Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square): the heart of Venice, marking the historic entrance to the city by the sea. Napoleon referred to St. Mark’s Square as “ the finest drawing room in Europe.” Bells chime, flocks of pigeons crisscross the sky, violins play, couples hug while visitors take it all in from the public, yet private perspective of an outdoor café. Just turn your head to admire St. Mark’s Basilica, the Doge’s Palace, the 9th-century bell tower, the Clock tower where giant bronze Moors have struck the hours for 5 centuries, the old law courts, and the old library. In the piazzetta, where the square opens onto the Grand Canal, there are two granite columns. The Lion of St. Mark tops one, and a statue of St. Theodore sits atop the other.
Basilica di San Marco and Pala d’Oro: gold, enamel, precious stones, and beads adorn the retable located behind the altar of the “golden church.” St. Mark’s Basilica is a masterpiece of the ornate Venetian-Byzantine architecture. The church was built in the year 830 to house the tomb of St. Mark. When first built, it was not a cathedral at all, but a private chapel for the Doges. The present iteration was constructed during the 11th century, but the meticulous decoration of both the interior and exterior continued well into the 16th century. Inside, the walls are embellished with precious art, rare marbles and magnificent mosaics. Behind the high altar in the chancel is the famous gold altarpiece, the Pala d’Oro.
Palazzo Ducale (Doges’ Palace) The Doges’ Palace is next to the Basilica. It is a pink and white palace with an unusual double loggia that served as the residence of the Doges and the seat of government. The finest room is the Grand Council Chamber. Paintings by Tintoretto and Veronese decorate the walls.
Rialto, first an Island, then a district, then the most famous bridge in Europe. The Ponte di Rialto (RialtoBridge) is the true heart of Venice. The current structure was built in just three years, between 1588 and 1591, as a permanent replacement for the boat bridge and three wooden bridges that had spanned the Grand Canal at various times since the 12th Century. It remained the only way across the Grand until the Accademia Bridge was built in 1854.
The Rialto Bridge's 7.5-meter (24-foot) arch was designed to allow passage of galleys, and the massive structure was built on some 12,000 wooden pilings that still support the bridge more than 400 years later. The architect, Antonio da Ponte ("Anthony of the Bridge," appropriately enough), competed against such eminent designers as Michelangelo and Palladio for the contract.
Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs): the sighs in question are said to have been those of the prisoners being led from the Doges’ Palace to their cells in the prisons known as the Piombi. The bridge was built on the orders of the Doge Mario Grimani and was made in stone from Istria. It was decorated on the outside with Baroque patterns. The beauty of the structure has given the bridge a romantic connotation in complete contrast to its actual use. The sighs that the bridge inspired were definitely not sighs from people in love…..
The Mercerie cuts the old city center into two parts, connecting Piazza San Marco to Rialto. This is Venice’s main throughway, the heart of the city’s commercial trade since ancient times when the precious fabric shops stayed open until late.
Scuola Grande di San Rocco, one of the six Venetian confraternities, houses a cycle of masterful canvases by Jacopo Tintoretto, Titian’s greatest rival, including the magnificent Crucifixion, and the Master’s self-portrait.
The Basilica dei Frari, represents - after the Basilica of San Marco - the most remarkable religious complex in the city of Venice. It houses two masterpieces by Titian – the Assumption of the Virgin (the Assunta) over the main altar, and the Pesaro Madonna, the Pala Pesaro, the altarpiece that takes its name from the family that commissioned it.
Le Zattere: the Venetians’ favorite promenade, stretching along the quayside to the south of Dorsoduro The Zattere walk is one of the most romantic and prettiest in Venice. Fondamenta delle Zattere begins at San Basilio and continues alongside the Giudecca Canal, which runs parallel to the Grand Canal, and ends at the Punta della Salute where the old Sea Customs house is located, a truly charming, panoramic place from where you can see the whole of St. Mark’s Basin and San Giorgio island as far as the Lido.
Ca’ d’Oro: the finest example of Venetian Gothic, with its characteristic dash of the Ottoman.
Chiesa di San Sebastiano: the Church contains a cycle of dazzlingly colored paintings by Veronese.
The Jewish Ghetto: the first to be set up in Europe, it was founded in 1516. Further to laws issued by the Serenissima: the Venetian Jews had to live inside the area bordered by the Ghetto Bridge, and could not leave the area from dusk until dawn. Guards were placed at the Ghetto boundaries to control the Jews’ movements and the Ghetto was closed at night with gates. The hinges of those gates can still be seen today. The word “ghetto” comes from the word “getto”, the noun coming from the Italian verb “gettare”: before the area was made into a residence for Jews, the copper foundries were based here and “gettare” is the dialect word used to explain the work carried out in the foundries.
There are 5 synagogues that look out onto Campo del Ghetto: the Canton Synagogue, the Italian Synagogue, the German Synagogue, the Levantine Synagogue and the Spanish Synagogue. The Campo is also surrounded by tall buildings that have up to 8 floors: this is a unique aspect of the Ghetto buildings compared to all the others in Venice.
The Church of Santa Maria della Salute: a Baroque masterpiece, whose foundation consists of more than a million wooden piles. It was built to commemorate the end of a plague epidemic that ravaged the city in 1630.