San Marco by the Numbers
The Piazza San Marco, or St. Mark's Square, is undoubtedly the most popular tourist destination in Venice. You're bound to visit it at least once even on a day trip to the city, so here's a list of landmarks and nearby attractions (keyed to the photo above) to help you get your bearings:
1. San Marco Vallaresso vaporetto stop. The No. 1 vaporetto or water bus uses this station. Pay attention to the signs to make sure you're headed for the right boat, in the right direction. (Tip to well-heeled Bellini drinkers: Harry's Bar is located a few steps inland.)
2. San Marco Giardinetti boat platforms. Alilaguna airport boats use this stop.
3. Giardini ex Reali. This small public park opens onto the waterfront through an iron gate. Not too many years ago, hordes of stray cats would sun themselves on the park benches, but nowadays most of the visitors are human. The freestanding white building at the left (west) end of the gardens is the tourist-office headquarters; a public toilet is also nearby.
4. Museo Civico Correr. The "Museum of the City and the Civilization of Venice" is a treasure trove of paintings, sculptures, clothing, maps, coins, armor, and other objects from the city's glory days.
5. Procuratie Vecchie. This arcaded office building was constructed in the early 1500s after a fire destroyed its predecessor. Shops and cafés occupy the ground floor, under the arcade.
6. Torre dell'Orologio. Animated statues of Moors use hammers to strike the hours at the Clock Tower. Underneath is a passage leading to the Mercerie, the series of shopping streets that connect San Marco to the Rialto Bridge.
7. Campanile di San Marco. You can climb stairs or ride an elevator to the top of the Bell Tower for an aerial view of the city. (The Campanile was taken over briefly by Northern Italian separatists in May, 1997. No one was hurt in the slapstick hijacking by the "Most Serene Venetian Army.")
8. Basilica di San Marco. This vast cathedral is famous for its Byzantine domes and gilded mosaics. It was built to honor St. Mark after the saint's bones were kidnapped from Alexandria, Egypt in the 9th Century.
9. Palazzo Ducale. The Doge's Palace housed Venice's rulers for more than six centuries. It connects to the adjacent Prigioni Nuove ("New Prisons") via the Bridge of Sighs.
10. Procuratie Nuove. This building was intended to replace the Procuratie Vecchie when it was constructed in the late 16th Century. Today, it houses a wing of the Museo Correr, the Museo Archeologio, the and the Caffè Florian, which has catered to the cognoscenti since 1720.
11. Zecca. The former Venetian Mint is occupied by the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, a research library with more than 900,000 books and 13,000 manuscripts.
Piazza San Marco
Basilica di San Marco
Campanile di San Marco
Bridge of Sighs
Cats of Venice
Photo: Aztech New Media Corp.