St. Mark’s Square: The Drawing Room of Europe
During your Italy trip to Venice – the city of romance, it is recommended to start your Venice walking tour at a very special place and this is none other than its central square, the San Marco Piazza. Being the widest swath of flat, open land in a waterborne city, Piazza San Marco, or Saint Mark’s Square, has long been an important meeting place for the citizens of Venice and the design showcase for Venice’s aristocracy.
Piazza San Marco has famously been called “the drawing room of Europe,” a quote attributed to Napoleon. The square is named after the unusual and stunning Basilica San Marco that sits on the east end of the square. The slender Campanile di San Marco, the basilica’s bell tower, is one of the square’s most recognizable landmarks.
Adjacent to Saint Mark’s Basilica is the Doges’ Palace (Palazzo Ducale), the erstwhile headquarters of the Doges, the rulers of Venice. The paved area that extends from the Piazza San Marco and forms a large “L” shape around the Doges Palace is known as the Piazzetta (little square) and the Molo (jetty). This area is characterized by the two tall columns along the waterfront which represent Venice’s two patron saints. The Column of San Marco is topped with a winged lion while the Column of San Teodoro holds up a statue of Saint Theodore.
Saint Mark’s Square is bordered on its other three sides by the Procuratie Vecchie and Procuratie Nuove, built, respectively, in the 12th and 16th centuries. These connected buildings once housed the apartments and offices of the procurators of Venice, government officials who oversaw the administration of the Venetian Republic. Today, the Procuratie Nuove houses the Museo Correr, while famous cafés, such as the Gran Caffè Quadri and Caffe’ Lavena, spill out from the Procuraties’ arcaded ground floors.
Filled with centuries of history, the St. Mark’s Square is still the symbolic heart of Venice and a wonderful place to be. Sit and have coffee and watch the whole world pass by while a tuxedoed band plays. Then plunge north into the narrow streets full of shops leading towards the Rialto Bridge, or west into the city’s pocket of high fashion designer stores finishing with an extremely expensive Bellini at Harry’s Bar, the place that invented the peach/champagne drink. Alternately, head out of San Marco to the east and stroll the waterfront on the Riva.