As our plane descended towards Marco Polo Airport, our curiosity in Venice was piqued even more. We descended towards the airport over the sea and of course this was the perfect “Welcome” from the city of canals! After getting my luggage, I headed towards the pier just next to the airport where the ferries were. I’ve seen so many cities and yet this is the first time I’d gone to the town center by ferry from the airport.
After a short wait, our little ferry docked and I settled in with a small group of tourists on my way to the Piazza San Marco. At first we could only see the bell tower indicating our approach into the city but then Piazza San Marco rose up in all its glory.
As soon as our boat docked, I headed for the hotel with quick steps to leave my luggage and throw myself to the streets of this city. Once finished with the check-in my soul felt released into Venice’s awaiting embrace!
The first thing that caught my eye was the tourists walking about, watching the buildings and the streets in awe. I felt like I was on a movie set. The effect of mysticism one feels in the movies and books of the city start coursing through your cells once again, and you begin to breathe in the atmosphere of the city. As I got closer to the heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco, I felt the pull of the narrow streets of the city. The colorful silhouettes of the buildings in the canals, the gondolas waiting for their owners… I found myself pressing the shutter of the camera nonstop. I didn’t want to miss any of the moments, or reflections of any color. As I turned the corner of the street, Saint Mark’s Basilica caught my eye.
Famous Buildings on Piazza San Marco
Saint Mark’s Basilica (Basilica di San Marco)
This church dedicated to San Marco, the patron saint of Venice, stands on one end of Piazza San Marco. Rumor has it that Saint Mark, who wrote one of the four gospels, dreamt that he would find peace in Venice. He’s now buried in Alexandria after he drew his last breath in Egypt. Merchants who wished to bring Saint Mark to Venice, the place where he believed he’d find peace, smuggled some articles believed to be his to Venice. Following this Saint Mark was chosen as the patron saint of the city, and the construction of the church that as to be named after him, began in 832 and was completed in 883. However, in 976, the church suffered significant damage from a fire that started in the Doge’s Palace (Plazzo Ducale). The re-construction of the church began in the year 1000, but because the Doge, Domenico Contarini, didn’t like what he saw, the construction began once again in 1063. The church’s final form took shape in 1073.
The reason it’s also called “the Golden Basilica” is the golden colored engravings it has. The originals of the four bronze horse statues on the top of the Basilica, also known as “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse,” are on display in the Marciano Museum inside the Basilica. The museum is open during the same hours as the Basilica, and inside you can also find precious art works brought to Venice over the course of history. Another noteworthy feature of the Basilica are the Ottoman figurines on display on the right side of the entrance. A small warning: You can’t enter the Basilica with a backpack. You can deposit your luggage at the entrance for an hour.
As soon as you leave the Basilica, the Doge’s Palace right next to it will draw your attention.
The Doge’s Palace (Palazzo Ducale)
It was used as the center of the Republic of Venice for nearly 900 years. As you browse around the palace and its many great and spectacular rooms you get a general idea about the luxurious lives the Doges lived. As Venice entered modernity the palace rooms began to be shown off as exhibits for the public. The gates of the building, its stairs decorated with golden dust, its large rooms holding priceless painting collections and its many fascinating features are a feast for the eyes.
The Bell Tower (Campanile di San Marco)
The tower, one of the symbols of Venice and its highest structure stands on one end of the Piazza San Marco. The roof welcomes you with a spectacular view of the whole city. This bell tower, where you can reach the top by an elevator, is not even the original building itself! How? The original tower, completed in 1549, was damaged because of fires and natural disasters and so the people of Venice generally kept away from it, afraid that it would collapse. And indeed people’s fear came true and the tower collapsed on June 14, 1902. The damaged tower collapsed towards Piazza San Marco at 9:45 in the morning. Luckily, the only casualty was a cat. The new tower is on the same site as the original and opened on April 25, 1912.
