Christian faith. The complex machinery of the timepiece itself represents Venice’s triumphs in the fields of mechanics and science.
The main clock face consists of a number of concentric dials. The outermost displays numbers 1 to 24 in Roman numerals – a hand decorated with an image of the sun pointing to the hour. A second dial shows the 12 signs of the zodiac; these are illuminated in gilt gilt on an enamel blue background. The inner dials (also gilt on blue) show the phases of the moon and sun. The clock also moves a display above the face, where a niche with the Madonna and baby Jesus sits between two displays: here we see the hours in Roman numerals; the minutes are show in Hindu-Arabic numerals. At certain points during the day, Virgin and Child emerge to rotate and then hide away once again. During Ascension week and Epiphany, another treat is in store for visitors, as statues of the Three Wise Men emerge to pass in front of Mary and Jesus.
3. Tour the Flamboyant Gothic Palazzo Ducale http://palazzoducale.visitmuve.it
The commission was awarded to Antonio Da Ponte, the architect of the Rialto Bridge. In October 1866, the annexation of Venice to the Kingdom of Italy was proclaimed from this balcony built by Pier Paolo and Jacobello Dalle Masegne in 1404. The balcony is surmounted by a statue of Justice. Doge Andrea Gritti kneels before the symbol of Venice, the Winged Lion under Justice by Alessandro Vittoria.
Ascend the barrel-vaulted Golden Staircase designed by Sansovino in 1538 for Doge Andrea Gritti. The interior of the Doges’ Palace is cloaked in masterpieces by Tintoretto. I love Il Paradiso shown below.
The Doge Palace complex comprises three main structures. The most ancient wing, which includes the imposing Sala del Maggior Consiglio hall, overlooks the Grand Canal and was started in 1340. The wing on St Mark’s square dates back to 1424. The wing which houses the Doge’s apartment was built between 1483 and 1565, in this period the monumental courtyard was completely renovated.
Until the beginning of the 17th century, the palace also contained a prison, known as Piombi (usually translated The Leads in English) from the roofing material once covering it. It was then moved in the adjacent Prigioni Nove building and in 1614, it was connected to the Doge’s Palace by the famous Bridge of Sighs. The Ponte dei Sospiri, alludes to the “sighing” of the prisoners passing though it.
The Doge’s Palace of Venice is also an art museum; paintings and frescoes by Gentile da Fabriano, Carpaccio, Titian, Andrea Palladio, Tintoretto, Giambattista Tiepolo, and Veronese. There are also decorative arts and furniture.
Neptune offers Venice the gifts of the sea by Tiepolo at Palazzo Ducale
On the ground floor, in the former kitchen spaces of the building, the palace houses the Museo dell’Opera which presents the long history of the building and its historical development through a number of original architectural elements, capitals, friezes, and other sculptural decorations.
The museum complex also has a bookshop and a cafe.
Visit the Courtyard of the Doges’ Palace.
The Staircase of the Giants at the Doge’s Palace in Venice was the official entrance to the Doge’s Palace and was built between 1483 and 1491 and designed by Antonio Rizzo.
Its name derives from the two marble statues by Sansovino depicting Mars and Neptune, placed here in 1567, which represented the power and dominion of Venice on the mainland (Mars) and the sea (Neptune).
The monumental staircase connects the courtyard to the first floor where the ceremony of the Doge’s coronation took place. Doge Marino Falier was beheaded here on charges of high treason on April 17, 1355.
According to the legend, the two statues of Mars and Neptune were built so large in order to diminish the figure of the Doge at his coronation as a reminder that, after the sad story of Marino Falier, the Doge was a man like other men, and punishable!
The Museo Correr charts the history of Venice from the 13th to the 16th century through its collection of paintings, prints, coins, weapons and military regalia.
There are 15 rooms devoted to the Risorgimento, plus the Libreria Sansoviniana.
