Chapter 1 of Venice: La Piazza San Marco.

‘This was Venice, the flattering and suspect beauty this city, half fairy tale and half tourist trap, in whose insalubrious air the arts once rankly and voluptuously blossomed, where composers have been inspired to lulling tones of somniferous eroticism’ – Thomas Mann, Death in Venice.

Yes. I have decided to start my report on Venice in a very cliché way! I do not care about people judging me about it (well, maybe a little) For those who have been living in a cave for the past 120 years, la Piazza San Marco is maybe the most famous square in the whole world. It is reputed for its splendour, its romanticism… and its pigeons!

Here is Saint Mark’s Square (clearly less romantic than Piazza San Marco) The square is so called because it takes its name from the Basilica San Marco that can be found there. It also counts a bell tower (il Campanile), the clocktower (la Torre dell’Orologio), the Doge’s Palace (il Palazzo Ducale) etc. 

Let’s start with…

…La Basilica:

The Basilica is dedicated to one of the founders of the Christian Church: the evangelist Saint Mark. In the 9th century, a church sheltering the body of Saint Mark was built there. It was burnt due to a revolt in the 10th century. The construction of the actual church started in 1063 and was consecrated 31 years afterwards. The Basilica was not yet finished. A few buildings were added. It was decorated even more richly centuries after centuries. It became one of the biggest exhibitions of great Italian artistic and architectural prowess, hence the notable differences in style on the façade and within the Basilica.

It grew even more beautiful with the importation of Oriental products and arts. The Basilica was meant to resemble a bizantine church. During the crusades, the Venetians could bring rich silks and marbles in order to decorate San Marco. It became a symbol of the Holy Land the Crusaders wanted to conquer. It shows that the Basilica had not only a religious purpose, but also a political role. In ancient times, it belonged to the Doge, the leader of the Republic of Venice. San Marco was used to bless soldiers before they went to war. It was also the chosen stage of the Treaty of Peace of Venice in 1177 officialising the union between the Pope and its allies after a schism and a rebellion in the Catholic Church. For these reasons and for more, the Basilica became a landmark of the story of Venice.

If you want to visit it, you will have to brave a long queue of tourists. I did not feel brave enough to wait to visit it (I plead guilty of cowardice and fear of boredom) It is not too bad since I visited it when I was younger (I can’t remember it, but I can say I’ve done it!)

Il Campanile:

The bell tower is perhaps the most famous monument in Venice. I mean, who has not gazed around to check if they could see it from afar? It is the means I have found to localise myself in Venice. See? have you spotted it?

 When I take the vaporetto (the small boat you take to join the islands), my eyes are constantly watching over the Campanile. After all, this was one of its main purposes!

Indeed, this 99-meter tower was originally used as a lighthouse for sailors to direct themselves. It was first built in the 12th century, but endured transformations until the beginning of the 16th century. Actually, in 1902, the tower almost collapsed entirely. It was saved thanks to stone which supported a part of the structure. The tower was nonetheless damaged and was faithfully rebuilt as before. On the day of Saint Mark (25th of April) 1912, the brand new tower was inaugurated. As you can imagine, this created a worldwide uproar! I do not know about you, but I would not like to see Venice without its bell tower. 

Saint Mark’s Clocktower:

Each big city and town in Italy has a tower that is called Torre dell’Orologio. In Venice, it is also called la Torre dei Mori (the Tower of the Moors) due to the sculptures of Moors that can be found on the edifice. It dates back from the end of the 15th century.

 Today, it is a museum and you can visit it. It is not just a tower, though. You can find on each side two adjoining buildings with balconies. On top of the tower, you can see the bell. You also have the famous Lion, symbol of the Veneto, the region of Venice. You will find la Merceria on the other side. It was one of the most lively streets in Venice in former times. Now, it is simply the street that leads you to the shopping area of Venice and more importantly, to the Rialto.

You can also find the Doge’s Palace on the square. The next article will deal with the Palazzo Ducale, as it is called in Italian. The rest of the square in made of great buildings and arcades that go all around. You can find shops,cafés and restaurants (very expensive). You can also find musicians playing in front of the shops. 

San Marco is easily reached. If you come by train (4 euros from Padua), you need to stop at the terminus called Venezia Santa Lucia. The railway station is situated at the north of the city. Close by, you can find the Piazzale Roma where you can take the bus or park you car. From these spots, San Marco is 20 minutes away (it depends how fast you walk, and how many tourists there are, really) Both the square and the Rialto are indicated by golden arrows in the streets. Just follow the movement if you are afraid of losing yourself. The square has a direct access to the Grand Canal. You can take the vaporetto there to go to the islands (or anywhere else, I do not force you if you don’t want to).

Venice is a special place to me. I definitely feel different when I am there. It is a place that will not leave you indifferent. Try to go there on a sunny day! Sometimes, there is a phenomenon called ‘l’aqua alta’. It happens when the canal overflows. San Marco is submerged, and you need to walk on low scaffolds the whole way! It is a funny experience, but not very practical when you have thousands of tourists around.

I leave you to queue to the Basilica. Let’s meet later in front of the Doge’s Palace, shall we?

Keep waiting,

Yours faithfully,

I M Gullivering.


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