Archive for the ‘Basilica di San Marco’ Tag

Venice – Palazzo Ducale & San Marco Campanile Bell Tower   14 comments

As you saw from previous posts Piazza San Marco has lots to offer and two of it sights deserved their own post.

The Palazzo Ducale. It was the seat of Venice’s government for seven centuries but was gutted by fire in 1577 and restored with white Istrian stone and Veronese pink marble.


It served not only as a form of parliament but also as a prison, executioners block and grand palace of the Doge, the elected head of state.


It was also the home of the feared Council of Ten who preserved Venice’s democracy through their network of informers and spies


In some respects it can seem rather plain from the outside especially compared to the Basilica next door. In many other ways its stunning and understated while retaining an air of grandeur and awe that I imagine kept the mortal folk in awe.


It’s on a tour of the interior that both its dark and shady secrets and its palatial opulence are revealed.


We took a guided “Secret Passages” tour which I’d read was excellent and so it was. The tour not only gave an insight into the dark and mysterious world of the council of ten (their offices, secret doorways, torture rooms and the like) but also a very useful background history of Venice itself. I was fascinated by the details of Venice’s democracy and for the times, it was quite advanced, almost civilised (even it did still favour those with money or power). It would be a history essay in itself to give that background but safe to say its well worth some research and background reading. One of the famous stories is that Casanova was imprisoned here and was reputedly the only man ever to escape the prisons. The tour was fascinating although taking pictures in these dark places was nigh on impossible. Safe to say if you are in Venice I strongly recommend paying the extra to take the tour of this fascinating building


Once we were done with the secret passages tour we were free to rejoin the masses and explore the rest of the palace. The artwork is simply staggering and there are works of art by many a famous artist such as Tintoretto and Titian adorning the walls and especially the ceilings.


It’s very hard to capture this in a photo but hopefully mine give a sense of the grandeur



This room was the court room where the council of ten sat and pronounced judgement and punishment. The last wooden panel on the right is actually a secret door back into the Council of Ten rooms we’d been through earlier


More lavish artwork



As we climbed to the second floor there were windows with views out over the city and the water front



And over the water to the islands of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Lido


The most stunning room was the Sala del Maggior Consiglio or Grand Council Hall


It was absolutely enormous and decorated from floor to and on the ceilings with stunning art work


Many of these works of art are considered propaganda paintings depicting prominent Venetians in historical or biblical settings. The painting at the far end in the photo below is Paradise by Tintoretto’s son Domenico depicting 500 Venetian politicians in heaven! Talk about blowing your own celestial trumpet 🙂



As Venice grew so did its criminal population. The palaces cells could no longer cope and new prison was built next door. To reach the prison you cross the famous Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs). When I was young I always thought it was the Bridge of Size, an enormous construction spanning the city. Like most people I was surprised at its true meaning and size (and spelling), so-called, to mark prisoners feelings as they walk to their cells having been convicted. This is photo looking inwards towards the city from one side


And the cramped passageways around the prisons


The prison courtyard


And the view seawards from the bridge. You can see the crowds gathering to take photographs.


It’s a very small, not especially dramatic bridge so I’m not quite sure why it gets so much attention. Still, I’m glad I saw it and walked across it – twice!


It was a full half day in the palace. If you were a real fine art buff it would take a lot longer. We were well pleased with our visit but you can have too many prison cells and paintings especially when its lunchtime so we took our leave of the palace and the Basilica next door (with another secret passage so the Doge could worship in peace) and went home for lunch


Later in the day we went up the Campanile Bell Tower for an aerial view of the city. This was well worth booking in advance as the queue was long and slow-moving. We just went round to a back door, waited a couple of minutes and went up in the lift


The view was grand and everything you’d expect. Expansive squares, red-tiled roofs, water and churches


The Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute



The Isle of San Giorgio Maggiore. You can visit the island and climb the church tower but to my regret we never found time. The views of the Piazza San Marco are supposed to be the best in the city


A Panorama shot looking over the island to the lagoon and Lido beyond (larger version if you click on it)


Along the waterfront to the Castello district


West over the Basilica di San Marco to the Canareggio district.


The Basilica and Palazzo Ducale


North west over San Marco to Canareggio. Our apartment is in there somewhere. We walked through those buildings to reach the Piazza. One thing that strikes you up here is just how densely packed the buildings are. It’s almost impossible to make out streets or canals. No surprise how easy it is to get lost


North towards the Sa Polo area and entrance to the city. You can just make out the causeway to the mainland


Family pose


The mechanical clock tower and the Piazza directly below


And one final shot of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute


As we reluctantly headed down the sun was lighting up the tower to great effect


A fine finish to a storming first full day in Venice. We packed a lot in and it still seems amazing that it was all about 15 mins walk from our little home



Venice – First Impressions   19 comments


Another day and another train journey. Early start but with the station just across the road, no problem


Our first experience of Italian high-speed trains – Frecciarossa – and very fine and very high speed they were


So good are they that Nick Hewer of Apprentice fame uses them


We stopped at Milan Centrale for a few minutes giving me a chance to hop off the train and take a couple of photos of this very grand station



The day had started well but as we approached Venice everything was dark and gloomy. When we emerged into the chaos that is the outside of Venice station it was raining. Not that it mattered as the humidity was off the scale and I was soaked in sweat anyway. My only weather niggle in three weeks of sunshine was that we didn’t arrive in Venice on a sunny day. The city positively gleams in the sun so it would have been great to get the wow factor as you step out from the station

Time for our first experience of Venice’s public transport system, Vaporetto boats.