There is Crucifixion a painting by the Italian Renaissance painter Giovanni Bellini, created around 1455–1460. It is housed in the Museo Correr in Venice. The work was originally in the church of San Salvador of Venice, and is part of the Mantegna-influenced phase of Bellini’s early career.
Gentile’s Portrait of Doge Mocenigo.
MADONNA COL BAMBINO by Jacobello del Fiore
Look for Vittore Carpaccio’s Two Venetian Ladies.
Cosmè Tura: La Pietà (Museo Correr)
There are also paintings by Luca Cranach and Hugo Van der Goes.
Along the Grand Canal, there are many palaces that you can visit that are embellished with Baroque magnificence and elegant Rococo detail. Some of the notable attractions include the lavishly adorned palazzi like Ca d’Oro.
Many elegant palazzi have been converted to museums. Ca d’Oro is open from Tuesday – Sunday (8:15 am to 7:15 pm); Monday- 8:15 am to 2 pm.
This beautiful palace is located on the Grand Canal; Ca d Oro means the ‘golden house’ as the walls of the palace once had a gilt and polychrome exteriors. However, today it is a white façade and was built for the Contarini family in 1430. It was designed by Giovanni Bon and his son Bartolomeo Bon, it is one of the best preserved palazzi of 15th century. There are sculptures, tapestries, furniture, bronze collection and paintings by Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Van Dyck, Giorgione, and Jan Steen.
Ca’ Rezzonicone is another elegant palace on the Grand Canal.
The Ca’ Rezzonico http://carezzonico.visitmuve.it has also been converted into a museum.
The palace houses the Museum of 18th-century Venice was built at the behest of the Bon family, one of the old noble families of the town. Halfway through the 17th century Filippo Bon commissioned the building from the most famous architect of his time, Baldassare Longhena, who also built Ca’ Pesaro and the basilica of La Salute.
In 1750 Giambattista Rezzonico, whose family had recently received a noble title by paying a large sum of money, bought the building and commissioned Giorgio Massari, the fashionable architect of the time, to complete the project. The palazzo took the name of the Rezzonico family. It was completed in just 6 years, in time to celebrate in 1758 when Carlo, Giambattista’s son, was elected pope under the name of Clement XIII.
Gondolas and Vaporetti (water buses) transport residents and exuberant tourists through paradise via waterways. Near the train station, you will see the church of San Simeone Piccolo with a huge copper dome surmounted by a statue of Christ the Redeemer.
There are about 120 churches in historic Venice, or roughly one for every 500 people. Before Napoleon went on a church-and monastery-demolishing spree, there were even more. There are plenty of churches that I like to visit where you can admire spectacular Venetian art; some of Venice’s greatest works of art are still displayed exactly where they were meant to be seen.
- The gorgeous church of Santa Maria della Salute (1631/32–1687) has a prime location on the mouth of the Grand Canal. Longhena’s masterpiece, was commissioned by the Republic to thank God for deliverance from the plague of 1630.
Longhena’s unique design called for an octagonal church. The church has a huge dome; sculptured figures standing on spirals act as its buttresses. The columns and arches are placed to guide the visitor’s eyes to the chapels and other units of design, almost as if it were a theater.
Jacopo Tintoretto’s Wedding Feast at Cana is on the wall in the sacristy of the church of the Salute.
The church is also a treasure trove of works of art: in the sacristy of the Basilica, there are three paintings made by Titian for the central section of the ceiling of the once-existing church of Santo Spirito in Isola, depicting Abraham and Isaac, David and Goliath and the Murder of Abel. The figures reveal the influences of Michelangelo’s style that Titian admired.
Titian’s Cain and Abel.
Titian’s Abraham and Isaac: An angel stops Abraham from killing his son Isaac.
The Feast of the Salute is an annual event like the Feast of the Redeemer. Similarly to the Redeemer Feast (Redentore), the Salute Feast commemorates the ending of the 1630-31 plague and the Doge’s vow for the intercession of the Virgin Mary.