Every one of the five bells the tower had before the collapse had different meanings. The only one to survive today, “Marangona” strikes twice a day and declares the beginning and the end of working hours. “Trottiera,” has been used to call the grand council to a meeting. “Renghiera or Maleficio” to declare an execution. “Mezza Terza” to declare the meetings of the senate. And “Nona” to declare noon in the middle of the day.
Another piece of information I find fascinating about the tower is that Galileo presented his telescope to the senate on August 21, 1609 at this tower for the first time.
And as we left the Bell Tower behind us, we were greeted by another one: The Clock Tower!
The Clock Tower (Torre Dell’Orologio)
The clock tower, with its two bronze statues on top striking the bell with the hammers in their hands, every hour on the hour, reminds the Venetians of what time it is. There are two men, one old and one young, and they are believed to symbolize the passage of time.
The zodiac dial on the tower shows the time both in Roman and Arabic numerals. Apparently the clock has been in operation for 500 years. Twice a year, on the 6th of January and on the day the Ascension of Jesus is celebrated, the three magi and an angel playing a trumpet pass from one side to the other heralding Mother Mary and a Jesus statue above and disappear into the other door.
Venice, with its many canals, is also home to many bridges big and small.
Venice’s Most Famous Bridges
The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri)
Right behind the Doge’s Palace the Bridge of Sighs differs from other bridges at first sight. The bridge is made of white limestone and has windows with stone bars. Rumor has it that when suspects were convicted after hearings they were taken to their cells from this bridge. Because this bridge is the only place they could breathe in the Venice air, and see Venice behind the thick stone bars, they used to sigh as they walked on this bridge. It is said that that’s how the bridge came to bear its name.
Another urban legend about the prison is that no one has been able to escape from it. But this boast ended after one of the most famous inmates of the prison, the handsome Casanova known for his philandering, seduced one of the Doges’ wife and escaped. It is said that the prison was closed after that.
Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto)
One of the symbols and most beautiful structures of Venice. It is the oldest and most famous of the four bridges on “the Grand Canal.” The bridge, built in order to let war ships pass under, is today home to many stores and is a great center of attraction for tourists.
Other places of interest in Venice are the islands. You can visit all three islands on the same day by different tours. If you don’t fancy a tour you may reach the islands by small boats.
Islands of Venice
Venice, famous for its masks, is also no less known for its glass goods. For this I recommend you take a look at the glass workshops of Murano Island. But this island is not for you if you are not interested in taking back home a specimen of the elegant glass works, or glass works have no significance for you. Programming your time according to your priorities will benefit your travel greatly.
The summer resort of Venice. You can get beautiful shots of Venice from the island. At the same time, the island is ideal for those who wish to avoid the tourist crowds of Venice. To me Lido looks positively aristocratic, and holds an international film festival starting on the last week of August through the first week of September every year. Some of the scenes of world famous movies like Casino Royal and the English Patient were shot on this island.
Lido also is home to especially the domestic tourists who come here for a seaside vacation.
Of all the three islands, this is the one that’s affected me most, and makes me wish I hadn’t come here with a tour and didn’t have time restrictions. It grabs your heart the moment you see it with its multicolored houses. The reason for these multicolored houses are sure to make you smile. It is said that in Burano, a fishing island, the fishermen used to come back home drunk and couldn’t find their way home and used to go to different houses. The fishermen’s wives came up with the idea to paint their houses in different and eye catching colors. And through the years this became a tradition, the fishermen even started painting their boats different colors and gave the island a distinct atmosphere.
Burano Island is also known for its lacework. You can see old ladies working their craft, making lace in many stores.
During the rainy season, Venice gets heavy rains and many important places of interest (especially Piazza San Marco) are flooded. Therefore, try not to plan your visit to coincide with the rain season as much as possible.
Don’t forget, as you move further way from Piazza San Marco, Venice’s center and most popular place, you can wine and dine, and also shop for cheaper! The same goes for accommodations too.
If you want to buy glass and lacework, as I’ve mentioned before, visit Murano and Burano Islands.
It’s impossible to discover Venice without getting lost in its romantic streets! Don’t be afraid of getting lost, and don’t you worry: Every road in Venice will somehow lead you back to Piazza San Marco.