Sestiere San Marco

This is an excerpt from the book “Venice and the Veneto

Piazza San Marco – Photo © James Lawson
Piazza San Marco – Photo © James Lawson

Sestriere San Marco – the heart of Venice

The Doge’s Palace

The monumental entrance was the Porta della Carta, enchanting example of floral Gothic style that contains two bronze well-curbs. The courtyard is surrounded by porticoes with a top loggia. On the eastern side there is the Scala dei Giganti (Giants’ Staircase). It is thus called because of the two enormous statues by Sansovino at the sides.

The stairway goes up to the loggia but to reach the top floors we go up the Scala d’Oro (‘Golden staircase).

It owes the name to the lavish frescoes and gilded stuccowork.

It was from the Doge’s Palace that the Venetian Republic was ruled and it is still the highest expression of Venetian art.

It was the residence og the Doge and the seat of the main government departments.

As one walks through the its rooms the history and glory of the Venetian Republic is revealed in its paintings and sculptures.

San Marco Basilica
San Marco Basilica

Saint Mark’s Basilica

The Basilica is a wonderful example of Byzantine Venetian architecture. It was at one time the Doge’s chapel but it was also the mausoleum for Saint Mark, the patron saint, whose life is narrated in the golden mosaics on the walls.

St Mark’s Basilica, a superb example of the Romanesque-Byzantine style with five cupolas, was built (10thC) to house the body of the St Mark the Evangelist.

The facade features five portals decorated in splendid marbles and mosaics, and with a terrace dividing it into two halves.
On the terrace stand Four Horses of gilded copper (copies – the originals are now preserved inside) that were sent from Constantinople to Doge Enrico Dandolo in 1204.

Splendid mosaics in the atrium relate the stories of the Bible.
The imposing interior in the form of a Greek cross contains a wealth of paintings and sculptures.

Of particular interest are mosaics of Veneto-Byzantine origin, some of them reconstructed from drawings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.

The Bell Tower adjacent to the basilica was once a lighthouse for ships. At the foot of the tower is a 16th century loggia by J. Sansovino.

Procuratie Vecchie – Photo © Silvia Massetti
Procuratie Vecchie – Photo © Silvia Massetti

Saint Mark’s Square

It is trapezoidal, and the Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove run along the two extensive sides. They are known as old (‘vecchie’) and new (‘nuove’) on the basis of the age of the buildings over the arcades of the ground-level porticoes.
Procuratie Vecchie

The Clocktower

The Procuratie Vecchie runs along the north side of the square from the Clock tower and have kept their Renaissance features. They are followed by the Ala Napoleonica. This was built in 1810 by the architect Giuseppe Soli on the site of the demolished San Geminiano church, which was built Jacopo Sansovino.

An arcaded Renaissance period building, the Procuratie Vecchie was once the residence of the Procurators of St Mark who as magistrates represented the highest authority after the Doge.

Today on the ground floor premises there are coffeehouses, jewellers’, and shops dealing in lace, blown-glass and precious fabrics.

A double-storey building extending along the north side of the square, it is attributed to the architects M. Codussi and J. Sansovino and is now used as offices or residences.

The Procuratie Nuove runs along the west side of the square and includes the Libreria di San Marco which was designed by Jacopo Sansovino at the request of the Venetian Republic to house the codicils donated to it by Cardinal Bessarione. The clocktower is at the start of the Merceria,  the road that leads from Saint Mark’s Square to the Campo di San Bartolomeo. The name Merceria refers to the many shops on both sides of it. The ‘new’ Procurators building, constructed on a plan by V. Scamozzi and B. Longhena, includes the city’s Correr Museum, the Museum of the Risorgimento and the Archaeological Museum.

At the fall of the Venetian Republic it became the Royal Palace; Napoleon had a wing bearing his name added to it after having demolished the old church of San Giminiano, which was originally on this site opposite the Basilica.

Venetian Colors
Venetian Colors

Archaeological Museum

This houses amongst other things the famous collections by Domenico Grimani and by his nephew Giovanni. They are a priceless collection from the church of Santa Maria Formosa. Upon leaving the Ala Napoleonica, just after the ‘Bocca di Piazza’, we come to the church of San Moise’ This originally eight-century building was rebuilt in the tenth century by Mose’ Venier, who wanted to dedicate it to the saint after which he was named. The present baroque-style facade, based on a design by Alessandro Tremignon, dates from 1688.

The bell tower standing on the right is in the typically shaped Venetian 14th century style with a brick spire. We then come to Calle (Street) Larga XXII Marzo. This was built in 1880 by widening Calle San Moise’ and contrasted with the lower surrounding buildings.

Today, this road is lined with shops as far as Bocca di Piazza. These shops were chosen by the most famous names in gold jewellery, leather goods and international and Italian fashion and offer for sale their latest and finest products.

La Fenice Opera House – Photo © Silvia Massetti
La Fenice Opera House – Photo © Silvia Massetti

La Fenice Opera House

Halfway down Calle Larga XXII we turn right into Campo San Fantin where the church of San Fantin stands. This dates back to the ninth century but was rebuilt in the sixteenth century by Scarpagnino. Today the Literary and Scientific Academy, this Guildhall was also called “Of the good death” because the confraternity had the task of accompanying condemned prisoners to the place of execution and comforting them. The ceiling of the ground floor hall was decorated by J. Palma il Giovane.

Opposite, there is the La Fenice Opera House. This was originally built in 1790 to a design by Selva. It burnt down in 1836 but like the phoenix (‘fenice’ in Italian) it was rebuilt in the same style by Meduna in just over a year. The opera house reflected the spirit of Venice of the town. It was destroyed again by a fire in 1996 but the determination of the Venetians brought it back ‘the way it was’ in December 2003.

We come back into Calle Larga XXII Marzo and go on until we reach Campo di Santa Maria del Giglio or Zobenigo with the church dedicated dedicated to this saint. ‘Zobenigo’ is a reference to the Jubenigo family, who had the church built in the tenth century. The inside is a single room decorated with the works of many painters from the seventeenth and eighteenth century. The church is a 17th century church with a splendid baroque facade by G. Sardi, the interior includes works by J. Tintoretto, G. Salviati, and A. Zanchi, and a painting attributed to P.P. Rubens.

Where to stay in Venice

There are many hotels, apartments, B&Bs and guesthouses available in Venice, search and make reservations here.