This morning we walked through Venice to Piazza San Marco. We didn’t see it coming up, so turning a corner and seeing it laid out before us all of a sudden was one of those jaw dropping moments. Venice is one of the places that’s been on my bucket list since I was a kid reading my Dad’s National Geographics and everything seemed so familiar from all the pictures I’d seen.
The dominant feature of the piazza is St Mark’s Basilica, with its massive domes. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, the great church of the Doges, in what must have been one of the wealthiest trading ports in the world. Much of the artwork on the walls and ceilings is mosaic. Apparently the Venetians conquered Constantinople and brought back shiploads of golden Byzantine art treasures with which they adorned the basilica. We’ve been in many churches and cathedrals in Europe already, but this is surely one of the most breathtaking we’ve yet seen. We had to join a queue and shuffle slowly through, which can be quite interesting when your eyes are constantly looking upwards.
We walked slowly around the piazza along the covered arcades, enjoying the window shopping, particularly those places displaying the artistry of the famous Venetian glassblowers of Murano. We could see people at the top of the Campanile, the huge tower at one end of the piazza, but wrongly assumed that there were too many steps to climb, so we didn’t go in. I’ve since learnt that we could have gone up there in a lift! The views over Venice would have been spectacular. I’m sure the ships coming in to Venice in days past must have sighted the Campanile before almost anything else came into view.
The Doge’s Palace was a place of contrasts. One moment we were walking through grand rooms decorated with beautifully painted ceilings and artworks by some of the great masters of Renaissance art, like Tintoretto and Titian, and the next we had crossed the Bridge of Sighs into a maze of dismal prison cells. Many of the rooms in the palace were where the official ruling or judicial groups of Venetian society would meet, so it was quite surprising to see that prisoners would be kept in such close proximity to these important people. They say the Bridge of Sighs takes its name from the sighs of the prisoners as they walk across it. Through the windows they would get their final glimpse of Venice before they were locked away in the darkened cells, causing them to sigh and reflect on what they had lost.
And perhaps the most memorable sight in Piazza San Marco for me was the winged lion atop the tall pillar. The lion appears to have been a symbol for the city, as it appeared in paintings and sculptures in many places throughout the palace.