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Copyright Enrico Massetti 2016
Published by Enrico Massetti
All Rights Reserved
We will make no attempt to rehearse the glorious history or list the countless treasures of this unique city. We will merely outline a tour in which we have attempted the difficult undertaking of offering the visitor the best of Venice in two days. The itinerary can be extended by spending more time in the museums while following the same layout. You can also add a day in the Lagoon Islands and more days in the nearby cities of Verona, Vicenza or Padua..
To try and mention all the streets would be impossible; the various stages of our tour will serve as reference points instead of asking the helpful and patient Venetians for the right direction. Don’t be depressed if you lose the way: it happens to them, too.
This is the itinerary to follow if you actually have at least two full days in Venice. I say that because many of you will be arriving in Venice by plane or by train, in which case—sad to say—on that first day you don't actually have a full day to spend here, since much of the morning will be spent traveling and finding your hotel.
If you arrive in Venice late in the day, try taking a Grand Canal cruise on the Vaporetto ending in St. Mark’s Square. These sights are more romantic and much less crowded after dark—and they provide a wonderful welcome to the city.
Venice is small. You can walk across it, from head to tail, in about an hour. Nearly all of your sightseeing is within a 20-minute walk of the Rialto Bridge or St. Mark’s Square. Remember that Venice itself is its greatest sight. When you cross the bridge, following your itinerary, look both ways: you may be hit with a lovely view.
Piazza San Marco
We start early in the morning from Piazza San Marco, the most beautiful drawing room in Europe, according to Napoleon, to avoid the midday crowds around St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge’s Palace. Generations of artists and artisans have given it the appearance we now know, through ten centuries of uninterrupted labour; so that today the square in its entirety strikes us as a single complex work, a masterpiece of Italian taste and imagination.
San Mark Cathedral
In front of us is the Basilica di San Marco, founded in 828 and embellished uninterruptedly until the end of the 16th century. Greek and medieval, Byzantine and Tuscan, Lombard and Venetian art have contributed to its decoration, in every possible medium of expression, from mosaics to the work of goldsmiths, from sculpture to painting.
Basilica: 9.45 a.m. - 5.00 p.m. - Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. - 4.00 p.m. (entrance free)St. Mark's Museum: 9.45 a.m. - 4.45 p.m. (entrance: 5 €)Pala d'oro: 9.45 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. - Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. - 4.00 p.m. (entrance: 2 €)Treasury: 9.45 a.m. - 4.00 p.m. - Sunday and holidays: 2.00 p.m. - 4.00 p.m.(entrance: 3 €)
St Mark’s Basilica
The Basilica is a wonderful example of Byzantine Venetian architecture. It was at one time the Doge’s chapel but it was also the mausoleum for Saint Mark, the patron saint, whose life is narrated in the golden mosaics on the walls.
With five cupolas, it was built (10th century) to house the body of the St Mark the Evangelist.
The facade features five portals decorated in splendid marbles and mosaics, and with a terrace dividing it into two halves.
On the terrace stand Four Horses of gilded copper (copies – the originals are now preserved inside) that were sent from Constantinople to Doge Enrico Dandolo in 1204.
Splendid mosaics in the atrium relate the stories of the Bible.
The imposing interior in the form of a Greek cross contains a wealth of paintings and sculptures.
St Mark's interior
Of particular interest are mosaics of Venetian-Byzantine origin, some of them reconstructed from drawings by Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese.
The Bell Tower adjacent to the basilica was once a lighthouse for ships. At the foot of the tower is a 16th century loggia by J. Sansovino.
To the right of the Basilica, we go through the Porta delta Carta and into the Doge’s Palace, built in the florid Gothic style typical of Venice (1303-1442). The Renaissance courtyard was designed by Antonio Rizzo (1483), who also left the two masterpieces of Venetian sculpture there, the statues of Adam and Eve (1464), now in the Doge’s Apartments.
Going up the Scala dei Giganti, we enter the incredibly lavish interior of the palace. It features carved and gilded ceilings, stuccoes, fireplaces and carved doors. It is one of the most gorgeous public residences of all times. Venetian painters, from Carpaccio to Gentile Bellini, from Titian to Veronese, and to Bassano, have created fantastic allegories, in which the glory of Venice, both in fact and in legend, is the dominating theme. We will be astonished by the gigantic canvas of Paradise by Tintoretto, the largest in existence.
Tiepolo: Neptune Offering Gifts to Venice
Marvelous paintings hang on the walls, including the sublime Piety by Giovanni Bellini and three rare works by Hieronymus Bosch: Paradise, Hell and the Martyrdom of St. Juliana.
Opening hours of the Doge's Palace
from April 1st to October 31st8.30 am – 7 pm (last admission 6 pm)
from November 1st to March 31st8.30 am – 5.30 pm (last admission 4.30 pm)
Lion of St. Mark column
Leaving the Palace, we go and stand on the side of the Piazzetta facing the Lagoon; on top of the two columns (12th century), are statues of St. Theodore and of the Lion of St. Mark. Before our eyes, we have the light-filled panorama of St. Mark’s Dock, at one time crowded with the fleet of the Republic.
The view is dominated by the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore: then to the left is the Lido, and the Riva degli Schiavoni; to the right, the Giudecca and the Customs-House Point and nearby the Basilica della Salute.
