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Historically St. Mark’s square has always been Venice’s heart of trade and politics. Formerly a field cultivated by the nuns of the Convent of San Zaccaria, it is nowadays an astonishing piazza lined by breathtaking buildings erected by the best known artists of all times:
For centuries residence of the Doge, seat of the government and court of justice, the Doge’s Palace is one of the masterpieces of gothic architecture with a very unique feature: contrary to the usual rule, the building is heavier on the top portion, with the first two tiers being the lightest. Overall it consists of 4 tiers. The lowest tier is composed of an arcade of short columns, the second tier consists of an open, pierced loggia guarded by a balustrade while the wall above, relatively plain, is pierced with few windows, and encased in an elaborate decorative pattern.
Take waterbuses n. 1, 5.1 or 5.2 to fully enjoy the view of the Doge’s Palace from the lagoon. From this angle the building seems to be floating on the surface of the water, giving the impression of weightlessness and extreme elegance.
According to legend, two Venetian merchants stole the remains of St. Mark, patron saint of Venice, from Alexandria in 828, hiding them in a basket beneath a shipment of pork - an unclean meat to Muslims and therefore unlikely to be inspected. The Basilica, built to enshrine the relics of the Saint, was initially a simple brick church. Today it’s a magnificent structure of intricate beauty where Byzantine, Gothic, Romanic and Renaissance styles blend together seamlessly. On crossing the threshold, visitors will gape in amazement at the sight of the opulent marble floors, pillars and ceilings entirely covered in gilded mosaics and polychrome marble slabs.
Historically the tower, placed where the clock would be visible from the waters of the lagoon, pointed travelers to the entrance of the Merceria, a long business artery that leads to Rialto and the city’s mercantile heart. The great clock face in blue and gold engraved with the 24 hours of the day in Roman numerals stands out against the façade of the tower, while the second dial depicts the 12 signs of the zodiac. Above it are the statues of the Virgin Mary and Child and the famous winged lion of Venice, before a blue background with golden stars.
At the very top is the big bell with the moors, two colossal statues representing two shepherds striking the hours with their huge bronze hammers.
Every year during epiphany the 3 kings and an angel playing the trumpet exit from a small opening and parade in front of the statue of the Virgin. The elaborate mechanism is so old and beautifully crafted to have been listed as one of the finest carillon of the late Middle Ages.
Measuring almost 100 mt. in height, the bell tower offers an amazing view of the city, the lagoon and, on a clear day, of the Alps.
These two columns frame the official entry to the city from the sea. The sculptures on the columns represent Venice’s two patron saints: the winged lion of St Mark and a statue of St Theodore killing the dragon.
An open passageway rather than a bridge, it’s made of Istria stone (white limestone) and connects the prison to the Doge’s Palace. The name comes from the suggestion that prisoners would sigh at their final view of beautiful Venice through the barred window before being taken down to their cells.