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One of the finest squares in Europe, it is difficult to think of Venice without Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square) coming to mind. This place is so iconic that two Venetian Hotels have been built in Las Vegas and Macau in celebration of this extraordinary location. And at no better time can you visit Piazza San Marco than during the Carnival season when Venice is at its best!
At this time of year, you can enjoy endless concerts, programs and exhibits that take place in Piazza San Marco during the day and into each night. Also, you can see and photograph countless participants wearing traditional Carnival costumes and masks.
In addition to enjoying the wonderful Carnival atmosphere that engulfs the Piazza during Carnival, there is much to see and do in this important area of Venice. This makes Piazza San Marco worthy of a visit any time of year.
What to see at Piazza San Marco?
First and foremost, you should visit the church for which the piazza is named, Basilica di San Marco (Saint Mark’s Basilica). This is a classic church beautifully decorated with Byzantine glass mosaics in its façade, and entryway and marble inlay floors. It is one of the two most important attractions in Venice and should be seen.
The second classic attraction in the Piazza area -- actually, bordering the Piazzeta -- is the Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), near-contiguous to the Basilica. This attraction requires some time to explore and visit (1-3 hours). It is worth securing reservations for either the regular tour, or for the Itinerario segreto (Secret Itinerary) tour during peak seasons if you have limited time in Venice. Along with a visit the Basilica, visitors can gain a great appreciation and understanding of Venetian history and culture.
Also, within the square, you can also see and/or visit the Companile di San Marco, the famous bronze/orange bell tower that beautifully compliments the Basilica. You can go to the top for 8 Euros to see panaromic views of Venice.
Further, across the Piazza from the Companile is the Torre dell’Orologio. This is the building with the beautiful clock and winged lion set against the typical Venetian blue background with gold stars. In the opposite direction towards the sea, you can see two tall columns, called Colonne di S. Marco and di S. Teodoro, which were erected at this spot in 1172. Just past the columns, you have the San Marco Basin where the Grand Canal empties into the greater San Marco Canal.
If you walk towards the back of the Doge’s Palace, you can find a bridge called Ponte della Paglia, which links the piazzetta San Marco to promenade area of Riva Degli Schiavoni, which is a long walkway along the sea. From the Ponte della Paglia, you can look towards the back of the Doge’s Palace and see the famous Bridge of Sighs.
Lastly, at the back of Piazza San Marco is the Museo Correr, holding collections pertaining to the City of Venice. Among its treasures are great maps from the city's history as the most powerful maritime capital in the Western World; antiques from Venice's early gambling days, such as roulette wheels and hand-drawn and painted playing cards; chopines (the very high platform shoes recently reincarnated by the late Alexander McQueen); and not to be missed -- one of the most famous paintings by Venice's native son, Carpaccio -- the Due Donne (Two Women) (1495). It was originally thought that the two women perhaps represented prostitutes, privileged and bored. However, the painting has been found to be missing its top half, which depicts aristocratic fishermen in gondolas. This half is held by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. The discovery that these two halves were separated changes the narrative of each completely. Now the women are thought to be two wives waiting (if somewhat impatiently) for their husbands to return from a hunt (fishing in the lagoon). So iconic in Italy are these ladies that a postage stamp for .85 Euros was issued with a drawing of the younger's head.
Overall, Piazza San Marco is teaming with classic Venetian and worldly attractions. It is the place most visitors flock to upon arriving in Venice and this is for a reason, it’s a fantastic square, one of the very finest in Europe and the world.