1 Tomb of Pietro Bernardo
2 Tomb of Titian
3 Monks’ Choir
4 Tomb of Iacopo Marcello
5 Tomb of Beato Pacifico
6 Memorial to Benedetto Pésaro
7 Monument to Paolo Savelli
9 Chapter House
10 Chapel of St Massimiliano Kolbe
11 Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin
12 Tomb of Doge Nicolo Tron
13 Tomb of Doge Francesco Foscari
14 Cappella Cornaro Piscopia
15 Cappella Emiliani
16 Monument of Bishop Jacopo Pésaro
17 Tomb of Doge Giovanni Pésaro
18 Tomb of Canova
The long cruciform interior is pinned together by wooden tie beams, which visually not only unite the vast space, but add an interesting abstract quality to the run-of-the-mill Gothic aisle bays and ceiling. On ground level, the eye is drawn through the arch of the monks’ choir in the nave to Titian’s vividly colored Assumption in the sanctuary.
Napoleon took the altarpiece (then painted on a wooden panel) to Paris, but after 20 years, in 1817, it was returned to the church and transferred to canvas, a laborious and delicate operation, necessary when the wood was warping or rotting, that involved planing off the wood from behind until only the paint and an infinitesimally thin layer of wood remained. It was restored again in 1971.
- You may want to visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection www.guggenheim-venice.it inside the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.
Located on Venice’s Grand Canal between Santa Maria della Salute and the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is one of Europe’s premier museums devoted to modern art and is the second most frequently visited museum in Venice. At the core of the museum’s holdings is Peggy Guggenheim’s personal collection of 20th-century art comprised of masterpieces ranging in style from Cubism and Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection also exhibits other works owned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, presents temporary exhibitions, and manages and operates the U.S. Pavilion of the Venice Biennale.
2. I love Gallerie dell’Accademia www.gallerieaccademia.org inside the Scuola Grande de la Carita.
Paolo Veronese, The Feast in the House of Levi was too sensuous to be called The Last Supper.
The Gallerie dell’Accademia is a museum gallery of pre-19th-century art. It is housed in the Scuola della Carità on the south bank of the Grand Canal.
I love Canova’s lion.
One of my favorites is Giovanni Bellini’s The Annunciation; a two-part oil on canvas.
It was originally the gallery of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, the art academy of Venice, from which it became independent in 1879, and for which the Ponte dell’Accademia and the Accademia boat landing station for the vaporetto water bus are named.
Venice and its Lagoon is a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Italy
Ca’ d’Oro, Venice facade.
There are four bridges to cross the canal: the Ponte dell’Accademia, the Rialto Bridge (the oldest and most famous of the bridges), Ponte degli Scalzi (the Bridge of the Barefoot) and Ponte della Costituzione.
Walk to the top of the Bridge of Sighs for a great view of the lagoon.
On the other side of the lagoon, you can meander around the Castello neighborhood where you will find the churches of Santa Maria dei Miracoli and San Zaccaria. While you are there, visit the Church of San Giovanni in Bragora.
I love to visit the islands: Burano is famous for its lace; Murano for glass; Pellestrina, has sand dunes and Torcello, my personal favorite is one of the oldest human settlements in the area.
More than St Mark’s, or any other Venetian building, Santa Maria Assunta, the city’s first cathedral on the island of Torcello shows the difficult balance between Byzantine and Italian styles that was sought in local architecture on the threshold of the Middle Ages. Begun in 639, the church assumed its current form in the early 11th-century.
Dr. EveAnn Lovero writes Travel Guides. To learn more about Venice and Northern Italy read www.vino-con-vista.com Travel Guides
Available at Amazon.com:
- The Ten Most Seductive Places to Drink Wine in Italy (vinoconvistablog.me)
- Wine and Food Festivals in Italy (wine-festivals.vinoconvistablog.com)
- Carnival of Venice Italy: Elaborate Masks and Costumes Prevail (vinoconvistablog.me)