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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 highlighted 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 history comes together at the awe-inspiring St. Mark's Square.
You get a splendid view of Venice and the Basilica di San Marco from the tallest bell tower in Venice. It can be seen from the laguna and once you have reached the top, the whole laguna can be seen from above. Even though the Basilica di San Marco-Campanile was erected at the beginning of the 20th Century, it is an exact replica of the 15th-century bell tower. In 1609, Galileo Galilei exhibited his telescope here, and during the Carnevale, it was used to serve as a stage for the tight rope-walkers who entertained the doge with their acrobatics.
Richly adorned with gold mosaics, intricate carvings and marble arches, Saint Mark's Basilica is a glorious example of Byzantine architecture. The basilica was originally built in the 9th Century to house the remains of Saint Mark. Destroyed in 932 CE, the church was later rebuilt to a better 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 made of gold mosaics, full of 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 were laid during the 14th Century. Through the years, the palace was repeatedly reconstructed, extended and restored, creating a mix 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, 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 around every corner. This historic icon also houses the Museo dell'Opera and its extensive art collection.
There is a silent and almost respectful ambiance in this museum. Visitors enter Museo Correr by means of a staircase, originally built as a grand entrance to the Napoleonic Wing. From here, the tour continues through neoclassical rooms, the Royal Palace, the Canoviana Collection, Venetian Civilization, Antique Art, and Renaissance Bronze. There are many sculptures by Canova and decorative objects by Francesco Hayez. Venezia by Jacopo De' Barbari can be admired in the entrance.
Punta della Dogana is a stunning art gallery located on the triangular piece of land that separates the Grand Canal from the Giudecca Canal. Set in the former customs house, a beautiful 17th-century building, this gallery houses the permanent collection of world's numero uno art collector, Francois Pinault. Here, you will find his famous personal collection, besides several other exhibits pertaining to contemporary art.
The Grand Canal carves a path through the heart of Venice and serves as the city's main thoroughfare. While water taxis and water buses operate on the waters, 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 flow past historic structures 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 architectural change across the ages. Romanticized by numerous movies and novels, a gondola ride down the Grand Canal is an essential Venetian experience.
Just around the corner from the Galleria dell'Accademia, on the Grand Canal is one of Venice's premier museums. This world-famous museum is run by the same institution, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, that manages the renowned Guggenheim Museum in New York. Peggy Guggenheim, was interested in contemporary art and came into contact with various artists who guided and educated her, including Alexander Calder and Marcel Duchamp. This museum houses her collection of contemporary art such as works by Bacon, Balla, Brancusi and Chagall. You'll also find masterpieces by the likes of De Chirico, Kandinsky, Klee, El Lissitskj, Magritte, Man Ray, Picasso and Pollock.
Located in the old church and school of the Carità, Galleria dell'Accademia's building was partly built in the 12th Century and finished in the 14th Century. The Academy of Fine Arts was started here by the Napoleonic government. In its 24 rooms, it displays works of Italian art, by artists such as Andrea Mantegna, Piero Della Francesca, Cosmè Tura, and Giovanni Bellini. Other artists include Giorgione, Tintoretto, Paris Bordone and Moretto Da Brescia among others.
Located on the Grand Canal, Ca' 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.
The Lido di Venezia is a pristine sandbar that has become a thriving tourist destination, thanks to its accessibility from mainland Venice. One of the most photographed and talked about places in Venice, this island is not only famous for its panoramic views and beautiful summer beaches but also home to Venice Film Festival. Most of these beaches are private and often visited by international celebrities from diverse fields. The gorgeous sandbar, stretching luxuriously to almost 11 kilometers (6.83 miles), has featured exclusively as the location in Thomas Mann's Death in Venice.
A little over 80.46 kilometers (50 miles) away from Venice, the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park occupies the southernmost reaches of the Dolomites. Sprawling amidst the rolling hills and valleys of the Southeastern Alps, the stunning natural park was entirely covered by glaciers about 100 decades ago, their retreat leaving behind a landscape that supports scores of rare species. Established in the 1990s, this national park ensures the survival of a vast repository of the unique and rare flora and fauna that call it home. Spread over 32,000 hectares (79073.7 acres), the park features many archaeological, geological, biological and anthropological marvels, as well as several trails for hiking and ample opportunity for a variety of outdoor activities. Bewitching panoramic vistas of verdant hills, snow-capped peaks and meadows awash in a myriad colorful flowers come together at the Dolomiti Bellunesi National Park. Manmade points of interest include the Certosa di Vedana and the several small churches and the Medieval architecture of Val Cordevole.