Venice sightseeing guide to the famous gondola ride, visiting the drawing room of Europe St Mark’s Square, and riding the boats to the islands of Murano for glass, Burano for lace, and Torricello for your soul. Click here for our guided Venice tours.
St. Mark’s Square
Throughout its long history, Piazza San Marco has witnessed pageants, processions, political activities, and countless Carnival festivities. Visitors flock here in the thousands for two of the city’s most important historic sites, the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale. These magnificent buildings complement the lesser-known but equally valuable Campanile, Museo Correr, and Torre dell’Orologio, gardens of the Giardinetti Reali, open-air orchestras, shops, and elegant cafes, notably Quadri and Florian.
Basilica di San Marco
Venice’s most famous Basilica blends the architectural and decorative styles of East and West to create one of the greatest buildings in Europe. The exterior owes its almost Oriental splendor to countless treasures from the republic’s overseas empire. Among these are copies of the famous bronze horses, brought from Constantinople in 1204, and a wealth of columns, bas-reliefs, and colored marbles studding the main facade. Mosaics from different epochs adorn the five doorways, while the main portal is framed by some of Italy’s loveliest Romanesque carvings.
The Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), was the official residence of each Venetian ruler (Doge) and was founded in the 9th century. The present palace owes its external appearance to work of builders back in the 14th and early 15th centuries. To create their airy Gothic masterpiece, the Venetians broke with tradition by perching the bulk of the palace (built in pink Veronese marble) on top of an apartment fretwork of loggias and arcades (built from white Istrian stone).
Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Founded in honor of San Rocco, a saint who dedicated his life to helping the sick, the Scuola started out as a charitable confraternity. Construction began in 1515 under Bartolomeo Bon and was continued by Scarpagnino until his death in 1549. The work was financed by donations from Venetians keen to invoke San Rocco’s protection and the Scuola quickly became one of the wealthiest in Venice. In 1564, its members decided to commission Tintoretto to decorate its walls and ceilings. His earliest paintings, the first of over 50 works, he eventually left in the Scuola, filling the small Sala dell’Albergo off the Upper Hall. His later paintings occupy the Ground Floor Hall, immediately within the entrance.
Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari
More commonly known as the Frari (a corruption of ‘frati,’ meaning friars), this vast Gothic church dwarfs the eastern area of San Polo. The first church on the site was built by Franciscan friars in 1250 to 1338 CE, but was replaced by a larger building completed in the middle of the 15th century. The airy interior is striking both for its sheer size and the quality of its artwork, including masterpieces by Titian and Giovanni Bellini, a statue by Donatello, and several grandiose tombs.
Santa Maria della Salute
The great Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute, standing at the entrance of the Gran Canal, is one of the most imposing architectural landmarks of Venice. Henry James reputedly likened it to ‘some great lady on the threshold of her salon’. The church was built in thanksgiving for the city’s deliverance from the plague epidemic of 1630, hence the name ‘Salute’ which means health and salvation. Each November, in celebration, worshippers light candles and approach across a bridge of boats spanning the mouth of the Gran Canal for the occasion.
Like the city of Venice, Murano comprises a cluster of small islands, connected by bridges. It has been the center of the glassmaking industry since 1291, when the furnaces and craftsmen were moved here from the city because of the risk of fire and the disagreeable effects of smoke. Some houses on the water date from this period.
Burano is the most colorful of the lagoon islands and can be distinguished from a distance by the tilting tower of its church. In contrast with the haunting Torricello, the island is densely populated, its waterways fringed with brightly painted houses, such as the Casa Pepi. The main thoroughfare is Via Baldassare Galuppi, named after the Burano-born composer. It features traditional lace and linen stalls and open-air trattorias serving fresh fish.
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