Procuratie Vecchie at right
Opposite the Ducal Palace, stands the Libreria Vecchia, seat of the National Marciana Library, designed by Sansovino. Also by Sansovino is the stupendous Loggetta (1540) along the base of the Campanile. Extending down the two longer sides of the square are the Procuratie (ancient offices of the Venetian State). Next to the Procuratie Vecchie (1532) is the Clock Tower (1496) with its famous clock-work figures of the Moors.
Procuratie Nuove at Carnival
The last section of the square, opposite St. Mark’s, is known as the Fabbrica Nueva, or the Napoleonic ring, since it was built at the orders of Napoleon. Under the arcade of this side, we enter the Correr Museum, an important collection relating to civil and maritime history, of Venetian costumes and mementos, and magnificent paintings, including the Pieta by Antonello da Messina, the Trasfigurazione by Giovanni Bellini, and the Courtesans by Carpaccio.
Basilica della Salute
Leaving the square and passing the Baroque church of San Moise, we reach Santa Maria del Giglio, then take the nearby ferry and cross the Grand Canal to the Customs-House Point where, a few steps away, we come to the basilica della Salute, an architectural masterpiece of Baldassare Longhena (1631-1687). Inside, there are magnificent paintings by Titian, Tintoretto, Luca Giordano.
Zattere at Gesuati
Passing over a small bridge we come to the fine Gothic Abbey of San Gregorio, closed at present. Following the little canal, we reach the spacious Riva delle Zattere, across from the Giudecca.
Passing beyond the Lombard Church of the Holy Spirit, and going along the quayside by the red walls and gardens, we reach the Church of the Gesuati, which contains one of Tiepolo’s finest canvases (Madonna and S. Caterina).
Gian Battista Tiepolo
The order of the Gesuati was suppressed in 1868 and the church and monastery were handed over to the Dominicans. In 1724 the architect Giorgio Massari was commissioned to build the new church. The inside has no side naves but contains altar pieces by Piazzetta, Sebastiano Ricci and Gian Battista Tiepolo.
The latter was also commissioned with decorating the ceiling with illustrations of the history of the Dominicans. The Gesuati church was rebuilt in 1657 on the site of a former church of the Crucifix Order.
The façade was paid for by the Manins and built by Fattoretto featuring baroque architecture with a very plastic character.
From here, we take the narrow, tree-lined street next to the church to the former church of the Carita on the Grand Canal. Today, this Gothic church forms part of the Accademia Galleries, the most important collection of paintings in Venice, the entrance to which is next door.
The Gallerie dell'Accademia is a museum gallery of pre-19th-century art. It is housed in the Scuola della Carità on the south bank of the Grand Canal, within the sestiere of Dorsoduro. It was originally the gallery of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia, the art academy of Venice, from which it became independent in 1879, and for which the Ponte dell'Accademia and the Accademia boat landing station for the vaporetto water bus are named. The two institutions remained in the same building until 2004, when the art school moved to the Ospedale degli Incurabili.
Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian man
Artists represented include: Lazzaro Bastiani, Gentile and Giovanni Bellini, Bernardo Bellotto, Pacino di Bonaguida, Canaletto, Carpaccio, Giulio Carpioni, Rosalba Carriera, Cima da Conegliano, Fetti, Pietro Gaspari, Michele Giambono, Luca Giordano, Francesco Guardi, Giorgione, Johann Liss, Charles Le Brun, Pietro Longhi, Lorenzo Lotto, Mantegna, Rocco Marconi, Michele Marieschi, Antonello da Messina, Piazzetta, Giambattista Pittoni, Preti, Tiepolo, Tintoretto, Titian, Veronese (Paolo Caliari), Vasari, Leonardo da Vinci (Drawing of Vitruvian Man), Alvise Vivarini, and Giuseppe Zais.
Leaving the Accademia, we go through the maze of narrow streets which take us to the 18th century church of S. Barnaba, and lead to Ca’ Rezzonico, an imposing building designed by Longhena which houses paintings, marvelous furniture, costumes, ceramics, books, etc.
The palace was adapted to serve as the museum and opened to the public on April 25th 1936. The designers of the museum layout, Nino Barbantini and Giulio Lorenzetti, aimed to exploit the character of Ca’ Rezzonico, arranging the works as if they were the palace’s original furnishings. To achieve this result, numerous 18th century works that belonged to the other museums of Venice were moved to Ca’ Rezzonico, together with paintings, furniture, and frescoes from other civic-owned buildings and many works purchased for the occasion.
The final effect was undeniably striking; the quality of the numerous works exhibited, together with the extraordinary quality of the architecture and the setting, made Ca’ Rezzonico a veritable temple of the Venetian 18th century: an age of splendor, dissipation, and decadence, but undoubtedly one of the most lively and fertile seasons of modern art in Europe.
Paintings in the sala superiore - Scuola Grande di San Rocco
Passing behind Palazzo Foscari, beyond the Rio Nuovo and the quaint Campo di S. Margherita, we come to the Church and School (1508-1530) of San Rocco. In the Great Hall of the School, Jacopo Tintoretto has left an incredible cycle of paintings (21 on the ceiling and 13 on the walls) which constitutes his masterpiece.