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The only Venetian square to be granted the title of 'piazza', St. Mark's Square, or Piazza San Marco, is the city's political, religious and social center. The square lies at one end of the Grand Canal, surrounded by some of the city's most iconic historic edifices. The Basilica di San Marco is the focal point of the square - a 12th-century, Venetian-Byzantine church that is resplendently trimmed with gold mosaics and lavish carvings. On either side lie the Procuratie Vecchie, stately buildings that once harbored the offices and apartments of the procurators. Two columns erected in honor of the city's patron saints, St. Mark and St. Theodore of Amasea, stand nearby, while the splendid Doge's Palace, the towering Campanile, the Procuratie Nuove, the National Library, and a couple of museums take up the rest of the space around Venice's largest square. The city's storied history comes together at the awe-inspiring St. Mark's Square.
Richly adorned with gold mosaics, intricate carvings and undulating marble arches, Saint Mark's Basilica is a glorious example of Byzantine architecture, crested by a series of glistening domes. The basilica was originally built in the 9th Century to house the mortal remains of Saint Mark. Destroyed in 932 CE, the church was later rebuilt to a more opulent design, and served as the Doge's chapel until 1807 when it replaced the Basilica di San Pietro in Castello as the cathedral of the Archdiocese. Although the architectural plan of the church has remained largely unchanged since the 12th Century, generous adornments were added over the years, creating one of Italy's most impressive collections of ecclesiastical art. Inside, the ceilings are a sea of gold mosaics, glimmering above lavish sculptures and intriguing architectural details. One of Venice's most iconic structures, the Saint Mark's Basilica sits amid Piazza San Marco at one end of the Grand Canal.
Layer upon layer of differing architectural styles come together to form the magnificent Doge's Palace. A symbol of the Venetian government and political heritage, the historic palace was once the seat of the Doge - the chief magistrate of the former Republic of Venice. The foundations of the complex, as it stands today, were laid during the 14th Century. Through the years, the Palace was repeatedly reconstructed, extended and restored, creating a startling melange of artistic and architectural styles ranging from the Medieval to the Renaissance. A masterpiece of Gothic design, the Palace is replete with exquisite details like sculptures, frescoes, elegant arches and graceful columns. The original Doge's Apartments, the Armory, the Prisons, the Courtyard and Loggias have all been beautifully restored, with numerous hidden treasures lurking around every corner of the Doge's grand palace. This historic icon also houses the Museo dell'Opera and its extensive art collection.
The Grand Canal carves a serpentine path through the heart of Venice and serves as the city's main thoroughfare. Plied by water taxis and water buses, the canal winds its way through the center of the city, terminating at the lagoon at one end and the basin, at San Marco square, at the other. Along the way, the jade waters idle past historic facades and sprawling squares, alive with the call of the gondoliers. From the Medieval, Byzantine and Gothic to the Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical, the structures that line the Grand Canal form a chronicle of sorts of the city's tryst with the arts across the ages. Romanticized by numerous movies and novels, a gondola ride down the Grand Canal is a quintessentially Venetian experience.
Located on the Grand Canal, Cà Rezzonico was the last building planned by famous Baroque architect Baldassare Longhena. The interior is a reconstruction of an 18th-century palace, with original restored furnishings. The Venetian decor is splendid, particularly in the ballroom with its stunning trompe l'oeil, and the nuptial room, which has richly decorated dressing tables. Today, it is a museum dedicated to the Venice of the 18th Century and comprises beautiful fixtures as well as many works of art. There are frescoes by Tiepolo and paintings by Guardi, Canaletto and Longhi that are worth checking out.