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.
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.
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.
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.
Spanning the girth of the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge was once the only way to get across on foot. The majestic bridge arches over the murky waters of the canal, allowing ample room for the gondolas and water buses to pass underneath. The bridge was built in between 1588 and 1591, replacing predecessors from 12th Century onward. Designed by Antonio da Ponte, the bridge has survived unscathed for over four centuries. Today, the Rialto is only one of the four bridges that serve the canal but remains the most prominent. Small shops selling all kinds of souvenirs and curiosities run the length of the bridge while the Mercato di Rialto is a popular local market nearby.
Construction of this church started at the end of the 14th Century by the Dominican friars. It was completed at the beginning of the 15th Century. The remains of 25 Doges are buried here and over these centuries the church has earned the status of a minor basilica. The sepulchral monuments are in the care of the Lombardi family and the monuments of Nicolo Marcello, Pietro Lombardo and Pietro Mocenigo are masterpieces by the same sculptor, whose works occupy the whole left side of the entrance. Also impressive is the monument erected in the honor of Andrea Vendramin, and the paintings by Veronese and Piazzetta. A beautiful juxtaposition of Gothic as well as Renaissance-style architecture, San Zanipolo is a must-visit.
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.
It is not known for certain who made the mid-14th-century Golden Altar Piece. It is a masterpiece of engraving that uses Byzantine ancient enamels, which originate from the pillage of Byzantium in 1204. The Treasure of San Marco should not be missed. A large part was melted down to mint money, but what remains can satisfy the curiosity of even the most demanding visitor, from an artistic and historic point of view. It can be accessed directly from the Basilica di San Marco.
Started in 1468 from Cardinal Bessarione's collection, this museum houses Venice's most important book collection, which includes manuscripts, miniatures and texts. The first example of Classical architecture in Venice, the building contains an abundance of sculptures, which are inspired by classic mythology. Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana is also home to many works by important Venetian artists. It is arranged over two floors, which are linked by a staircase that is reminiscent of the Golden Staircase in the Palazzo Ducale.
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.