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Every city has a nerve centre, and in the case of Venice it is undoubtedly the Piazza San Marco. Apart from being the spot in which some of the main monuments in the city can be found, such as the Palazzo Ducale or the Basilica of San Marco, this square is the epicentre of life in Venice.
Religious and civil acts have been held here for hundreds of years, such as the most astounding celebrations of the Carnival. Today the square is a swarm of tourists who, along with the many pigeons, share the pavement with the Venetians and, in times of acqua alta, the platforms that save them from getting their feet wet.
Its importance dates back to the 9th century, when the Doge, who until then had lived in Malamocco, moved here, turning this point into the centre of government of the Serenissima Republic and, therefore, an essential axis for the administrative, economic, and social development of the city.
To start with the square was divided by the River Batario and was very much smaller. In the 12th century the rio was blocked up and the same was done to the dock that isolated the Palazzo Ducale from the square, which ensured that the space began to grow in length.
The ducal palace and the basilica existed from the 9th century, but gradually took on its imposing appearance through successive reforms, which in the case of the Palazzo Ducale were prolonged until well into the 15th century.
As regards the square itself, it had to wait until the 16th century, when the Republic underwent deep change, for this space to fit in with the commercial and military glory of Venice.
This period recalls the great efforts made by Jacopo Sansovino to give the Piazza San Marco the majesty befitting what it in fact was, the parade ground of this city-state. On these lines, the architect was commissioned to complete the Procuratie Vecchie, on the west side of the square, and he restored the basilica and the Campanile. Another of his splendid interventions was the construction of the Sansoviniana Bookshop in the Piazzeta.
On the east side of the square, the Procuratie Nove were also the work of Vincenzo Scamozzi, who also completed the Sansoviniana Bookshop.
The Piazza San Marco was given another boost in the 18th century that helped give it the majestic appearance it has today: the replacement of the brick paving for another of large trachyte plaques that form intricate geometrical drawings due to the details made with Istrian stone. The man responsible for this reform was Andrea Tirali. Finally, after destroying the church of San Geminiano, the Napoleonic Wing was built between the Procuratie Vecchie and the Procuratie Nuove.
Today the Piazza San Marco is a large, elegant trapezoidal space 170 metres long that houses beneath the arcades of the procuratie, fashion shops and exquisite cafés such as the Florian or the Quadri, which, weather permitting, have an open terrace for visitors with magnificent live music. Nevertheless, you should go with a full wallet, because exclusiveness does not come cheap.
As well as the basilica and the palace of the Doge, in the square you can also go up the Campanile, which provides splendid views of the city, and you will have the chance to visit the Torre dell’Orologio, the Correr Museum and the Archaeological Museum.
Gran Canal (1A)
Chiesa di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari (22)
Palazzo Ducale (6)
Ponte dei Suspiri (10)
Santa Maria della Salute (42)
Basilica de San Giovanni e Paolo (36)
Columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore (8)
Palazzo Grassi (26)
Ponte dell’Accademia (3)
Torre dell’Orologio (9)
Basilica di San Marco (5)
Ca’Vendramin Calergi (19)
Fondaco dei Turchi (17)
Palazzo Labia (16)
Ponte di Rialto (2)
Chiesa dei Gesuiti (33)
Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo (41)
Statue of Colleoni (38)
Calle del Fumo (30)
Chiesa del Redentore (47)
I Gesuati (43)
Malibran Theatre (35)
Palazzo Mocenigo (25)
Calle Larga XXII Marzo (14)
Chiesa della Madonna dell’Orto (31)
La Giudecca (45)
Mercato di Rialto (18)
Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni (39)