They are wonderful way to get around and great fun, if a little crowded at times. The boats are mostly small so you are really close to the water. They are a bit pricey but each trip is like an excursion and its a wonderful way to experience the city.

We were escorted to our apartment in the Cannaregio district by the lovely Giorgio and his dog, dumped our bags and headed out for lunch and shopping while they finished cleaning


We returned to unpack and settle in. It was the best apartment we stayed in. Beautifully appointed and spacious in a quiet neighbourhood, near the waterfront, restaurants and shops all close by and 15 minutes walk from St Marks. The crowing glory was a balcony overlooking the rooftops and we ate out there whenever we were there. Splendid choice

While we were sorting ourselves out the dark skies that had been looming finally went black and the heavens opened. It was one of the most violent thunderstorms I’ve seen for a few years. I took a bit of video but it doesn’t really capture just how loud the thunder was or any of the spits and crackles of the lightning.


After an hour it stopped and the skies began to clear. It was the last time it rained on the trip.


Eager beavers, we headed out for our first taste of Venice


It was the only city on our itinerary I’d been to before. I took a day trip from Croatia in my teenage years (it was Yugoslavia in those days – shows how old I am) on a family holiday with my parents (the last one as it happens). Despite the fact that we spent more time on the coach than we did in Venice, the day had a real wow factor. I’d never seen anything quite like Venice and had very fond memories. I was eager to see it again


We headed straight to the main focus, Piazza San Marco, St Marks Square. The rain had forced people back to their hotels so it was relatively quiet. Even under grey skies it’s a sensational place. The square is huge, overlooked by the Campanile Bell Tower with the Basilica di San Marco at the far end. More on both of these in later posts


The other main sight on the Square is the Palazzo Ducale (Doges Palace)


With the Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) linking the palace to the Prisons. Again more on both in upcoming posts


We sat on the steps by the waterfront where the Gondolas tout for business. Taking a Gondola ride is supposedly a quintessential part of a trip to Venice. However I consider not spending £80 on a 30 minute boat ride to be equally quintessential. I don’t feel we missed out in any way by not taking up their kind and less than generous offer

The clearing skies were starting to deliver the glorious views of Venice we’d hoped for


TBF is still resentful of this photo, claiming we always try to make her look small in photos. We don’t have to try!


We decided to take a wander across town heading in no particular direction. Even more so than Paris, Venice has wonderous views around every corner. Either a church as here, or a pretty bridge or silent canal. Its stunning and I loved the place all over again straight away


Now you may be wondering what on earth this photo is. It’s a picture in a shop (expensive as I recall), one of many of cats and dogs dressed in a variety of outfits. We spent the whole trip looking for tourist tat of the worst kind. Even though this doesn’t class as tat it was the most bizarre thing we saw in a shop window and it amused us immensely. Incidentally the winner of the tacky gift award went to Paris and the Eiffel Tower shaped toothbrush


We stumbled across the Ponte dell’Academia (the Macadamia Nut bridge as I christened it) over the Grand Canal, our first glimpse of the city’s main transport artery.


I find it rather odd that the canal only has four bridges (two at the entrance to the city, the Rialto and this one. It makes getting from one side of the city to other an interesting challenge but a fun one


Everyone gets lost in Venice and its part of the fun. The streets and canals follow no particular pattern you often end up going around in circles, ending up in a dead-end or just popping out to find yourself not entirely where you expected to be. The maze of streets is bewildering but you will almost certainly come across a square, church, canal, bridge or stunning vista you wouldn’t have otherwise seen if you’d been where you thought you were (if that make’s sense)

Like this square we stumbled across while trying to get to the Rialto. I can’t be 100% sure but I think it’s the Campo Sant’Anzolo withe the Santo Stefano Bell Tower behind (it does lean by the way)


We wandered about back and forth for a bit until we turned a corner and suddenly we were on the banks of the Grand Canal with the a view to the Rialto, the most famous of Venice’s bridges


Even though it was around 6pm you can see the crowds massed on the bridge


Venice is renowned for being crowded and in places it can be oppressively so. There is a sort of main drag between the station and car parks, the Rialto and St Marks square and all three are crowded places and streets. However step away from there and the city is peaceful and quiet and there is a lot of city to explore. In addition first thing in the morning and in the evening the crowds dissipate and the city while still busy is pleasantly so with a wonderful atmosphere and fabulous restaurants. It was the best place we visited for just wandering about as of course there is no traffic, just boats on the canals.


We scaled the bridge and jostled for position to see along the canal in the evening light. It was marvellous. Again more on the grand Canal to come



Satisfied with our first explore we returned to the apartment for a meal on the balcony while the sun went down. I felt instantly at home



We had four more days in Venice to explore further, ride on boats, swim in the sea, get lost and eat lots of pasta and ice cream

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